(Duarte, CA) - From 3-17 the last two years to league champions and competing in the CIF playoffs, that’s the remarkable turnaround for the Duarte High School football team. Under first-year head coach James Heggins, Duarte hosted Laguna Beach on Friday night (11-11-16) at 7:30 p.m. at Falcon Stadium in the first round of the Division 13 playoffs. Duarte USD streamed the game live at http://www.mldistrict.com/districts/ca/duarte/.and it wias also broadcasted by Laguna Beach on radio station KX93.5. Duarte was 7-3 and champions of the Montview League, while Laguna Beach won its last four games to go 6-4 and finish third in the Orange Coast League. Sadly, Duarte's season came to a close that night when they lost to Laguna, 26-21.
Duarte had struggled in football in recent years but under the tutelage of Coach Heggins, who is also Dean of Athletics in his first year at DUSD, the Falcons came together after finishing 1-9 in 2014 and 2-8 in 2013. They won their first three games, lost two, then posted another three-game winning streak before finishing 7-3.
"This is a huge credit to our kids, who wanted something better for themselves, who may have learned a lot of lessons last year, but who bought into what we were teaching,’’ said Heggins. "They were involved from the very beginning and learned the core values we were teaching, not just X’s and O’s.
"Our values include accountability, being present every day not just physically but mentally, taking care of business off the field, and creating great habits on and off the field to be successful in life." That learning, and the turnaround that ensued, brought the Falcons to a unique place.
The Falcons were led on offense by quarterback Devon Hemsley, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior who completed 76 of 158 passes for 1,489 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 323 yards and five touchdowns.
"He had a huge impact on everything we did,’’ said Heggins. "He touches the ball on every play and the emphasis is on him doing things right. It’s not just about throwing touchdown passes or having great statistics. It's about game management and shouldering responsibility. And he did that.’’ Heggins also singled out senior running back Lorenzo Rios, who carried 126 times for 677 yards and five touchdowns, with three 100-yard-plus rushing games.
The Falcon passing game included leading receiver Xevion Harrison (22 catches, 399 yards, 3 TDs). Three other receivers had 14 catches each for a total of 8 touchdowns. Rodney Collier was a combination WR/RB according to Heggins, who performed well shuttling in plays and subbing for several players.
On defense, Xevion Harrison, a 6-4, 205-pound senior, played a hybrid role that involved starting at various times at defensive end, linebacker and strong safety. "He’s tough enough to play defensive end or linebacker, but speedy enough to cover guys in the secondary,’’ said the coach.
Other defensive stalwarts were middle linebacker Alex Garcia and lineman Krikour Koustanian. The latter is a 6-foot-3, 315-pound junior who plays tackle on the offensive line and nose guard on defense, never missing a down.
We look forward to another successful football season for our Duarte High Falcons in 2017. Go Falcons!