The 2017 edition of the Wyoming high school football guide magazine is out!

Hard copies are available for free at the locations of the sponsors in the magazine. A digital version of the magazine is available here. Be sure to take the time to thank the sponsors, both with your words and with your money, for making the magazine possible again this year!

The magazine contains full previews on every team in the state — all 65 — as well as classification previews on all five classes.

I wrote every article in this year’s magazine, and I was fortunate to talk to all 65 head coaches in the state for this year’s preview. Here’s a huge public thanks to every coach who took the time to answer my questions; I couldn’t do it without your help!

Read it here and prepare yourself for the 2017 Wyoming high school football season.

–patrick

Sheridan could get used to this.

Class 4A champions the past two seasons, the Broncs will enter 2017 trying to accomplish a rare feat in big-school football — a third consecutive championship.

That hasn’t happened at the 4A level since Sheridan won four straight from 1990-93. Prior to that, the last big school to pull off a triple-title run was Laramie in 1960-62.

Sheridan’s biggest challenge will likely come from last year’s runner-up, Natrona. But a host of other schools, including brand-new Thunder Basin in Gillette, could potentially cause problems in the Broncs’ attempt at completing the rare three-peat.

Four questions to answer

Can Sheridan pull off a three-peat? Definitely. The Broncs have the talent and the coaching to pull off Class 4A’s first three-peat since Sheridan won four titles in a row from 1990-93. Even so, the graduation losses were heavy, so Sheridan will still need younger players to fill varsity spots quickly to make it back to War Memorial Stadium.

Who can stop Sheridan from that three-peat? Natrona. The Mustangs have four returning all-state players; Sheridan has three; no other 4A team has more than one. The returning talent alone puts Natrona and Sheridan on pace for a rematch of last year’s 4A title game. And what a game that could be.

What sets the favorites apart this year? Returning talent at the running back position. Sheridan returns Kyle Custis, who ran for 1,118 yards last season, while Natrona gets back Brett Brenton, who notched 1,588. And we haven’t even gotten to Austin Clemetson, who led 4A with 1,847 yards at Gillette last year and will help first-year program Thunder Basin stay in the title-game hunt on his legs alone.

What will the effect of a new high school in Gillette be? In Gillette? Massive. Everywhere else? Pretty small. The presence of the Thunder Basin ‘Bolts will halve the talent pool for the Gillette Camels, traditionally one of 4A’s top teams. How that manifests — if both Gillette and Thunder Basin become contenders or if both struggle (or, alternately, one rises while the other falls) — will be interesting to watch happen in Gillette over the next few years. But trading out Evanston for Thunder Basin doesn’t change 4A’s overall makeup all that much.

Four players to watch

Austin Clemetson, Thunder Basin. Playing for Gillette last year, Clemetson topped 4A last year with 1,847 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He was the only junior to make the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25 first team. And he’s part of a brand-new team that will gladly use his talents.

Blayne Baker, Sheridan. The senior lineman got some significant attention from colleges; however, he’s already committed to Wyoming. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, he’ll be one of the most athletic linemen for his size not just in the state, but in the region.

Brett Brenton, Natrona. Brenton was a huge threat out of Natrona’s backfield, amassing 1,588 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns while also notching 323 receiving yards. His versatility will help anchor a Natrona team that returns a ton of talented players from last year’s state runner-up squad.

Garrett Worden, Laramie. Worden has the potential to be a huge havoc-causer on defense and a huge path-clearer on offense for the Plainsmen. Laramie’s only returning all-state selection, Worden is Laramie’s leading returning tackler and led the Plainsmen with 21 tackles for loss and six sacks.

Four key games

Rock Springs at Sheridan, Aug. 25. The Tigers are eager to prove that last year was no fluke and that they’re here to stay. What better way to do that than on the field of the defending state champions in the season opener? The opportunity is perfect for Rock Springs to prove that point precisely.

Kelly Walsh at Laramie, Aug. 25. Year after year, this game has proven to be key for playoff seeding. With the schedule reshuffle, it’s been moved to Zero Week. That seems weird, but come Week 8, chances are good we’ll be looking at this game as crucial to the 4A playoff picture.

Natrona at Sheridan, Sept. 8. The rematch of last year’s 4A title game — and the game between 4A’s two clear-cut favorites to return to the title game this year — comes in Week 2. Both squads want to win this one to set the course for the rest of the season.

Thunder Basin at Gillette, Sept. 22. The first steps for Wyoming’s newest intra-city rivalry will take place at Camel Stadium. It will be interesting to see how former teammates play against each other, and which squad takes the first leg up in the race to dominate the new Razor City rivalry.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Sheridan 31, Natrona 24. The best chance for a rematch of last year’s title game comes in 4A. Sheridan and Natrona clearly return more individual talent than other squads in the state; what remains to be seen is how that talent will coalesce into a single functioning unit. If the Broncs and Mustangs can do that as they usually do, the state title game could be one for the ages.

What do you think? Is a Sheridan-Natrona title-game rematch predestined, or will Thunder Basin, Rock Springs or another squad have what it takes to stop destiny? Leave a comment and let’s talk big-school football.

–patrick

Class 3A is no stranger to three-peat champions.

Powell won three straight titles in 2011-13; Douglas did it in 2008-10; Worland in 2001-03; Riverton in 1997-99.

And Star Valley is no stranger to championships.

The Braves have won 10 football championships in school history, more than any other 3A program in Wyoming except for Worland.

However, the two worlds of Star Valley football and three-peats have never collided.

That may change in 2017. The Braves have an opportunity to win their third consecutive state football championship, something that would be unprecedented for the school but would continue a tradition of 3A dynasties in recent years.

The Braves won’t have it easy, though.

Four questions to answer

Is Star Valley the favorite to win the 3A title again? Yes, but with an asterisk. Star Valley may have lost the most talented senior class in 3A last fall, and the Braves may need time to learn how to adapt without those seniors around. But the Braves have depth and also return three all-state choices, so the talent is there for a third consecutive state championship.

Who will be the Braves’ biggest challengers? Oh, wow, take your pick. Torrington is the biggest challenger from the East — the Trailblazers have six returning all-staters, more than any other team in 3A — while Powell, Green River and a host of others all have the ability to beat the Braves, too. Don’t forget, the 3A semifinals have gained a reputation as a place where upsets happen….

What about Douglas? The perennial East Conference champions (47-5 in conference games since 2006) might be entering a down year. The Bearcats lost seven all-state and 10 all-conference selections to graduation. To retain their claim to the top spot in the East, Douglas will need to grow up in a hurry — and they’ll have to do so in the unfamiliar role of underdog.

How will Evanston affect 3A? Probably not too much. The Red Devils are moving down from Class 4A this year and join the West Conference. However, Evanston’s 0-9 mark last season shows that now is probably the right time for a change. Qualifying for the playoffs out of the West just got a bit tougher, with seven teams instead of six vying for four spots. Evanston will be in the thick of that chase, but its 4A experience doesn’t make it any kind of prohibitive favorite in 2017.

Four players to watch

Josh Dawson, Star Valley. A two-time all-state selection (as a sophomore at Jackson and a junior at Star Valley), Dawson leads the Braves on both sides of the ball. He had 582 rushing yards and is Star Valley’s top returning rusher, but he also led the Braves with 20 defensive points per game and led the team in all tackling categories a year ago.

Bryan Lemmon, Torrington. Lemmon, a junior, has multiple responsibilities: Last year, he ran for 1,034 yards; he had a team-high 28 catches; he was second on the team in defensive points; he had 27 solo tackles, a team high. Lots of eyes are on the Trailblazers this fall, and Lemmon’s play is a big reason why.

Brooks Asher, Powell. Asher led Class 3A in several key defensive categories. No 3A player in the state averaged more defensive points per game (20.5), had as many solo tackles (45) or had as many tackles for loss (16) as Asher. His presence on the Powell defense will be a huge boon for a team hit hard by graduation.

Chance Hofer, Green River. Hofer is 3A’s leading returning passer and could lead the Wolves to something they haven’t experienced since 2011: a home playoff game. He threw for 1,671 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago while completing more than 50 percent of his passes, and his top three receivers return this fall.

Four key games

Torrington at Star Valley, Sept. 8. The favorites to win the titles in the West and East conferences will play in a nonconference game in Week 2. The Trailblazers, though, will be at a distinct disadvantage: The trip from Torrington to Afton is nearly 500 miles, one way.

Torrington at Douglas, Oct. 6. Ten of the Bearcats’ all-conference players from a year ago won’t be on the field for this one — they graduated last spring. With significant losses like that, Douglas may be stuck in a rebuilding phase. Except Douglas doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. And they’ll have a chance to prove that against the East’s preseason favorites at home.

Powell at Cody, Oct. 20. The traditional rivalry game between the Panthers and Broncs could be interesting, especially if Powell leaves behind any emotional baggage after playing Star Valley in Afton the week before. Cody, meanwhile, will come off a bye, with two weeks’ time to prep for the Panthers.

Star Valley at Green River, Oct. 20. One of Star Valley’s biggest challenges in its title runs the past couple years has been the Wolves. This game, scheduled for the final week of the regular season, could decide the West Conference title — and the Wolves will have home-field advantage.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Torrington; Riverton; Buffalo; Douglas; Rawlins; Lander.

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Star Valley 24, Torrington 21. Right now, the Braves and the Trailblazers return more talented players than any other teams in the state. The problem with that is that no team a bare cupboard, and teams like Powell, Cody, Green River, Riverton, Buffalo, Douglas and others all have the potential to walk away from 2017 as 3A champions.

What do you think? Is Star Valley destined for a repeat? Or will an upstart knock off the Braves on the way to starting a dynasty of their own? Post a comment below and let’s talk about dynasties, upsets and all the other things that make 3A football great.

Next week: Class 4A.

–patrick

One of the hallmarks of Class 2A football for more than a decade has been its parity. And with last year’s defending champion Big Horn gone to 1A 11-man, and lots of turnover from graduation, who wins the 2A title could be as much of a toss-up as ever.

Make no mistake, though. There exists a clear dividing line between the haves and the have-nots in 2A this year. The favorites are clear, the challengers are clear and the also-rans are clear. On paper.

Four questions to answer

What’s different about 2A this year? Is “everything” too strong of a word? The defending 2A champions, Big Horn, are gone, moved to 1A 11-man. Most of last year’s best players are gone, too: The entire classification only has seven returning all-state players, the fewest of any classification in the state. There’s going to be a lot of change, and a lot of unpredictability, in 2A this fall.

With all the change, who’s the favorites? Three teams — Glenrock, Greybull and Mountain View — have been getting the most attention this offseason. Greybull was last year’s runner-up, Glenrock lost to Greybull in a bit of a surprise in the semifinals, and Mountain View — last year’s No. 1 seed from the West — is back after falling in a shocking upset loss in the first round to Newcastle. They’ve all got a chip on their shoulder, and that could make it interesting come November.

Is any one of those three a clear-cut favorite? No. All three suffered big losses to graduation, leaving the door wide open for any one of the three — or any other program, honestly — to fill that gap.

How about Kemmerer? I think everyone in the state wants Kemmerer to break its state-record 36-game losing streak. But no one wants to be the team Kemmerer breaks the streak against. The Rangers softened the schedule a bit with dates against 1A foes Saratoga and Lusk, but the conference slate remains treacherous. The season opener against Saratoga, in Kemmerer, might be the Rangers’ best bet to break the streak.

Four players to watch

Jason Stoddard, Mountain View. The only two-time all-state selection in 2A this year, Stoddard is a key piece of what the Buffalos do on both offense and defense. He had 28 receptions for 449 yards on offense and had a team-high 46 solo tackles on defense.

Riley Hill, Greybull. Hill is the only returning all-state selection for last year’s runners-up; the other five graduated. But he can help prop up the inexperienced Buffs with his play under center. He threw for 847 yards last year and had 1,357 passing yards as a sophomore. He’s also one of Greybull’s top defenders and had a team-high five sacks a year ago.

Cameron Quigley, Newcastle. Few players in 2A will be as tough to stop as the Dogies’ quarterback. He ran for 744 yards and threw for 628 last year, and combined he notched 16 touchdowns either running or throwing. Oh by the way, he was also Newcastle’s leading defensive player a year ago and had team highs in interceptions, fumble recoveries and pass break-ups.

Kia Sexson, Glenrock. In a year where 2A’s losses to graduation will be apparent, the Herders return five of their top 10 tacklers, setting them up well for early success. Sexson, the Herders’ only returning all-state player, was in the middle of that last season, finishing fourth on the team in defensive points and topping the squad with 46 assisted tackles.

Four key games

Glenrock at Greybull, Sept. 1. The most intriguing nonconference game on the schedule this season has the two early favorites for the East and West conference crowns facing each other. The Herders will be eager for revenge after losing in last year’s semis to the Buffs; the Buffs will be eager to prove that victory was no fluke.

Newcastle at Glenrock, Sept. 22. The most significant challenge Glenrock might face in the East Conference could come from Newcastle. And the Dogies aren’t afraid to make the trip to Converse County: The last two times they’ve played in Glenrock, Newcastle has won.

Lyman at Mountain View, Oct. 6. The Eagles are an interesting team; they graduated the bulk of their offensive stars but return the bulk of their defensive stars. Against Mountain View in the annual Bridger Valley rivalry game, anything could happen, and Lyman may have what it takes to push for its own claim to the top spot in the West.

Mountain View at Greybull, Oct. 20. The last game of the regular season for both teams may also be for the West Conference title. The two teams split first place last season, and neither one wants to do that again.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Glenrock; Newcastle; Wheatland; Thermopolis; Burns; Moorcroft.

West Conference: Greybull; Mountain View; Lyman; Big Piney; Lovell; Pinedale; Kemmerer.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Glenrock 20, Greybull 17. On paper, the Herders have more experience and more ability than pretty much any other 2A team. The difference in 2A this year may come from improvement throughout the season, so don’t be surprised to see a team seeded third or lower make a run at a title come playoff time.

What do you think? In a class full of parity, what do you make of a season where no clear favorite has stepped forward? Who’s ready to step up and seize the open spot atop 2A? Post your thoughts below and let’s chat!

Next week: Class 3A.

–patrick

Class 1A 11-man has a rare preseason conundrum: Two defending state champions are in the same classification. With last year’s 2A champion, Big Horn, moving into 1A 11-man, the classification figures to be as competitive and as deep as ever.

Last year’s 1A 11-man champion, Pine Bluffs, still retains a strong squad, and Cokeville and Upton-Sundance also return players with enough capability of making a run at a title. And several other programs have the potential to pull upsets and go on deep playoff runs if things come together.

For now, though, all eyes are on the new guys from up north.

Four questions to answer

How will Big Horn’s entry into 1A 11-man change the classification? Immensely. Let’s be clear about it: The biggest storyline in 1A 11-man football in 2017 is Big Horn. The defending Class 2A champs got bumped down to Class 1A 11-man thanks to a cascading series of classification rearrangements prompted by the opening of Thunder Basin High in Gillette. Now, one of the most consistent and successful 2A programs moves from being the smallest to the biggest school in its class, shaking up the entire classification hierarchy in the process.

Who’s Big Horn’s biggest challenger? Cokeville. The Panthers return four all-state choices, more than any other program in 1A 11-man. Moreover, the Panthers haven’t won a playoff game in two seasons — something that hasn’t happened to a Todd Dayton-coached team since 1981-82 — and are motivated to return to their spot atop 1A 11-man.

Anyone else out there who could be a challenger? Pine Bluffs and Upton-Sundance. The Hornets are the defending state champions and return three all-state choices, so they have to be considered one of 1A 11-man’s favorites, as well. And it’s easy to forget about Upton-Sundance, but the Patriots were East Conference champs last year and return one of 1A 11-man’s most dynamic running backs in Dawson Butts.

Is anyone else in the discussion for a state title? Short answer, no. Combined, Big Horn, Cokeville and Pine Bluffs have 10 returning all-state players; the other 10 programs have a combined five. The talent is pooled in specific places in 1A 11-man this fall, making the race for a state title appear to be a fairly predictable one.

Four players to watch

Haize Fornstrom, Pine Bluffs. A two-time all-state selection, Fornstrom helped lead Pine Bluffs to the 1A 11-man title last year by throwing for 1,050 yards and running for 231 more. A four-year starter, the Hornets’ efforts at a repeat title will fall in large part on his shoulders.

Dawson Butts, Upton-Sundance. Another two-time all-state selection, Butts ran for 1,048 yards last year — a total that was actually down from the 1,202 yards he ran for as a sophomore. Now a senior, Butts could terrorize 1A 11-man defenses and put the Patriots in position to contend for another state title.

Rick Nate, Cokeville. On a Cokeville team that has tremendous diversity in talent, Nate is hard to overlook. He led the Panthers with 871 rushing yards last year and was also the Panthers’ No. 2 tackler, sharing the team lead with 18 solo tackles.

Seth Mullinax, Big Horn. One of three juniors who were all-state selections for the Rams as sophomores last year, Mullinax stands out for his work on defense. He’s the Rams’ leading returning tackler after finishing third on the team last year in defensive points, while he helps lead an offensive line rich in talent and experience.

Four key games

Pine Bluffs at Big Horn, Sept. 15. It’s not often that we get to see two defending state champions play each other during the regular season. However, that’s what we’ll get in Week 3 when last year’s 1A 11-man champs go north to play last year’s 2A champs in what is now a budding East Conference rivalry. The two schools have only played each other once before, in the 2003 playoffs, so familiarity flies out the window.

Cokeville at Rocky Mountain, Sept. 22. The Panthers’ West Conference opener is a doozy — they’re facing a Grizzly team that’s no longer in awe of them. Rocky beat Cokeville for the first time in school history last year, and if the Panthers want to regain their traditional stranglehold on the West, they’ll have to do so in Cowley in the first league game of the year.

Tongue River at Big Horn, Oct. 20. The Thunder Bowl is back after a three-year absence. TR is coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes at state; Big Horn has had three title-game trips in four years. The rivalry’s revival is welcome, especially given both programs’ recent success.

Upton-Sundance at Pine Bluffs, Oct. 20. Revenge? By the time this game rolls around, 2016 will be a faded memory, but you can bet right now that the Patriots have this one highlighted on their schedules. The Hornets, after all, were the ones who ended the Patriots’ perfect season in last year’s semifinals.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Big Horn, Pine Bluffs, Upton-Sundance, Tongue River, Southeast, Wright, Lusk.

West Conference: Cokeville, Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni, Saratoga, Wind River, Wyoming Indian.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Cokeville 22, Big Horn 14. History tells us that when Cokeville has a team that has this many seniors, watch out. The experience the Panthers have is unrivaled in 1A 11-man this year, making them the odds-on favorite to win it all — if they can hold off all the challengers from the East.

What do you think? Is Big Horn’s entry into the classification as much of a game-changer as I think? Is Pine Bluffs capable of a repeat? Is Upton-Sundance being overlooked? Let’s talk 1A 11-man!

Next week: Class 2A.

–patrick

One team’s success in 2015 and 2016 will define the preseason discussion of Class 1A six-man in advance of 2017.

The Kaycee Buckaroos enter this season with 20 consecutive victories and two consecutive state championships behind them. Ahead of them is a schedule full of teams ready for the opportunity to knock them down.

As Kaycee tries for a three-peat, something not yet accomplished in Wyoming’s six-man ranks, teams behind them are lining up for their opportunity to put the state’s longest active winning streak to an end.

No team in Class 1A six-man carries the momentum Kaycee carries into 2017. No team may have as much talent, either. That combination could help the Buckaroos not only win another championship but also cement their legacy as one of the state’s great small-school football dynasties.

Four questions to answer

Will Kaycee lose this year? Probably not. The Buckaroos start 2017 having won their past 20 games — the longest active winning streak in the state regardless of classification. They also return four all-state selections, the most in six-man this fall. Teams will challenge Kaycee, but with a deep senior class pushing the way, don’t be surprised to see Kaycee go 11-0 again.

Who has the toughest schedule? Farson. While trying to defend their West Conference title, the Pronghorns figure to have three big challengers: Burlington, Snake River and Meeteetse. Farson has to play all three of those teams on the road. It’s a challenge Farson didn’t have to sweat last year — the Pronghorns played all three of those teams in Farson last year — and it will be interesting to see how last year’s runners-up handle the pressure of trying to win big games on the road.

Is anyone else even in the discussion? Yes, but only as upset picks. Snake River, Meeteetse and Burlington all proved to be worthy foes in the West, while Guernsey-Sunrise, Lingle and Midwest could challenge Kaycee for supremacy in the East. However, it will be surprising if anyone other than Kaycee hoists the trophy in Laramie in November.

What’s new for Lingle? A chance at the playoffs. The Doggers finished third in the East Conference last year but were held out of the playoffs for opting down from 1A 11-man. This year, with Thunder Basin’s opening in Gillette causing a cascade of changes, the Doggers are once again eligible for the postseason. Fellow 11-man opt-down school Riverside, though, is still ineligible for the playoffs.

Four players to watch

Mark Largent, Kaycee. A two-time all-state pick, Largent was Kaycee’s No. 1 tackler last season, leading the Buckaroos in virtually every tackling category. The senior is also a go-to option in Kaycee’s passing game, with 16 catches for 238 yards and seven touchdowns last year.

J.D. Corson, Snake River. Another two-time all-state pick, Corson is entering his fourth year as the Rattlers’ starting quarterback. If his yardage totals keep growing like they have — he threw for 1,157 yards as a freshman, 1,220 as a sophomore and classification-best 1,853 as a junior — Snake River should again find success. And, oh by the way, he was the co-defensive player of the year last year in six-man.

Lain Mitchelson, Farson. Mitchelson gets it done on both sides of the ball. He led six-man with 1,653 rushing yards last year; he also had 31 rushing touchdowns, also best in six-man. Just a junior, Mitchelson was also Farson’s top tackler last year, leading the Pronghorns with 43 solo tackles.

Josh Graybill, Meeteetse. If the Longhorns want to make it to Laramie in November, they’ll have to go through Graybill. The senior is Meeteetse’s leading returning rusher, receiver and tackler, and he’s the Longhorns’ only returning all-state selection.

Four key games

Farson at Burlington, Sept. 8. The West Conference opener for both squads will be telling. Can Farson overcome its losses to graduation? Can Burlington hang with last year’s runners-up?

Lingle at Guernsey-Sunrise, Sept. 8. Both the Doggers and Vikings have big goals set for this season. This East Conference opener between the old rivals will set the pace for the season, for better or worse.

Guernsey-Sunrise at Kaycee, Sept. 30. On paper, the Vikings pose the biggest regular-season challenge to the Buckaroos’ 20-game winning streak. Fortunately for Kaycee, it gets to play this one at home.

Farson at Snake River, Oct. 21. The Week 8 showdown between the Pronghorns and Rattlers last season decided the West Conference championship. It might do so again this season.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Kaycee; Guernsey-Sunrise; Midwest; Lingle; Hanna; Hulett; NSI; Rock River.

West Conference: Farson; Snake River; Burlington; Meeteetse; Riverside; Dubois; St. Stephens; Ten Sleep.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Kaycee 52, Farson 38. About the only thing that can stop the collision course between the Buckaroos and Pronghorns is some kind of unexpected regular-season upset. Given the right conditions, this could happen, but the odds are on both of last year’s title-game participants to make it back to Laramie again.

What do you think? Is the state title Kaycee’s to lose, or will a challenger end the winning streak and the title streak? Comment below and let’s hear what you think will happen in 1A six-man this year — and who will lead it as it happens.

Next week: Class 1A 11-man.

–patrick

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.53.44 PM

The 2016 edition of the Wyoming High School Football Guide is here!

With 65 extensive team previews and five classification previews, this magazine is the most thorough and most informative high school football preview you’ll find anywhere in the state. And, conveniently, it’s all in one place!

This is the fifth year for the Wyoming football preview magazine. In addition to the digital file on this site, hard copies are available at the locations of all the advertisers. The advertisers make this magazine possible, so stop in to one, pick up a magazine — they’re free, by the way — and then give them some of your business. Let them know you came for the football magazine but you stayed to say thanks. And I thank you for doing so.

Read it here. Pick it up across the state.

–patrick

Class 4A football the past few years has had an aura of familiarity.

That familiarity is both frustrating and interesting — frustrating in the regular season and quarterfinals, where ideas like parity, surprise and intrigue are laughable pipe dreams, and interesting in the final two rounds of the playoffs, where we see four teams battle it out for supremacy in back-to-back weekends that represent the best high school football the state has to offer.

The separation between wanna-bes and already-ares has never been clearer.

And that’s what makes Rock Springs’ rise to prominence so darn interesting coming into 2016.

Four questions to answer

The Big Four again? Yes, the Big Four again. A state championship game involving anyone but Cheyenne East, Sheridan, Gillette or Natrona seems unlikely. The same four teams have occupied the 4A semifinals every season since 2010, and although they’ll be challenged this year, these four programs aren’t going anywhere.

Which one of the Big Four has the best chance of winning it all? Gillette. In a year where Class 4A is somewhat turbulent due to the number of seniors who graduated, the Camels’ two returning all-state selections is tied for the most in 4A. Beyond that, the Camels return four all-conference players, a number second only to Cheyenne East. And, maybe most importantly, Gillette is fired up to avenge last year’s title-game loss, a misstep that cost it an unbeaten season and state title.

Who has the best chance of ruining 4A’s status quo? Rock Springs. The Tigers finished one point away from a trip to the semifinals last year — falling 14-13 to Cheyenne East — and showed some tremendous improvement from 2014 to 2015. If that improvement continues, Rock Springs could be a title contender. And it helps that the team returns one of the best running backs in the state in Matt Fowler.

Will a new coach bring success to Cheyenne South? It will be tough. Dan Gallas takes over at South after a successful career in Colorado. The Bison, who have won three games in five varsity seasons and went winless in 2015, have had time to build a program; Gallas’ responsibility will be to move from “patience” to “progress.”

Four players to watch

Lane Tucker, Gillette. The most college-ready player in the state might be the lineman from Gillette. He drew several Division I scholarship offers before committing to North Dakota State this summer. Tucker’s responsibilities will be diverse — he was an all-state selection on both the offensive and defensive lines last season — but he will likely be up for the challenge.

Matt Fowler, Rock Springs. Fowler ran for 1,293 yards last season, more than any other player in Class 4A. He’s the leading returning rusher in the classification by a wide margin. And he’s part of an offense that focuses on the run. As good as last year was, this year might top it.

Madden Pikula, Gillette. Just in case you forgot, the Gillette offense was record-setting last year — the Camels scored more points in a season than any other team in state history. Pikula was a big part of that; he notched 1,014 receiving yards, more than any other player in Wyoming. He’ll be breaking in a new quarterback this fall — or he might be the quarterback himself — but his role will be critical to Gillette’s success.

Jacob Hallam, Sheridan. Hallam is the only one of Sheridan’s seven all-state players from 2015 to return this fall. But he was an all-state selection on both the offensive and defensive line, and his presence in the middle of the action will help anchor the Broncs, giving the defending champions experience in a critical place on the field.

Four key games

Cheyenne East at Rock Springs, Aug. 26. You think the Tigers haven’t had the season opener circled on their calendars all offseason? The team that booted them from the playoffs is the same team they’ll see in Week 0 — and it’s Rock Springs’ perfect chance to prove it belongs in the mix.

Natrona at Gillette, Sept. 16. The Mustangs and Camels have a well-documented rivalry. As usual, this one will be big. The Camels have the advantage in both returning firepower and home field, but games between these two teams rarely tilt decisively one way or another.

Gillette at Sheridan, Sept. 30. This rivalry was already intense enough. This time, though, the two teams are staging not only the Energy Bowl, they’re also staging the rematch of last year’s Class 4A title game. Intense barely describes what this one will be like.

Cheyenne East at Cheyenne Central, Sept. 30. One of the forgotten oddities of the 2015 season is the Indians’ 20-17 victory against the Thunderbirds, Central’s first over East since 2010. East recovered from that loss; Central never took advantage of that victory.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Gillette 34, Sheridan 28. The Camels win the title they thought they’d get last year as one last sendoff to the days of one high school in Gillette. And then we spend all offseason wondering how much the addition of Thunder Basin High School will affect the Camels’ repeat bid.

Cheesy 80s pop song that should play over the loudspeakers at War Memorial Stadium after this classification’s title game

Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper. Because time after time, we’re used to seeing the same group of four teams playing at the War.

Alternate choice: Cool Change by the Little River Band. If someone who’s not one of the Big Four wins it all, that’d be a cool change — as long as you’re not among the Big Four.

What do you think? Is another Camels-Broncs title game in the making? Is this the year Rock Springs comes in and disrupts the Big Four’s reign? Will some darkhorse surprise us all? Let me hear your thoughts on big-school football for the year!

(And, yes, I know, “Cool Change” was released in 1979. It was on the year-end chart for 1980. Whatever. LRB rules.)

–patrick

Prior to last season, Star Valley last won a state football championship in 1996. Yet, after 19 years without a title, the Braves will be the odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive Class 3A title — even after losing their coach and five all-state players.

However, the Braves’ quest for a repeat championship has plenty of roadblocks, including several in their own conference. After all, the West Conference has the 2015 champs (Star Valley), the 2014 champs (Cody), the 2015 runner-up (Green River) and, lest we forget, the team that won the conference championship a year ago (Jackson).

Meanwhile, a team from the East with a losing record a year ago might be the best team in the classification this year.

Yep, just another year in the crazy mixed-up world of Class 3A football.

Four questions to answer

Can Star Valley defend its title even after losing its head coach? Yes. Although Chris Howell is gone to Utah, his replacement, McKay Young, has been with the program for several years and has already proven himself a capable head coach, going 25-6 at Malad High in Idaho before coming to Afton. The Braves’ transition should be smooth.

Does that mean Star Valley is the favorite to win the 3A title? Again: Yes. The Braves return enough talent — fronted by returning all-state selections Kellen Hansen, Collin McGinley and McCabe Smith — to make another successful run at a 3A championship. But that also means the Braves will be everyone’s target all season long.

Who’s most likely to challenge the Braves for the throne? Douglas. Don’t let the Bearcats’ 3-6 record from 2015 deceive you. This team is loaded for 2016. The Bearcats return all three of their all-state choices and lost little to graduation. Watch out.

Anyone else in the mix? Definitely. Jackson, Torrington, Green River, Riverton and Buffalo have all been mentioned by 3A coaches as having what it takes to compete for a title. Green River in particular, thanks to its run to the title game with a junior-heavy squad in 2015, has the attention of 3A coaches across the state.

Four players to watch

Logan Harris, Torrington. In short, Harris is one of the state’s top linemen. A Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team pick as a junior, Harris was second for the Trailblazers in defensive points last year and notched a Class 3A-best 14 tackles for loss. He’s just as valuable on offense.

Blake Waite, Green River. Last year’s 3A West Defensive Player of the Year was the classification leader in defensive points last year. He was everywhere — 64 solo tackles and 69 assisted tackles proves that. As offenses turn their attention to him, his numbers may dip, but his presence will help open up opportunities for teammates.

T.J. Abraham, Powell. Not many players lead their teams in rushing, tackling, punt and kick returns and scoring in the same season. Usually, when they do, they’re seniors. Abraham did that for the Panthers as a junior. He’ll be the focus not only for the Panthers, but for every single one of the Panthers’ opponents this fall, too.

McCabe Smith, Star Valley. Smith, who was also a Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first-team selection last year, leads the Braves’ charge for a repeat title. A valuable piece of both the offensive and defensive lines, Smith led the Braves with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks a year ago.

Four key games

Star Valley at Douglas, Sept. 16. The most intriguing nonconference game pits the defending champs on the road against a team in Douglas that returns almost every key player from a year ago. The distance it has to travel, and the talent awaiting at the end of that trip, makes this game a double-edged sword for Star Valley.

Torrington at Riverton, Sept. 23. It would be easy to look at both the Trailblazers and the Wolverines and say they’re rebuilding. Far from it. Both have enough talent to compete for the East Conference title — and more — and the conference opener will be telling for both programs.

Jackson at Green River, Sept. 30. Jackson certainly hasn’t forgotten how last season ended. The Broncs will be fired up for this rematch against the Wolves in a game that may be key in deciding home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Green River at Star Valley, Oct. 7. The regular-season game between these two last season came down to the final play. The state championship game rematch wasn’t as thrilling. Even so, both teams will be on edge for this one, especially given their recent history.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Douglas, Riverton, Torrington, Buffalo, Rawlins, Lander. West Conference: Star Valley, Green River, Jackson, Powell, Cody, Worland.

Preseason top five: Star Valley, Douglas, Green River, Riverton, Jackson.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Star Valley 20, Douglas 14. The Braves will start the season as the 3A favorites, but not by much. They’ll need to prove themselves week in and week out. The fact that their coach has experience in the Star Valley system should make the transition easier than a coaching transition normally is — and that gives the Braves the early edge in 3A.

Cheesy 80s pop song that should play over the loudspeakers at War Memorial Stadium after this classification’s title game

Waiting for a Star to Fall by Boy Meets Girl. I think everyone in 3A is waiting for a “Star” to fall…

The last five 3A champions, as well as both of last year’s title-game participants, were West Conference teams. Is this the year an East Conference team shakes things up? Who’s everyone overlooking? How do you see 3A coming together this fall? Leave a comment and let us know!

Next Thursday: Class 4A.

–patrick

Go ahead: Pick any team in 2A.

Chances are good that the team you’ve chosen has won a championship in the past decade.

Wheatland, Big Horn, Lyman, Lovell, Thermopolis, Big Piney, Kemmerer, Glenrock, Mountain View… they’ve all won titles in this classification since 2006. And Burns won one in a different classification in that span.

That’s 10 programs out of 14 that have tasted championship-level success in the classification this decade. It’s easier to count the programs that haven’t won titles the past 10 years than the ones that have.

No wonder it feels like basically every program in the classification has the ability to take home a championship. Within the past few years, most of them have.

Four questions to answer

Defending champion Wheatland has to be the favorite, right? Well… no. Wheatland had a great 2015, but that title season was built with seniors, more than you could count on both hands. Now, the Bulldogs are restructuring, both with personnel and with new coach Tom Waring. They’ll still be in the hunt, but they won’t be the favorites from Day 1 like they were last year.

What team WILL be the favorite on Day 1? No one knows. Really. A strong case can be made for several teams — Greybull, Big Horn, Glenrock, Wheatland, Mountain View, Lovell — but no one team has a better case than any other. Parity may be the rule of the season.

Is this surprising? No way. Not for Class 2A. As noted, nine different programs have won the Class 2A title the past 10 years. Parity atop the classification has defined 2A for a decade, and this year appears no different.

Surprise me: Which team has the best chance to come out of nowhere? Pinedale. The Wranglers have a new coach (Mitch Espeland) and a new approach. As West Conference opponents can tell you, Pinedale was a tough team to beat last fall and was nearly in position to host a playoff game, but some bad bounces left the team out of the playoffs entirely. With nine starters back on both sides of the ball, the Wranglers might just be the surprise team of the classification.

Four players to watch

Garrett Schwindt, Glenrock. Last year’s 2A East Offensive Player of the Year ran for 1,341 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. With the Herders’ No. 2 and 3 options in the running game lost to graduation, Schwindt will take on an even bigger role in Glenrock’s option offense. Oh, and he was the Herders’ leading tackler a year ago, too.

Dawson Forcella, Greybull. Forcella was one of the Buffs’ top players on both offense and defense. He ran for 848 yards and 11 scores on one side of the ball and notched six tackles for loss, four pass breakups and an interception on the other. His versatility will be key for Greybull’s playoff push.

Nolan McCafferty, Big Horn. McCafferty is the only returning 2A player who was on the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25 first team last year. And it was mostly for his work on defense, where he was the Rams’ leading tackler. That’s likely to continue — after all, he is 2A’s leading returning tackler — but look for McCafferty to also take on more responsibilities on the offensive side of the ball this year, as well.

Jaret Collins, Lovell. Collins was the 2A West Lineman of the Year last season and is back for his senior year. He led the Bulldogs in tackles for loss (6) and sacks (3) last season, but on a Lovell team that lost four of its top six tacklers to graduation, he will be called on to do even more to get the Bulldogs back to the top of the West.

Four key games

Mountain View at Lyman, Sept. 9. The Bridger Valley Bowl is now in Week 2. So, in addition to being the rivalry game, this game takes on the added dimension of being both programs’ first conference game. A victory or a loss here might dictate the course of an entire season.

Lovell at Greybull, Sept. 16. Last year, this game was a squeaker; Lovell’s 18-15 victory gave it the West Conference championship. The stakes for this year’s game could be just as high.

Glenrock at Wheatland, Sept. 23. Games won’t get much bigger than this. Rematch of last year’s title game… regional rivals… contenders for the conference crown again… Yeah, this game has just about everything going for it.

Big Horn at Wheatland, Oct. 21. People tend to forget how efficiently and completely the Rams beat the Bulldogs last year. That’s because the Bulldogs overcame the loss to win the state title, while the Rams cratered in the quarterfinals. Even so, this Week 8 matchup should again have huge postseason implications.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Glenrock, Big Horn, Wheatland, Newcastle, Thermopolis, Burns, Moorcroft. West Conference: Greybull, Mountain View, Lovell, Pinedale, Lyman, Big Piney, Kemmerer.

Preseason top five: Glenrock, Greybull, Big Horn, Wheatland, Mountain View.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Glenrock 20, Greybull 18. The thing about the 2A playoffs this year? Every game could be decided by a single possession. Don’t count on anyone running away with the championship this year.

Cheesy 80s pop song that should play over the loudspeakers at War Memorial Stadium after this classification’s title game

Who Can it Be Now? by Men At Work. For obvious reasons. If you haven’t detected a trend for 2A yet, double-check those reading comprehension skills.

We can always count on 2A to be competitive at the top. So what do you think? Is this another year of dynasty-destroying parity? If so, who’s going to knock Wheatland from the catbird’s seat? Post a comment and let’s try to figure out this riddle together.

Next Thursday: Class 3A.

–patrick

Post Navigation