Friday’s interstate games look like doozies. The belle of the ball, though, is the game between two defending Class 3A champs.

Yes, you read that right. Star Valley and Sugar-Salem, Idaho, will play on Friday in Afton. Both won their respective 3A titles last year.

And with apologies to everyone outside of northern Lincoln County, I think this might be the most highly anticipated out-of-state game involving a Wyoming team in decades. It’s definitely the game I’m most curious about this week.

Both coaches (McKay Young at Star Valley and Tyler Richins at Sugar-Salem) pride themselves on putting together a tough nonconference schedule to prepare their teams for what they’ll face in league play and beyond.

Well, they’ve got just that on Friday.

Last year’s game wasn’t nearly as hyped. Star Valley and Sugar-Salem both came in at 1-1, each trying to find their way after losses in their season openers.

The Diggers found their way faster, as they smoked Star Valley 36-7.

Neither one lost again.

They both went on to win 3A titles in their states. The Diggers finished 10-1, the Braves 10-2.

Sugar-Salem looks loaded again this year; so far, the Diggers are 2-0, winning their two games by a combined 94-0. In their season opener, they ended the 25-game winning streak of Declo — the only team to beat Sugar-Salem last year. They’ve got five returning all-Idaho players, including senior quarterback Tanner Harris, who was the all-Idaho 3A MVP last year as a junior, and 275-pound lineman Kenneth Copley.

But Star Valley looks loaded, too. The Braves have five all-state and seven all-conference players back from last year’s team, and they’re 2-0 already with victories against Utah’s defending 3A champs, Summit Academy, and Idaho 4A program Blackfoot.

No matter what happens Friday, there’s more than a slight chance that both teams won’t lose again this season.

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Other games that are looking good on paper, with high hopes that they’ll turn into good games on grass or turf:

Class 4A’s top teams spring into the teeth of competition this week when we get the first of our “Big Four” matchups. Natrona goes to Sheridan, Thunder Basin to Cheyenne East. The Natrona-Sheridan game is a rematch of last year’s championship, but don’t overlook Thunder Basin-East, which might end up being the better game. …

The entire 3A slate is tough to pick, in part because last week’s 3A games were for the most part pretty close. There might be more parity than we think. Except for Star Valley. …

I’ve been really impressed with Tongue River so far this fall. The Eagles’ game with Lusk this week has me intrigued. …

Six-man’s results in Week 1 showed just how much fun this season might be. St. Stephens playing tough with Hanna, newcomer Encampment bopping Meeteetse, Dubois (which was winless last year) beating Midwest by 60, Kaycee handling Burlington with ease… the race for playoff seeding will be messy this year, and that makes it a lot of fun.

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On to some picks. Bolded names mean I think they’ll win. Non-bolded teams are just as worthy of your love, though.

Thursday
Interclass

Cokeville at Evanston JV
Friday
Class 4A

Cheyenne Central at Rock Springs
Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne South
Laramie at Gillette
Natrona at Sheridan
Thunder Basin at Cheyenne East
Class 3A
Cody at Worland
Green River at Rawlins
Powell at Lander
Riverton at Evanston
Class 2A
Burns at Moorcroft
Kemmerer at Lyman
Mountain View at Big Piney
Newcastle at Glenrock
Thermopolis at Buffalo
Class 1A 11-man
Pine Bluffs at Wright
Tongue River at Lusk
Wind River at Rocky Mountain (nonconference)
Class 1A six-man
Encampment at Farson
Hulett at Guernsey-Sunrise
Kaycee at Saratoga
Lingle at NSI
Riverside at Dubois
Interclass
Greybull at Big Horn
Jackson at Pinedale
Shoshoni at Lovell
Wheatland at Upton-Sundance
Interstate
Belle Fourche, S.D., at Douglas
Sugar-Salem, Idaho, at Star Valley
Torrington at Gering, Neb.
Saturday
Class 1A six-man

Burlington at Snake River
Meeteetse at St. Stephens
Midwest at Hanna
Interclass
Natrona frosh at Wyoming Indian
Southeast at Cheyenne East JV

For a full schedule including kickoff times, as well as results from past weeks, go here. Click on “Week 2” on the top of the page for this week’s schedule.

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Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season:

Last week: 24-10 (71 percent). This season: 35-13 (73 percent). 

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What caught your eye in Week 1? I’d love to know. There’s so much to talk about! Leave a comment here, or hit me up on the Facebook page or on Twitter.

If you like what you see here, consider a page sponsorship

–patrick

One of the beautiful things about high school football is that the best games aren’t always played between the best teams.

Sometimes, and especially early in the season, the best games come from teams who are trying to establish themselves as something more than also-rans, teams whose chances against the top teams won’t mean as much with losses early in the season.

Week 1 is full of such games — of teams trying to establish an identity, trying to make clear they are a threat, trying to put all that offseason training together for 48 minutes on a Friday (or 40 minutes on a Saturday). And early in a season, that’s what it’s all about. It’s a blast.

In 4A, though, we already have a week’s worth of results to guide us. Once again, none of 4A’s “Big Four” play each other this week, and as fate would have it, the two non-“Big Four” teams who had the best showings in Zero Week face each other this week — Laramie and Rock Springs.

Laramie won a season opener for the first time since 2009 by beating Kelly Walsh 24-17. Rock Springs lost to Sheridan but fought hard and made it competitive, falling 23-7.

When they meet Friday in Rock Springs, I think it will be the best game in 4A, and maybe the best game of the weekend, period.

Class 3A has a few of those games, as well, but the one that sticks out to me is Green River venturing to Lander.

Neither team is on the top of anyone’s preseason predictions. But both of them have that immeasurable quality of “potential,” and potential lasts only until kickoff.

Again — it just might be the best game of the weekend.

+++

Here are some other games that look like pretty good contenders for “best” game of the week:

Powell looked tough in defeating Riverton in Zero Week. This week, the Panthers face Worland, who I think could be one of 3A’s breakthrough teams this fall. This one will be telling. …

Cokeville pulled a pretty big upset in Week 1 last year by beating Mountain View. The rematch is Friday, and although the Buffalos are again favored, don’t count out the Panthers in this one. …

Farson’s 1A six-man title defense starts Saturday at home against Guernsey. The Vikings are improved, and the Pronghorns are relying on some new players in new places. I’m curious to see if the defending champs can continue their momentum into this year — because if they can, they’ll be dangerous. …

Snaps for Encampment, playing in its first real game since 1990 when it faces Meeteetse’s varsity on Saturday. The Tigers have put together a decent schedule of a handful of six-man varsities and 4A sub-varsities, which may change as it’s possible the Tigers could fill some games left open by Ten Sleep’s departure. Nevertheless, I’m curious to see how they do in 2019 before jumping into a full varsity schedule in 2020.

+++

Here are this week’s picks. I indicate the team I think will win in bold. Then they play the games, which is way more fun than just thinking about them:

Thursday
Interclass

Riverton JV at Kemmerer
Friday
Class 4A

Cheyenne East at Kelly Walsh
Cheyenne South at Thunder Basin
Gillette at Natrona
Laramie at Rock Springs
Sheridan at Cheyenne Central
Class 3A
Cody at Riverton
Evanston at Rawlins
Green River at Lander
Worland at Powell
Class 2A
Newcastle at Wheatland
Pinedale at Lyman
Class 1A 11-man
Lusk at Upton-Sundance
Class 1A six-man
NSI at Riverside
Snake River at Saratoga
Interclass
Big Horn at Thermopolis
Buffalo at Douglas
Cokeville at Mountain View
Glenrock at Torrington
Lovell at Wind River
Moorcroft at Tongue River
Rocky Mountain at Greybull
Shoshoni at Big Piney
Wright at Burns
Interstate
Bear Lake, Idaho, at Jackson
Mitchell, Neb., at Southeast
Pine Bluffs at Yuma, Colo.
Sioux County, Neb., at Lingle
Star Valley at Blackfoot, Idaho
Saturday
Class 1A six-man

Encampment at Meeteetse
Guernsey-Sunrise at Farson
Kaycee at Burlington
Midwest at Dubois
St. Stephens at Hanna
Schedule TBD: Hulett. The Red Devils were supposed to play Ten Sleep this week and, last I knew, are trying to find a replacement game.

For a full schedule including kickoff times, as well as results from past weeks, go here. Click on “Week 1” on the top of the page for this week’s schedule.

+++

Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season (which, right now, are the same thing):

Last week: 11-3 (79 percent). This season: 11-3 (79 percent). 

+++

Thoughts? If you’ve made it this far, then you’ve got them, I’m sure. Leave a comment and let me know what they are, or hit me up on the Facebook page or on Twitter.

If you like what you see here, consider a page sponsorship

–patrick

It’s not hard to find articles addressing recent dips in high school football participation and in high school sports participation in general.

Here’s the Washington Post addressing the numbers. Here’s a piece from Forbes expounding on meaning. And here’s The Atlantic trying to address the roots in a very Atlantic kind of way.

Every state faces its own unique circumstances.

In Illinois, football participation is at a 26-year low (Chicago Tribune). In California, numbers are down again, following a consistent trend (L.A. Times). Numbers are also down in New Mexico as several schools are playing as independents (Associated Press).

The same problems are happening in North Carolina (football participation down 23% over 10 years), Connecticut (big drops in participation), Minnesota (flat now but down over five years), Kentucky, Maine, and, yes, Wyoming… You name the state, and it’s probably seeing drops in high school football participation.

As noted, Wyoming is not immune. Figures from the National Federation of High Schools — the same figures used in every single story linked above — show Wyoming’s football participation numbers dropping, but the Equality State has a different picture than most other states.

In all, Wyoming had 2,654 high school football players in the 2018 season, combining totals of 11-man, six-man and girls, which the NFHS tallies separately. In 2017, Wyoming had 2,847 high school football players — meaning the state had a drop of about 6.8 percent from year to year, typical of the kind of drops that made headlines across the country.

Moreover, 2018’s total of 2,654 players was Wyoming’s lowest since 2004, when 2,621 high schoolers played football.

But there’s no reason to panic in Wyoming. Yet.

For now, the 2018 drop in football participation looks to be an anomaly, totally within range of normal participation figures over the past 30-plus years.

Since 1987, Wyoming has had somewhere between 2,618 and 2,924 players come out, with the lowest total coming in 2003 and the highest in 1987. The 2018 total of 2,847 was the state’s fifth-highest total since 1987. In the four seasons between 2014 and 2017, Wyoming was above 2,800 every season, something that had NEVER happened over four consecutive years since NFHS data became more consistent starting in 1979.

If we looked at this data a year ago, we could have said Wyoming was seeing unprecedented growth and consistency.

Also, within the past 30 years, Wyoming has seen drops in participation like this before and has always rebounded. This chart compares Wyoming’s football participation trends to the country:

Here’s a table showing Wyoming’s high school football participation tallies, as provided by the NFHS since 1987 (click on the column headers to sort):

YearTotal Football Players
20182,654
20172,847
20162,819
20152,808
20142,825
20132,793
20122,892
20112,843
20102,874
20092,781
20082,778
20072,822
20062,727
20052,756
20042,621
20032,618
20022,787
20012,825
20002,845
19992,843
19982,635
19972,667
19962,762
19952,892
19942,832
19932,691
19922,748
19912,776
19902,778
19892,783
19882,829
19872,924

(NFHS data prior to 1987 looks really inconsistent when compared to previous seasons — for example, in 1981, Wyoming’s NFHS numbers come in at 1,432, sandwiched between seasons of more than 2,100. So I made the decision to start this analysis at 1987. Numbers include totals of 11-, 9-, 8- and 6-man, both boys and girls.)

Yes, Wyoming high school football participation fell off by almost 7 percent from 2017 to 2018. And yes, drops in participation are affecting programs.

And yes, nationwide, participation in high school sports in aggregate is down, as is participation in football specifically.

For now, last year’s dip in Wyoming looks like an anomaly, not the start of a trend that mirrors what’s happening nationwide.

–patrick

Hi everyone… So, I forgot to post my preseason top five ballot prior to Zero Week’s fun. My bad. You’re going to have to take it on faith that I haven’t changed anything.

Here was my ballot for the first version of the Wyopreps.com Coaches and Media Football Poll:

4A: 1. Thunder Basin; 2. Natrona; 3. Sheridan; 4. Cheyenne East; 5. Rock Springs.
3A: 1. Star Valley; 2. Jackson; 3. Cody; 4. Douglas; 5. Worland.
2A: 1. Mountain View; 2. Buffalo; 3. Greybull; 4. Thermopolis; 5. Burns.
1A 11-man: 1. Big Horn; 2. Upton-Sundance; 3. Cokeville; 4. Pine Bluffs; 5. Lusk.
1A six-man: 1. Snake River; 2. Hanna; 3. Farson; 4. Burlington; 5. Meeteetse.

–patrick

Ten Sleep will not field a football team for the second consecutive year.

The Pioneers’ 2019 six-man season was canceled this week, Ten Sleep AD Sarah Novak said Thursday via email to wyoming-football.com.

The season schedule on the Ten Sleep school page also noted the cancellation and also said the school’s middle school season had been canceled, too.

Novak said Ten Sleep had seven players come out for the high school team — two freshmen, three sophomores, one junior and one senior. However, the two oldest players suffered injuries, one a season-ending injury and the other significant enough to put the season in question.

“We were planning on playing, but (with) the injury bug it just will not work,” Novak wrote.

Last year’s season was also canceled, as the Pioneers only had four players who showed interest in joining the 2018 team.

Lusk native Taylen Arnett had been named the new head coach for the 2019 season.

–patrick

Nothing comes easy in the game of football.

Class 4A’s “Big Four” programs have worked hard to reach the point they’re at — and they work hard to win the games they win.

When they do that, though, we tend to see games with scores like 63-0, 62-0, 58-6, 54-8, 50-0, 49-6… all scores of actual 4A games last year. Two 4A Zero Week games last year ended with identical 59-0 scores.

Thunder Basin, Natrona, East and Sheridan have been Class 4A’s consistent semifinalists and title contenders for the better part of a decade (subbing Thunder Basin in for Gillette starting two years ago), as previously documented here, here, here, here, here and elsewhere on this site.

The Week 0 schedule does not pit any of these “Big Four” teams against each other in the opening week, probably purposefully. Moreover, all the “Big Four” teams start their seasons at home. For those four teams, expect “easy” victories, knowing full-well that reaching that level of success isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, that means the most interesting game on the schedule for 4A, at least the one that looks the most interesting before the games are played, is the one between the two non-“Big Four” teams: Kelly Walsh at Laramie.

Kelly Walsh has a fresh approach under new coach Aaron Makelky. Everything from helmet stickers to personnel approaches has been revamped — something that all sounds good the first three weeks, before any opponents have smacked your ear hole. If KW can smack back, watch out.

Laramie, meanwhile, was 4A’s clear fifth team behind the “Big Four” last year. Actually, a loss to KW in Zero Week last year, a loss that looks odd in retrospect, was all that kept the Plainsmen from a .500 record in 2019. But the Plainsmen had a lot of losses to graduation and have to break in key players all over the place.

In short, I don’t know whether this game will be one of 4A’s best (two programs full of players eager to prove themselves could bring out the best in everyone) or one of 4A’s worst (unknown quantities are unpredictable and volatile, especially early in a season).

Either way, I think it should be close, and that’s probably more than we can say for any of the other 4A games this week.

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Outside of 4A, Zero Week is a hodgepodge of real games, scrimmages, jamborees and hand-sitting. I’ve done my best to give you an accurate representation of what’s happening this weekend, with changes often happening after schedules have been set and sent out.

Regardless, a few items on the schedule look interesting:

The game between a pair of champions in Utah should be fun, with the Beehive State’s 3A champion, Salt Lake Summit Academy, hosting the Equality State’s 3A champion, Star Valley. …

The Jackson-Teton rivalry game is this week, and after narrowly losing last year’s game, a revived Bronc program should have the advantage this year. …

The biggest jamboree of the weekend is in Shoshoni, where five teams (Kemmerer, Thermopolis, Wind River, Wyoming Indian and the host Wranglers) are scheduled to meet. Sounds like fun — and a scheduling headache. …

Here’s the full picks for Zero Week, with projected winners in bold, as I’ve done for a decade-plus:

Friday
Class 4A

Cheyenne Central at Thunder Basin
Cheyenne South at Natrona
Gillette at Cheyenne East
Kelly Walsh at Laramie
Rock Springs at Sheridan
Class 3A
Powell at Riverton
Interclass
Big Piney at Cokeville
Moorcroft at Wright
Pinedale at Lander
Rawlins at Lyman
Tongue River at Greybull
Interstate
Custer, S.D., at Newcastle
Star Valley at Salt Lake (Utah) Summit Academy
Teton, Idaho, at Jackson
Upton-Sundance at Lead-Deadwood, S.D.
Saturday
Interclass

Natrona JV at Lovell
Rocky Mountain at Powell JV
Jamborees and scrimmages
Friday
: Big Horn at Cody; Dubois, Encampment, Saratoga at St. Stephens Jamboree; Farson at Green River Jamboree; Glenrock at Pine Bluffs; Lingle, Midwest at Guernsey-Sunrise Jamboree; Mountain View at Green River.
Saturday: Burlington, Ten Sleep at Riverside Jamboree; Burns, Lusk, Torrington at Southeast Jamboree; Douglas at Wheatland; Kaycee, Meeteetse at Hulett Jamboree; Kemmerer, Thermopolis, Wind River, Wyoming Indian at Shoshoni Jamboree; Worland at Buffalo.
Open: Evanston, Hanna, NSI, Snake River.

For a full schedule including kickoff times, go here.

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As usual during Zero Week, here is a reminder of the rules I use to determine whether a Zero Week contest is a game or is something else:

  • 1. Was the game played with four 12-minute quarters with normal timing rules?
  • 2. Were officials used? And were normal rules of play instituted for the game?
  • 3. Was score kept?

If these three criteria are met, I call it a game and record it as such on this site.

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And now we’re finally ready for the 2019 season. What game/scrimmage/jamboree/competitive something-or-other will you watch this weekend? Leave a thought with a comment, a visit to our Facebook page or a stop by Twitter.

If you like what you see here, consider a page sponsorship. Just $20 will get you a page for an entire year — and it helps keep the site functioning! Thanks to all the current sponsors; they keep the dream alive.

–patrick

The 2019 edition of the Wyoming Sports Preview Guide magazine is now available!

Click here to read full team previews on every team in Wyoming.

This is the eighth year we’ve been able to bring this magazine to you. It’s the most comprehensive preview you’ll find anywhere. I interviewed every single head coach in the state (except one, as astute readers will notice), pored over stats, pestered ADs for schedules, predicted some winners — and it’s all here.

While the digital version is out today, the hard-copy version won’t be out for another week or so. When the hard copies do come out, you should be able to pick them up, for free, at the locations of the advertisers listed in the magazine. Please support the advertisers who support this magazine; it doesn’t happen without them.

Enjoy!

–patrick

The king is dead.

Long live the king?

Sheridan’s run of consecutive Class 4A championships ended last season at three, as Natrona finally broke through to end the Broncs’ reign atop the big-school classification.

Natrona could be in line for a dynasty of its own. The Mustangs get back one of Wyoming’s most exciting running backs in Dante Wallace as well as a proven quarterback and a handful of other contributors from last season.

The most likely team to stop the Mustangs from forming a new 4A dynasty is Thunder Basin, which returns a bevy of contributors on defense and maybe the state’s most feared aerial pairing.

With a title, or a dynasty, at stake, the margin for error in 4A will be thin this year.

Four questions to answer

Does Natrona start the season as the favorite? As THE favorite? No. As one of them? Yes. The defending champs lost a ton of quality contributors to graduation but return enough offensive firepower to remain a threat to repeat. However, repeating isn’t in Natrona’s nature.

Who else is in the conversation? It’s 4A, so Sheridan, Cheyenne East and Thunder Basin. Of those, Thunder Basin appears to be in the best position to actually make a move at a title. After falling short in the semifinals at home against Sheridan last year, the ‘Bolts have to be motivated — and now, more mentally prepared for the rigors of the playoffs than they were last year.

So, the Big Four again? Yep, the big four again. None of the other six teams in 4A have yet shown they’re ready to be seriously considered as title contenders, or even semifinal contenders. However, Cheyenne Central appears improved, and coaching changes at Kelly Walsh and Rock Springs, as well as at Gillette, could bring shifting fortunes to 4A’s second tier.

What was that about new coaches? In case you missed it, two coaches from the ranks of smaller programs will get their shots to run 4A programs this year. Mark Lenhardt moves from back-to-back title game appearances at 3A Torrington to take on the head coaching job at Rock Springs, while Aaron Makelky moves from 2A Big Piney to Kelly Walsh. They, along with Andrew Rose — a promoted assistant at Gillette — will give 4A a new look this fall.

Four (OK, five) players to watch

Mason Hamilton and Blaine Allen, Thunder Basin. You can’t mention the ‘Bolts’ quarterback without mentioning his favorite receiver. Hamilton was dazzling as a junior, throwing for a state-high 2,592 yards and 31 touchdowns, while Allen led 4A with 805 receiving yards. Together, they give Thunder Basin an aerial pairing no one else can match — not only this year, but maybe ever.

Dante Wallace, Natrona. Wallace was 4A’s top rusher last year in basically every category. He had more carries (235), more yards (1,812) and more touchdowns (23) than any other back in 4A. And he’s back for more as a senior, ready to help Natrona in its repeat attempt.

Garrett Coon, Sheridan. Coon is a bit of a throwback. As a mixture of fullback and linebacker, Coon was one of 4A’s most physical players last season. He’ll likely take on more of a role in the Broncs’ offense, but it’ll be hard for him to do more than he did on defense last year, where he was fourth in 4A in total points and second in the classification with 101 total tackles.

Graedyn Buell, Cheyenne East. It might be easy to overlook Buell, whose sophomore season was cut short due to a broken ankle. But he put up steady stats (1,346 passing yards, 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions, 303 rushing yards) before the injury, and if he can be full speed on his return, he could once again be one of 4A’s most dynamic players.

Four (OK, five) key games

Natrona at Sheridan, and Thunder Basin at Cheyenne East, Sept. 13. The third game of the season will give us the first matchups of 4A’s “Big Four.” It’s likely that all four teams will be 2-0 at this point, and a victory here sets up the winners for the rest of the year — and puts the losers in chase mode.

Sheridan at Thunder Basin, Sept. 20. The rivalry game between the Broncs and the ‘Bolts doesn’t have a name yet. Maybe in its third year — and its fourth iteration, after Sheridan beat Thunder Basin in Gillette in last year’s semifinals — it should get one. I humbly submit the “Basin to Bighorns Bowl,” with the ‘Bolts and Broncs playing in Buffalo with blue jerseys and brown footballs and a halftime show of babies, balloons and banjos. Despite all the “B’s,” expect an A-level performance in this one.

Natrona at Thunder Basin, Oct. 4. On paper, the Mustangs and ‘Bolts have the two most talented teams in 4A this year. This Week 5 game in Gillette will likely set the pace for the second half of the season.

Cheyenne East at Sheridan, Oct. 25. No matter how you look at it, this game between two perennial contenders will have huge playoff implications. The fact that it comes right before the playoffs will only heighten the anticipation.

Predicted order of finish

Thunder Basin; Natrona; Sheridan; Cheyenne East; Rock Springs; Cheyenne Central; Kelly Walsh; Laramie; Gillette; Cheyenne South.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Thunder Basin 35, Natrona 26. The ‘Bolts’ offensive stars will get a lot of the preseason, and mid-season, and post-season, attention. However, an unheralded but, by 4A standards, experienced defense could be the unit that carries Thunder Basin to its first state championship.

Stadium tour and season preview video

What do you think? Is the Big Four going to keep 4A football boring until the semifinals? Or is 4A actually more complicated than I’m giving it credit for? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

The records alone indicate how dominant Star Valley has been the past four seasons.

10-1 in 2015.

11-1 in 2016.

10-1 in 2017.

10-2 in 2018.

Along the way, the Braves have won three straight championships, falling short only in 2017.

This year, the Braves will try to win their fourth title in five years, and on paper, this year’s team could be one of the program’s all-time best.

To win the title this year, though, they’ll have to survive a rugged and talented West Conference. Specifically, Cody returns four all-state players while Jackson returns a 2,000-yard rusher.

The Braves will also have to survive a tough schedule that includes a season opener against the defending 3A champions from Utah, Summit Academy, and a Week 2 game against the defending 3A champions from Idaho, Sugar-Salem (which destroyed Star Valley in a game last year).

Meanwhile, across the state, Douglas has the potential to be the best team in the East, Worland is slowly climbing and Torrington is regrouping after back-to-back losses in the championship game.

Regardless, Star Valley is still king — and everyone else in 3A is trying to find a way to avoid being the Braves’ jester.

Four questions to answer

Can anyone catch Star Valley? Probably not. The Braves return five all-state and seven all-conference players; both those totals are higher than any other 3A team in the state. They return key players on the line and in the backfield.

Who’s the Braves’ biggest threat? Someone named the Broncs. Cody has four quality all-state players returning and has the most diversity and athleticism of any potential title-game opponent. And they’ve proven they can go into Afton and win (see 2017). Jackson, meanwhile, returns a ton of playmakers and is a legit title threat, as well.

Will the East Conference produce anyone who’s a threat for the title? It’s not likely. After back-to-back title game losses, Torrington has a new coach who will need time to rebuild after some devastating losses to graduation. Douglas returns three all-staters and is the early favorite to win the conference, but the Bearcats will need something special to hang with the best from the West. And Worland and Lander are both capable but unproven.

So, I should watch Star Valley every chance I get? Now hold on. If I have a chance to watch any 3A team this fall, I’m watching Jackson. Jeydon Cox is a dynamic rushing threat, and I’m excited to see him chase down a second 2,000-yard rushing season. Per my unofficial records, only six players have hit 2,000 rushing yards in a season in state history, and Cox could be the first to make it happen twice in a career.

Four players to watch

Jeydon Cox, Jackson. Obviously. Look at this number: 2,257. That’s the number of rushing yards Cox had last year over 10 games. It’s an insane level of productivity, and the Broncs will be one of the strongest teams in the state if for no other reason than Cox is back this fall.

R.J. Cazier, Star Valley. While we’re talking about running backs, let’s not overlook Cazier, who ran for 1,212 yards last year in helping the Braves to the 3A championship. The consistency Cazier gave to the Braves’ rushing attack will be a key piece of their attack in 2019, as well.

Chase Merrell, Star Valley. Merrell is getting serious consideration from colleges thanks to a breakout junior season. He was Star Valley’s leading receiver with 23 catches for 496 yards, and he was also the Braves’ No. 2 tackler and led 3A with eight interceptions.

Parker Merritt, Star Valley. How can anyone overlook Merritt, who was the 3A West lineman of the year last year as a junior? In short, no one can. He was a key piece of the Braves’ rushing attack on offense, and on defense he efficiently racked up 50 tackles. (And in case you’re counting, yes, that’s three players from Star Valley.)

Four key games

Jackson at Cody, Sept. 27. Both Bronc squads have visions of state championships this season — and for good reason. The West Conference opener for both squads is key to fulfilling that vision, with the winner taking the early lead for the conference title.

Torrington at Douglas, Oct. 4. Either Torrington or Douglas has won the East Conference championship every year since 2013. One way or another, the path to the East’s top playoff seed still goes through this game.

Jackson at Star Valley, Oct. 11. One of the toughest things for Jackson this season is that the games that look like the Broncs’ toughest — the ones against Cody and Star Valley — are both on the road. If Jackson can sneak out this road victory in a rivalry game, look out.

Star Valley at Cody, Oct. 18. This game between the Braves and Broncs has always been a key West Conference game. The past two years, though, the rivalry has taken on added meaning, as a pair of semifinal meetings has added a competitive spirit to a game that’s already full of it.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Douglas, Worland, Torrington, Lander, Rawlins, Riverton.

West Conference: Star Valley, Jackson, Cody, Powell, Green River, Evanston.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Star Valley 35, Jackson 21. On paper, the Braves and the Broncs have enough returning talent to be the preseason favorites. A bunch of things could derail this matchup — maybe a Cody victory in the West Conference opener, maybe a surge from Douglas, maybe one of 3A’s famous playoff upsets — but all indicators keep pointing to this as the matchup we’ll see in Laramie.

Stadium tour and season preview video

What do you think? Is Star Valley’s dynasty destined to continue? Or can Cody, Douglas, Jackson or someone else end the Braves’ dominant run? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next week: Class 4A preview.

–patrick

A familiar person around Natrona County will be the new head football coach at Midwest.

Dean Kelly will lead the Oilers in 2019. Both Kelly and Midwest activities director Michael Gibson verified the hiring via email to wyoming-football.com on Monday.

Kelly teaches math at Midwest and was the head girls basketball coach the past two years. He was also an assistant coach with the Oilers’ football team the past two years.

Prior to moving to Midwest, Kelly was the principal at Natrona County High School in Casper. He was also previously the athletic director for the Natrona County School District and, before that, taught math at NCHS, starting in 1997.

He also previously taught and coached in Glenrock from 1992-97 and Stanton County High School in Kansas from 1989-92. He was an assistant football coach for nine years in that span, plus the two years at Midwest. He also coached basketball and track, with three years as the boys basketball head coach at Stanton County and four years as the girls basketball head coach at Glenrock.

He resigned as NC’s principal in 2014 after assuming the job before the start of the 2007-08 school year.

Kelly replaces Ken Swieter, who resigned after 12 years as Midwest’s head coach to become an assistant at Kelly Walsh. Gibson will join the coaching staff as an assistant coach, he said.

Other Wyoming high schools with new head coaches for 2019 include Kelly WalshGilletteRock SpringsEvanstonTorringtonGlenrockLovellBig PineyPinedaleWyoming IndianKayceeMeeteetse, NSI and Ten Sleep.

–patrick

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