Keizertimes 2022 football preview: South Salem senior Saxons set

There aren’t many teams in the area that bring back the level of experience that South Salem and head coach Scott Dufault do this season. 15 of 22 starters return for the Saxons, and those numbers have Dufault feeling good about the outlook for the new season.

“We have a lot of guys coming back who have played an awful lot,” Dufault said. “That’s going to help with our consistency. There’s a better understanding of scheme, there’s a better understanding of how to play on Friday nights. I expect us to be competitive, I really do.”

That consistency is what Dufault felt they lacked last season. But fall 2021’s 6-5 record was a big turnaround for the Saxons after winning just two games in each of the previous three seasons. 

A main issue last season was youth, according to Dufault. The Saxons started seven sophomores.

And now this older, more experienced squad allows Dufault and his staff to do a lot more with their schemes and plans. 

“We had to simplify stuff a little bit last year because they were young and hadn’t played a lot of football,” Dufault said. “Now they have more under their belt and we can do a lot more stuff.”

Part of the reason they’ll be able to do more on offense this season are senior quarterback Dashel Smith and senior receiver Tini Tinitali III. They’ve played together since freshman year, when Tinitali convinced a hesitant Smith to come out and play football. 

“It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I think it shows from freshman year to now, and we’re only getting better,” Smith said.

Tinitali led the conference in receptions last season with 78, and was second in yards. So how does the explosive receiver plan to improve on that?

“I want to finish first in whatever category I can, whether it’s receptions, yards, tackles,” Tinitali said.

Even with his friend’s big goals, Smith doesn’t feel any added pressure to get him the ball. The Saxons have a wealth of talented receivers for Smith to work with.

“But no matter what, the ball is going to find him, he’s such an athlete and we put him in the right spots in our offense, so he’s going to make plays,” Smith said. 

One of those other receivers is Zach Wusstig, a transfer from Jefferson who played in the Les Schwab Bowl last year as a junior. 

“He’s 6-1 190 and probably the fastest kid on our team,” Dufault said. “I think he’s going to have a big impact on what we do.”

Another member of the receiving corp is Esteban Mendez, a junior that Dufault said has gotten a lot stronger and faster over the summer. 

Smith has a lot of tools at his disposal this season, and he looks to continue improving as he has each season.

“Getting put in in my sophomore year I was able to get a feel for the game, and junior year it really slowed down for me,” Smith said. “I was able to take control of the game a couple times”

Dufault isn’t worried about the conference change or travel. He said it’s his fourth league in six years. The hard part will be not knowing much about the southern schools.

With all the improvement, increased talent and changes, Dufault still knows the one thing that will make a difference for the Saxons this season.

“If we’re a consistent football team this year, I wouldn’t want us on your schedule,” Dufault said.