Ben Sacco fought a numbers game last fall.

With less than 30 players on his Davenport Central football roster, including several who didn't play the first four games of the season because of ineligibility, there was limited competition for playing time. 

The result was a 3-6 season in which his team often was fatigued and overwhelmed in the second half of games. 

When the Blue Devils' coach steps onto the turf at Brady Street Stadium for the season opener Aug. 24 against Burlington, he'll have more options at his disposal as approximately 40 players are expected to be in uniform. 

"We'll have a lot of competition with our skill kids over the next couple of weeks to see who wants to play," Sacco said. "We haven't had that in my first two years. It's nice to have three or four guys at a position, have them compete and see who wants to play and push the other person."

As of late last week, the Blue Devils had ongoing competition for starting jobs at quarterback, receiver, linebacker and in the secondary. 

It is a two-way battle at quarterback between junior Adin DeLaRosa and senior Nate Tyson. If DeLaRosa gets the nod, Tyson likely will figure into the rotation at receiver. He had 11 grabs for 247 yards last season.

Jatoviay Hill, who rushed for 565 yards and more than 6 yards per carry last season as a junior, is expected to anchor the ground attack.

"A lot of things are going to be easier because I know what to do now and have been around it," Hill said.

Sophomore Israel Taylor, Davenport North transfer Chris Murphy and senior Brenden Gouglich are among those vying for time at receiver. 

While Central's overall depth is improved, it is extremely thin up front. The Blue Devils have only nine linemen in the program. 

"We'll have to pray we don't get a lot of injuries up front," Sacco said. "The kids that we do have there are quality kids."

It is powered by 6-foot-5 and 355-pound senior Maurice Hughes. Sacco refers to him as a freak. Senior captain Anthony Johnson, senior Cam Hart and sophomore Jacob Bender also are in the trenches. 

"Our linemen are more athletic this year," Hill suggested.

The Blue Devils intend to utilize more of a 3-4 alignment on defense to cater to their depth at linebacker. The middle of the defense is led by a pair of juniors, Eli Wallace and Alonzo Wilkinson.

Wilkinson already has emerged into a leadership role as he's one of the team's four captains. 

Junior James Bellemy, another captain, and senior Kelvin McDonald head up the secondary. 

"We have a lot more committed players, people who actually want to be here this year," Johnson said. "We had a lot of people missing practice last year, and that can't happen. We need people here."

Central beat Burlington, Davenport West and Davenport North in 2016. In its six defeats, the closest game was a 21-point margin against North Scott. 

Besides lack of bodies, Central had too many defensive breakdowns and was limited in the passing game. 

"Everyone has to know their assignments," Johnson said. "Last year, a lot of our problems were wrong place, wrong time. We had people not knowing the plays. 

"We have more experience this year. That should help with that."

Johnson admits a realistic next step for the Blue Devils is being more competitive with the likes of North Scott, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Iowa City High and Bettendorf.

"Clinton and Muscatine, those are going to be a lot closer games, ones we can definitely win rather than getting out of hand like they did last year," Johnson said.

Sacco said he didn't witness much growth in his team from August to late October last season. He believes this team has an opportunity to turn that corner if it can remain disciplined and healthy up front. 

"There is a great core group of kids here," Sacco said. "I'm interested to see how we mesh, how much better of a football team we can become. 

"This group has the potential to be something unique for Davenport but also has the potential to be any old Davenport team. If we can have some things go our way, we could be a real competitive team in about any game we play."


Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.