Here we go: a look at the 2018 Wyoming high school football season, nine months before it’s set to begin.
1. Sheridan: The Broncs don’t return a ton of players from last year’s undefeated team, and they don’t return coach Don Julian, but they do return all-staters Parker Christensen and Garrett Coon. No other 4A team returns more than one all-state pick. And there’s a lot to be said for the momentum of three consecutive state titles.
2. Natrona: The Mustangs were one drive away from potentially upsetting Sheridan in the 4A title game a year ago. And with a trio of returning all-conference picks, the Mustangs should be in better shape than most teams to rebuild quickly.
3. Kelly Walsh: The Trojans return four all-conference selections, more than any other team in 4A this year. Two of those — seniors Kameron Mellon and Connor Shopp — are linemen, giving the Trojans a nice base from which to build.
4. Cheyenne East: Yes, the Thunderbirds lost a bunch of talent from last year’s squad. However, last year showed East has the ability to grow quickly, and the T-Birds have reached at least the state semifinals in 10 of coach Chad Goff’s 12 seasons at the helm.
5. Thunder Basin: The ‘Bolts’ first year was a learning experience for everyone involved. Those growing pains will pay off this year, and with a pair of senior linemen in Marcus Glick and Terren Swartz to lead them, Thunder Basin could be a title contender.
1. Torrington: No 3A team returns as many all-state players (three) or all-conference players (six) as the Trailblazers do. Last year’s 3A runners-up will be led by running back Bryan Lemmon, who showed last year he can be the centerpiece of an offense; every other 3A team is just a little freaked out about that.
2. Cody: With three returning all-staters, the Broncs will be in good position to defend their championship. Seniors Jared Grenz and Jackson Morris and junior Charlie Beaudrie give Cody a solid, experienced base, but how less experienced players fill in around them will determine the Broncs’ success.
3. Douglas: The Bearcats get back four all-conference players this year, second only to Torrington in the 3A ranks. And three of those (juniors Cody Pinkerton and Dawson Stinson and senior Dylan Hime) are linemen. That gives the Bearcats a chance to dominate games up front.
4. Star Valley: The Braves will be a complete mystery this season. They lost all eight of their all-state picks and all nine all-conference selections. But the past few years have show that if anyone can overcome losses like that, it’s Star Valley.
5. Rawlins: Coming off their best season in more than a decade, the Outlaws will be in a critical year for building their program. With some key players coming back, 2018 will be Rawlins’ chance to show last year’s success was more than just a flare-up.
1. Mountain View: The defending 2A champs won the title last year with a lot of seniors and a lot of sophomores. Of Mountain View’s five returning all-state players this year, four of them (Hunter Gross, Briggin Bluemel, Kimball Madsen and Braeden Walk) will be juniors in 2018. No team in 2A can match that experience.
2. Buffalo: The Bison are moving from 3A to 2A right about the time they’re ready for a title run. The squad returns three all-state picks in seniors Luke Glassock, Cody Milmine and Aaron Thiele, putting them in prime position for a deep playoff run immediately.
3. Glenrock: No squad in 2A has the backfield experience the Herders do with returning all-state picks Tucker Bopp and Ian Arnold, who combined for 3,495 rushing yards (yes, 3,495). The young line will need to develop, but the backfield pair should help the early growing pains.
4. Wheatland: The Bulldogs return a pair of all-state selections in seniors Colton Caves and Clayton Iacovetto and six total all-conference picks, more than anyone in 2A. And they’re buoyed by the confidence of a semifinal appearance a year ago. A coaching change always comes with difficulty, but the Bulldogs should adjust quickly.
5. Pinedale: The Wranglers this year feel like Big Piney last year — coming off a forgettable season but loaded with returners. All five of Pinedale’s all-conference choices are back, giving the Wranglers a wealth of talent from which to build.
1. Big Horn: One of the state’s best young teams last year, the Rams return all six of their all-state selections from 2017. No team in 1A can match that, and it’s not often a returning runner-up can say that. With that kind of experience, Big Horn will be the prohibitive favorites from day one.
2. Pine Bluffs: The two-time defending 1A 11-man champions return four all-state selections and a ton of program momentum. With Andrew Fornstrom, Hunter Jeffres, James Merryfield and Brad Shmidl anchoring the returners, the Hornets will be big-time threats to win their third consecutive title.
3. Upton-Sundance: The Patriots get back four all-state picks from a team that was a possession away from reaching the state title game. All-staters Tanner Hofland and Jayden Caylor were US’s top two tacklers a year ago, giving an already strong defense the opportunity to be even better.
4. Cokeville: The Panthers lose a huge senior class full of talent, but it’s never a good idea to count out a Todd Dayton-coached team. The Panthers return all-state senior Bentley Johnson and all-conference pick Brayden Johnson to anchor this year’s squad.
5. Wind River: No team in the West can match what Wind River has back in terms of numbers of key players returning. With six returning all-conference selections, including five seniors, the Cougars may be in line for a breakout season.
1. Farson: Farson’s advantage comes in pure talent. The Pronghorns return two of six-man’s most dynamic players in Lain Mitchelson and Clancy Gines, and the pair of seniors have enough talent returning around them to be favorites for 2018.
2. Burlington: The Huskies showed last year that they’re not afraid of anyone. With all-state selection Jacob Cook leading them, the Huskies should stack up well against any team in six-man.
3. Snake River: The Rattlers return Riggen Myers, an all-state pick, and Trenton Jeanerett, an all-conference selection, to anchor the team this year. They have some talent to replace, too, but the returning core should keep the Rattlers competitive.
4. Kaycee: The three-time defending champs lost half of their 18 players to graduation, so rebuilding will be the priority. The Buckaroos still have all-stater Hunter Rouse to lead the team, but filling the holes around him will be challenging.
5. Hanna: The Miners were young last year — three sophomores made the all-conference team — and it showed early. But they came on late and showed huge potential. That experience should help Hanna challenge for the East crown.
Which teams do you think are ready for breakthroughs in 2018? Who do you think will be hauling trophies back from Laramie at the end of the season? Leave a comment and let’s talk about the 2018 football season way before it’s probably logical to do so.