In some ways, this year could be the one the Dodge City High School Red Demons football team has been waiting for.

“We really feel good about the depth that we’ve got and we feel like we can start a bunch of different kids between the two sides of the ball, whereas in the past couple years we felt like we’ve been stretched thin there and we’ve played a lot of kids both ways,” head coach Dave Foster said.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be anyone playing both sides of the ball.

“I think we’re still gonna play a bunch of ‘em both ways, but as far as being able to start a bunch of different kids and get some rotations, I think that’ll play a significant difference in the fourth quart of games,” Foster said.

The roster itself confirms this team’s depth, but it also confirms the team’s returning experience.

Eight starters return on offense. Those include two of the team’s top three rushers last season in quarterback Beau Foster and running back Jaiel Johnson, who combined for a total of 680 yards and seven touchdowns.

The team lost its leading rusher last year, Dawson Williams, to graduation.

At wide receiver, John Johnson returns having finished second on the team last year with 274 yards and two touchdowns, as does DeJon Delgado who finished with 215 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Carlos Gamboa makes the third starting receiver returning for the Red Demons. He enters his senior season having finished last year with 221 yards on 18 receptions.

“(The) senior and junior classes, there’s a lot of experience coming back, you can see that by the returners on each side of the ball,” Foster said. “We’re obviously excited about that, and they’ve had a great summer.”

Multiple players also return along the line, both on offense and defense, places where many of them played both sides of the ball last season. Seniors Marcos Fisher and Evan Darville lead the way. Fisher led the team in sacks (4), finishing second in tackles both (67) and tackles for loss (5). Darville finished first in tackles (69) and tackles for loss (7), and finished second in sacks (3).

The team has working on chemistry this summer as well. The Red Demons took a team retreat down to Oklahoma and spent some time at a lake Foster frequents in the mountains of southwest Oklahoma. Players were put on four-man teams with a coach and competed against each other.

“Man, we went through 400 bottles of water in four hours,” Foster said. “It was over 100 degrees, we were playing basketball and sand-beach volleyball and cornhole and Spikeball and (having) kayak races.”

They also went hiking and rented a water park there.

“It was a good bonding trip, getting them to build a little bit tighter,” Foster said.

Among the team’s goals this season are taking back the Hatchet, which the Red Demons last won in 2015. Last season’s Hatchet Game was lopsided 40-9 win for Garden City, who fell behind 3-0 but then scored 33 straight points largely due to four touchdown runs by Quinton LaPointe.

However a lot is different this year, Foster said.

“They took a major hit to graduation,” Foster said. “We’ve got a ton of people back, so that’s obviously going to play in our favor.”

This season’s game is also in Dodge City.

“Our kids are looking forward to getting the Hatchet back and keeping it,” Foster said. “That’s what they work towards.”

The Red Demons also want to win the Western Athletic Conference, and host the first two rounds of the 6A Playoffs.

Last season they travelled to Derby for the opening round, getting bounced 49-13.

Talent, depth and experience are all there for the Red Demons, but a key factor to the 2018 season could be how quickly the team finds its identity.

“We went to team camp up at Fort Hays for the summer and what we’ve traditionally done, I don’t know that it really fit our personnel,” Foster said. “When we went up there I felt like we need to go in a little bit different direction.”

The team opens the 2018 season with a game against the Wichita-Haysville Campus Colts on Aug.31. The one common opponent the team shared last season was Derby, who the Colts also lost to, in their case by a score of 48-20 in week eight.

They beat Hutchinson for the second time of the season to advance to the second round of the State playoffs before falling to Wichita-Northwest, ending the season 5-5, breaking even in the wins and loss columns for the first time since at least 2008, according to Kpreps.com.

In the meantime, the Red Demons will be putting their systems together and figuring out what the kids do well. Foster said he sees tremendous upside in this year’s team.

Specifically, they can run.

“This’ll be the fastest football team in terms of the times we saw (during testing), it’ll be the fastest top-end speed team that we’ve had here,” Foster said. “We haven’t had the likes of a Evan Darville and Marcos Fisher in a long team, if ever, on the same team. Those’ll be the first duo of potentially three-time all-conference players.”

Those two will be a key to the Red Demons success as well.

“They’re very special and we need to work around them, and we’ve got a host of kids that are ready to go around them,” Foster said. “A year ago those two were juniors. Now they’re seniors and they’re gonna be leaders on this football team, and everybody else’ll follow suit.”

The Red Demons open their season at 7 p.m. Aug. 31 when they take on Haysville-Campus in Dodge City’s Memorial Stadium.