Trying to pick a state champion before a single down has been played sometimes feels like a fool’s errand.

That doesn’t stop people from trying.

The WyoPreps preseason football poll of coaches and media, which came out Wednesday, tabbed Sheridan, Cody, Lyman, Shoshoni and Snake River as the teams to beat in their respective classifications. (Full disclosure, I vote in this poll.)

But the historical chances of those five teams winning a championship are barely better than one-third of the time.

Since 1984 and the start of the one-poll era, only 36% of teams ranked No. 1 to start the season end up as state champions. However, 56% of state champions start the season ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. Cheyenne East, Star Valley, Lovell, Pine Bluffs, Dubois and Encampment are in the No. 2 spots in this year’s preseason poll, with the last two tying for second in the 1A six-man poll.

Historically, chances are good that more than half your 2022 state champs will come from that list of 11 teams.

However, 17% of state champs start ranked at No. 3, 7% at No. 4 and 6% at No. 5. But nearly 14% of state champions start the season unranked. Since 1984, they’ve included:

  • Lyman, Class 2A 2020
  • Cody, Class 3A 2017
  • Pine Bluffs, Class 1A 11-man 2016
  • Star Valley, Class 3A 2015
  • Snake River, Class 1A nine-man 2010
  • Thermopolis, Class 2A 2009
  • Jackson, Class 4A 2007
  • Kemmerer, Class 3A 2005
  • Rock Springs, Class 5A 2001
  • Big Piney, Class 2A 1998
  • Evanston, Class 4A 1997
  • Riverton, Class 3A 1997
  • Wind River, Class 1A Division II 1997
  • Natrona, Class 4A 1996
  • Sheridan, Class 4A 1995
  • Laramie, Class 4A 1994
  • Rocky Mountain, Class 1A 11-man 1992
  • Burlington, Class 1A nine-man 1992
  • Lingle, Class 1A nine-man 1990
  • Hanna, Class 1A 1989
  • Big Piney, Class 2A 1988
  • Lovell, Class 2A 1987
  • Lusk, Class 2A 1986
  • Laramie, Class 4A 1984
  • Mountain View, Class 2A 1984

As you may have noticed, four consecutive Class 4A champions in the mid-1990s were unranked to start the season — Evanston in 1997, Natrona in 1996, Sheridan in 1995 and Laramie in 1994. But a preseason unranked team winning a state title hasn’t happened since at Wyoming’s big-school level since 2001 and Rock Springs.

Big Piney (1998, 1988) and Laramie (1994, 1984) are the only programs since 1984 to twice win championships after starting a season unranked.

No team since 1984 has been both unranked in the preseason AND unranked at the end of the regular season, then gone on to win the state championship. Eight of the 25 teams that started a season unranked but won a state championship were ranked No. 1 by the time the postseason started.

(Note: Preseason polls were not conducted in 2000 and are excluded here.)

See each preseason poll by clicking on each year’s set of rankings here.

Watch for another breakdown of teams’ rankings at the end of the regular season and their championship chances after Week 8.

–patrick

The cover of the 2022 Wyoming High School Football Guide magazine. Click it to see the good stuff inside.

The 2022 edition of the Wyoming High School Football Guide magazine is out now!

Click here to read full team previews on every team in the state. This comprehensive guide to the 2022 season details key players and games and includes interviews with every single head coach in Wyoming. You won’t find that anywhere else in one place, no matter how hard you look.

Hard copies of the magazines should be available FOR FREE (!!) in the next week at the locations of the advertisers. Please support the businesses and organizations that support the magazine — we couldn’t do it without them.

This is the 11th year of the magazine, and it’s definitely a team effort. A massive thanks to the publishers, CNS Inc., for putting it all together — they do they layout, sell the ads and handle distribution.

Enjoy!

–patrick

Note: This post was updated at 6:51 p.m. MDT Aug. 18 to reflect the number of juniors who have won the Wyoming Gatorade football player of the year award. Tevis Bartlett of Cheyenne East won it as a junior in 2013-14.

The old cliche that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is about as an accurate as a descriptor as exists for Class 4A football.

In 2021, for the first time since 2009 and Cheyenne Central, someone other than the “Big Four” reached the 4A championship game. Rock Springs’ appearance was yet another death knell to the run that Cheyenne East, Natrona, Sheridan and Campbell County/Thunder Basin had on big-school football since 2010.

Still, Sheridan won the title — and the Broncs are one of only three 4A schools, along with Natrona and East, who have won any kind of football championship since 2009.

Entering 2022, those three schools are atop basically every 4A coach’s list of preseason favorites, and with good reason.

In short, East, Natrona and Sheridan bring back the most experienced and the most talented players.

Things have changed, though, and he days of the “Big Four” dominating a regular-season schedule might indeed be gone. However, some things have stayed the same, and despite Rock Springs’ best effort last year, a “Non-Big Six” championship, something that hasn’t been accomplished since Cheyenne Central’s memorable playoff title run in 2005, remains out of reach.

Four questions to answer

Let’s not mess around — who’s gonna win it all this year? Ask again later. The three favorites seem pretty clear, though, and it’s Sheridan, Cheyenne East and Natrona. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are the only three programs that have won 4A titles since 2009. The good thing for 4A is that most of the seven teams not listed in that group are capable of beating those top three.

Why those three ahead of the others? Experience, mostly. Sheridan gained a lot of love as the defending champion and has enough players returning with playing time to start near the top. East, though, might return more experience than any other 4A team in the state. Meanwhile, Natrona is loaded with seniors, and the Mustangs typically do well when that’s the case.

And the others — are they in the conversation at all? Some are. In particular, Thunder Basin, Rock Springs and Cheyenne Central are all legit threats. However, Thunder Basin and Rock Springs will both rely on young and untested players, while Central will have the experience but is coming off a messy 2-8 season. Beyond that, Campbell County and Kelly Walsh had big graduation losses (although the Camels in particular got a lot of preseason love from the 4A coaches), and Laramie and Cheyenne South are still building their programs to be consistently competitive.

What else should we watch for this season? A potential offensive explosion. Of the 10 returning first-team all-state players in Class 4A, eight of them are returning to spots on offense. The only two returning first-team all-state selections on defense are Kelly Walsh safety Erich Hulshizer and Cheyenne East linebacker Ethan Brinkman. Inexperience on defense across the state might help give offenses a boost, at least early in the season.

Preseason class MVP

Colson Coon, Sheridan. This choice is as much of a no-brainer as there can be. Only the second junior who’s ever won Wyoming’s Gatorade Player of the Year award is back for the defending state champions, and he got mentioned by name by several opposing coaches — without prompting — as the player that all opposing teams know they need to stop. But knowing and doing are two separate things, and Coon has already proven he can take the focus of opposing teams and still generate huge games.

Preseason class breakout player

Michael Faigl, Rock Springs. Tiger coach Mark Lenhardt has high hopes, and high expectations, for his new starting quarterback. Stepping under center for a program that just made its first trip to a state championship game in almost two decades will be tough, but the junior lefty could grow into one of the best in 4A, and this year could be the year he capitalizes on that potential.

Other players to watch

Garet Schlabs, Drew Jackson and Dom Kaszas, Cheyenne East. It’s true — Kaszas, Sheridan’s all-state receiver, transferred to East during the summer, bolstering what was probably already 4A’s top receiving corps. Schlabs was 4A’s top receiver last year with 71 catches for 972 yards and 17 touchdowns; Kaszas led Sheridan with 29 catches for 454 yards and eight TDs. And Jackson supplements all of that with 29 catches for 541 yards last year, giving East three game-breaking receivers they can put on the field at any time.

Ethan Brinkman, Cheyenne East. East’s middle linebacker typically produces big numbers no matter who’s there, but Brinkman took it to a whole new level last season by leading Class 4A in tackles with 122. East’s defense is deep this year, but Brinkman remains as the undisputed leader on that side of the ball.

Keagan Bartlett, Cheyenne Central. The Indians should be much better than they were last year, and in big part it will be on both the legs and the arms of their senior quarterback. Bartlett broke 1,000 yards both rushing and passing last season, and did so on a team that finished 2-8. With improved players around him, this year could be huge.

Carter McBurnett, Rock Springs. Across Class 4A, only three returning all-state players were selected to offensive line positions last season. McBurnett doesn’t have any eye-popping defensive statistics (24 tackles last season), but the senior is the Tigers’ only returning all-state player and has seen significant minutes since his freshman year, a critical piece to a young set of linemen in Sweetwater County.

Four key games

Cheyenne Central at Sheridan, Aug. 26. On paper, the defending champs from up north might look like they’ve got it easy in their season opener, but the Indians will be an improved team. This game will tell us a lot about how the rest of the 4A season will go.

Cheyenne East at Natrona, Sept. 2. This game won’t be a make-or-break one — early September ones rarely are. But it will be a key decider of how the top of 4A will shape up, and the loser here will have to chase the other the rest of the season.

Thunder Basin at Rock Springs, Sept. 2. Class 4A’s dark horse might emerge right here. Both teams have earned big expectations, but similarly both teams have to overcome big graduation departures. A victory here for either the ‘Bolts or Tigers will help dictate the directions of the remainder of their seasons.

Cheyenne East at Sheridan, Sept. 30. Sheridan gets both East and Central at home this season, a little quirk in the schedule that will be a nice boost to the Broncs — if they can take advantage of home field.

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Cheyenne East 33, Sheridan 28. If anyone is going to break up the triumvirate of typical 4A champions, they’re going to eventually have to through one, or two, or three of them in the playoffs. The old cliche goes that to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best — but the best are the best for a reason.

Who are you envisioning holding the trophy come November? Is it one of the expected teams, or will someone jump up and give us all something unexpected? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

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Class 3A football over the past 30 years is full of legacies.

Star Valley’s four titles in five years from 1992-96, Riverton’s three-peat from 1997-99; Worland’s trio of titles from 2001-03; Buffalo’s 22-0 run from 2004-05; Douglas’ three-peat from 2008-10; Powell’s follow-up three-peat from 2011-13; Star Valley’s four titles in five years (again) from 2015-19… Yeah, 3A has been full of sustained success.

Cody’s place in that pantheon is secure, with titles in 2014, 2017, 2020 and 2021.

Another championship in 2022 is no guarantee, but the Broncs, by every conceivable measure — including perhaps the two most important, returning players and 3A coaches’ preseason picks — are the favorites to win it all again this season.

In a classification where dynasties have come and gone, the big question seems to be not if Cody will win again, but how long the Broncs will stay as 3A’s dominant team.

Four questions to answer

Can anyone stop Cody from three-peating? Only Cody. One of the most amazing statistics of the 2022 offseason pertains to 3A all-state selections. Cody has six of them returning. The rest of 3A has four, combined. The Broncs have the talent not only to be three-time champs but potentially one of the best 3A teams in history.

So no one else even has a chance? Hey, it could happen. And if it’s going to happen, it’s likely to come from Douglas or Buffalo. Those two teams in the 3A East are drawing the most attention as threats to the Broncs’ run, in part because of the talent they return on both sides of the ball. Neither team enters the season as complete as Cody, but they could both end the season that way.

What’s up with the West? After Cody, lots of uncertainty. Jackson and Powell each lost seven all-staters and return zero, and Jackson has a new coach. Green River may be 3A’s most improved team but was 0-8 last year, Evanston has some momentum but graduated a bunch, and Star Valley has a group of players that have been successful at every level except for varsity. As a whole, the conference is down; as a group, it’s as competitive as ever. After Cody.

And out East — still Douglas? Douglas is still the favorite. But Buffalo has been gaining some momentum and returns several key players. Lander has also hosted playoff games in each of the past three years and can’t be overlooked as a threat. However, only one East team (now-2A Torrington in 2018) has reached the title game in the past seven years, so it makes sense the early eyes are out West.

Preseason class MVP

Luke Talich, Cody. The Broncs’ quarterback/safety is drawing considerable attention from colleges, and for good reason. He can hurt defenses with both his arm and his legs, and as a safety he’s one of Cody’s top defensive players, as well. He is the centerpiece of Cody’s three-peat attempt, and for the Broncs, that’s a good thing.

Preseason class breakout player

Chase Stewart, Star Valley. The Braves’ No. 2 receiver last year had a good season — 15 catches, 291 yards, three touchdowns — but they portended a bigger 2022 to come. The fact that the Braves also return their quarterback bodes well for a player who has the potential to be the go-to player in an aerial plan that accentuates big-play opportunities.

Other players to watch

Karson Ewing, Douglas. Last year’s East Conference defensive player of the year will, somehow, have to carry more of the load this fall for a less experienced Bearcats defense that only gets back three of its top 10 tacklers. If anyone is up to it, though, it’s Ewing, who didn’t have huge numbers (39 tackles, 5 TFLs) but caused huge havoc to opposing offenses.

Matt Nelson, Cody. If you didn’t know Nelson before last year’s championship game, you sure knew him after — he’s the one who had two of Cody’s three consecutive pick-sixes in the second half. But this should not have been surprising; the two-time all-stater has made it a habit to have big games in big moments.

Blake Bell, Buffalo. The Bison relied a lot on Bell last year, and he delivered — 37 catches, 829 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 22.4 yards per catch was the best among 3A’s top receivers, but coach Rob Hammond said Bell will be more involved with other aspects of the passing game (think screens and hitches) to take advantage of Bell’s athleticism, to make the Bison more versatile and to keep defenses honest.

Kade Weber, Worland. Weber’s eye-popping number under center is 70.1%, his completion percentage. That kind of absurd percentage is normally reserved for six-man, but Weber put up those numbers when completing 143 of 204 passes for the Warriors last season. With an experienced set of receivers returning with him, those totals could, amazingly, be even better this year.

Four key games

Cody at Jackson, Sept. 23. Although it’s the rematch of the past two Class 3A title games, the two Broncs are trending in different directions — Cody up, Jackson twirling toward freedom. If Jackson can finally get a W in this series, it’ll completely turn 3A expectations upside down.

Star Valley at Powell, Sept. 30. The West is always competitive, but the 2022 season brings a ton of uncertainty to a usually steady conference. How it all shakes out, though, will be determined in great measure by what happens between the Braves and Panthers.

Douglas at Buffalo, Sept. 30. The two early frontrunners in the East have a long and storied history, but Douglas has won 14 of the past 17 in this series and the past two in a row. The Bison’s conference title hopes will hang on this home game.

Worland at Lander, Oct. 14. Both of these teams have been on the 3A margins the past few years — good enough to be taken seriously, not quite ready for a breakout victory that turns them into a true title contender. Whoever wins here could be a big first-round spoiler if fate finally smiles on them.

Predicted order of finish

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

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

Preseason top five: 1. Cody; 2. Douglas; 3. Buffalo; 4. Star Valley; 5. Lander.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Cody 36, Douglas 20. November football is always different from August football, and 3A teams have a way of pulling some postseason surprises. Still, the title is Cody’s until someone else does something to show us otherwise that they deserve it.

Where do you rank Cody’s current dynasty among the 3A pantheon — and how would another title this year change that? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 4A.

–patrick

Don’t call it a transfusion, but Class 2A is going to be ready for some new blood this season.

It should be a year of change, as only seven all-state players will be back this year — and three of those are in Lyman. For perspective, the East Conference only has two such players combined among its eight teams.

Despite all the changes, Lyman still looks to be the favorite after winning titles in both 2020 and 2021. The Eagles return several backs and receivers and, despite some big holes to fill on the line, will have the kind of talent to keep expectations high in the Bridger Valley.

Lyman’s challenge this year is to ascend from flare-up to dynasty. No team in Wyoming’s grouping of the third-largest schools (variously called 2A and 3A, depending on the era) has won three consecutive titles since Thermopolis did so from 1990-92.

The Eagles aren’t immune to the challenges other 2A programs face. They, too, will need to rely on new varsity contributors. It’s just that Lyman’s reliance is quite a bit lower than other programs statewide — and they’re riding the momentum of back-to-back titles.

Four questions to answer

Is anyone beating Lyman this year? Maybe not. A second consecutive undefeated season and third consecutive 2A title will be challenging, of course. But in a year where most other teams are trying to find their footing with new personnel, the Eagles return a ton of contributors who have helped the program win 19 consecutive games. The Eagles are beatable, yes, but it will take a supreme effort from a team on its “A” game — the last two years have proven that.

Who’s got the best chance to do that? Pick ’em. Lovell and Cokeville have gotten a lot of love in the preseason as the West’s best chances to take down the Eagles, Lovell in particular after an 8-6 loss in the championship and enough returners to be a legit contender. Out east, Torrington, Wheatland, Big Horn and others are drawing attention, in part because there are so many new players in key positions that no one is quite sure what to make of it all just yet.

Is anyone else coming out of the East? A tentative no. As noted, only two all-state players return in the entire East Conference — Big Horn QB Cooper Garber and Glenrock RB Logan Jones. The evacuation of talent via graduation leaves the whole East as a toss-up. Torrington’s preseason love comes in part from its reputation as two-time defending conference champs, but the Blazers’ newbies have a lot to prove. Tongue River, Upton-Sundance and Newcastle are in similar positions, while Burns and Glenrock are shifting to new head coaches. Everything’s jumbled, which should make for some really competitive and exciting football, just maybe no one who can threaten Lyman.

Who’s going to surprise in 2022? Kemmerer. The Rangers have only had one postseason appearance in the past nine years but have the look of a team on the rise. They return eight starters from an improved team last year and could be more challenging than their history might indicate.

Preseason class MVP

Ashton Houskeeper, Lyman. The reigning Class 2A offensive player of the year is back for his senior season after leading the Eagles to their second consecutive title last year. He led 2A in total rushing yards, finishing with 1,451 on 222 carries, and scored a classification-high 25 rushing touchdowns. He also threw for 700 more yards — and coach Dale Anderson said he’s getting better with his accuracy — and added 27 tackles and two interceptions on defense.

Preseason class breakout player

Bryce Hager, Torrington. Hager’s offensive numbers can’t help but jump this year as a junior, as the Trailblazers’ leading returning rusher and receiver (164 rushing yards, 131 receiving yards) is potentially moving to quarterback to lead an offense that’s typically balanced and effective. No matter where Hager ends up on offense, he’ll prove equally valuable on defense, where he has already had his breakout season; he was third on the team as a sophomore last year with 74 tackles.

Other players to watch

McKoy Smith, Lyman. Smith was a frustrating matchup for opposing teams on both offense and defense. On defense, he had 61 tackles and led Lyman with 35 solo tackles; he also had a team-high four interceptions. Offensively, he scored 12 total touchdowns and was Lyman’s top receiver with 17 catches for 378 yards (22.2 yards per catch) and five scores.

Logan Jones, Glenrock. Jones was Glenrock’s most consistent offensive weapon in an otherwise frustrating season. Even though the Herders didn’t win a single East Conference game, Jones still led Class 2A with 146.9 rushing yards per game, finishing 2021 with 1,175 yards on 236 attempts. Watch for his touchdown count, only five a year ago, to go up as a senior.

Cael Thompson and Landon Walker, Cokeville. The Panthers’ two returning all-state players actually tied for the team lead in tackles last year, notching 60 apiece. Offensively, Thompson will lead Cokeville’s offensive line while Walker takes the snaps and directs the offense; he had 854 passing yards last year, a total that might go up as the Panthers break in some new running backs.

Cooper Garber, Big Horn. The only other returning 2A all-state player who isn’t from Lyman, Garber is getting ready to start for the third year as the Rams’ quarterback. He’s been solid at that spot, throwing for 1,518 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore. But the Rams need more than “solid” to make the leap to title contender.

Four key games

Lovell at Lyman, Sept. 16. The Bulldogs and Eagles won’t spend a lot of time reminiscing about their 2021 games — Lyman won both of them, including the state championship — because they make acquaintances, and both new memories and new motivations, in Week 3. It won’t take long for either to set a new pace for the West.

Torrington at Big Horn, Sept. 23. The schedule did no favors to the Trailblazers, who have to make back-to-back trips to Sheridan County in weeks 4 and 5. This is the first of those trips, and the improving Rams will present the first of two consecutive tough road challenges for the Goshen County crew.

Wheatland at Upton-Sundance, Oct. 7. The Patriots had the Bulldogs’ number for several years, but in 2021 Wheatland finally picked up its first victory in the series. With both teams figuring to be in the running for East Conference accolades, this will end up being a must-win for both teams to keep those dreams alive.

Lyman at Cokeville, Oct. 21. If both teams can stay healthy, avoid upsets and capitalize on their talents, the regular-season finale could be the game that decides home-field advantage in the playoffs. But a lot of football will need to be played between then and now, and 2A’s uncertainty this year might show itself both in Week 8 and before.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Torrington; Wheatland; Big Horn; Upton-Sundance; Tongue River; Newcastle; Burns; Glenrock.

West Conference: Lyman; Lovell; Cokeville; Kemmerer; Mountain View; Thermopolis; Pinedale.

Preseason top five: 1. Lyman; 2. Lovell; 3. Cokeville; 4. Torrington; 5. Wheatland.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Lyman 20, Lovell 19. The Eagles’ three-peat hopes are real, but Lovell is in the best position to challenge Lyman’s ascent to dynasty status.

Is a Lyman three-peat happening? Or will someone spoil the Bridger Valley fun? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 3A.

–patrick

We don’t have to wait long for the drama to emerge in Class 1A nine-man.

In fact, we don’t even have to wait past the season opener.

The 2022 season starts with a rare sight — the top two teams in the preseason playing in the season opener.

Shoshoni, my preseason No. 1, and Pine Bluffs, my preseason No. 2, will play in Week 1 in Fremont County. This game will settle some debates about weekly rankings for the entire season.

But the thing is, by the time everything is said and done, it will mean bupkis. And that’s because Shoshoni and Pine Bluffs aren’t the only teams capable of winning the championship in a year as top-heavy as an F-150 with a refrigerator strapped to the top of the cab.

Class 1A nine-man’s offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, lineman of the year and specialist of the year were all underclassmen. Of the 36 all-state selections, 24 return. And 20 of those are on the four clear title contenders — Shoshoni, Pine Bluffs, Rocky Mountain and Wind River.

Four questions to answer

Is this going to be the best year of nine-man yet? Absolutely. When the four teams from the previous year’s semifinals combine to return 20 all-state players, you know some things are about to go down. That’s what we have with Shoshoni, Rocky Mountain, Pine Bluffs and Wind River — four teams who, in any other year, might be alone as the odds-on favorites. In 2022, they all have to contend with one another.

What about the other 12 teams? Competitive, but also-rans. Lingle will be significantly improved, Big Piney will be a challenging addition to the West, and Saratoga, Greybull, Lusk and Riverside will all be capable of giving the top teams a tussle. But nine-man will be stratified entering the year, with clear divisions between the top teams and the outsiders.

So who’s gonna take it all? *shrug emoji*. Shoshoni got a lot of love in the preseason as the defending champions, but Rocky Mountain returns a ton of players (both from injury and just in general) and Pine Bluffs has top-tier individual talent that’s harnessed well in a team concept. And Wind River is capable of beating them all. So, like I said…

Is nine-man really this top-heavy, and are the top teams really this even? Yep. Every single game among those top four will be must-see football, and if one of the other 12 programs can pull an upset or two to make it a five- or six-team race, watch out.

Preseason class MVP

Stu Lerwick, Pine Bluffs. No one in the classification is anywhere close to matching Lerwick’s aerial production. Last year, he completed 134 of 211 passes (63.5% completion) for 2,215 yards and 23 touchdowns against only three interceptions — this after throwing for 1,857 yards as a sophomore. The Hornets are loaded with star players around him, so watch for similar success this season.

Preseason class breakout player

Wyatt Campbell, Southeast. How many linemen can turn in a top-three finish in the 100-meter dash? Campbell can — and he’s moving from the line to the backfield because of it. The Cyclones’ new fullback will be part of a Southeast attack that’s refocusing its efforts on speed, with Campbell right in the middle of it all on both offense and on defense as a middle linebacker.

Other players to watch

Pehton Truempler and Alex Mills, Shoshoni. Mills is the returning Class 1A nine-man defensive player of the year, intercepting 11 passes, best in nine-man, and scoring two defensive touchdowns. And on offense, he leads the Wranglers’ offense under center, throwing for 1,181 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. But Truempler tied for the team lead with 100 tackles and, oh by the way, ran for 1,521 yards and 21 touchdowns on his way to Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team status. That’s a heck of a duo to try to stop — and they’ve got support.

Nate Minemyer, Rocky Mountain. Named by the coaches as the classification’s top lineman last season, Minemyer made a name for himself on both sides of the ball. He was particularly problematic on defense, where he ran up 74 total tackles but made a bunch of big plays — eight tackles for loss, four sacks, three fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks.

Jaycee Herbert, Wind River. Class 1A nine-man’s top specialist last year, Herbert was equally impactful on offense and defense, too. He led the Cougars with 92 tackles and had a team-high 14 tackles for loss. He also led the team in scoring (13 touchdowns) and in all-purpose offense, with 870 rushing yards, a team-high 117 receiving yards and an average of 21.3 yards per kick return.

Ryan Fornstrom, Pine Bluffs. Somehow, people tend to forget that Fornstrom was a first-team Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 selection last year, along with his teammate Lerwick, and that it’s unheard of not only for a nine-man team to have two Super 25 players, but have them both back. Fornstrom led the Hornets in defensive points and led all of nine-man in catches (38) and receiving yards (647).

Four key games

Pine Bluffs at Shoshoni, Sept. 1. Shoshoni’s only loss in last year’s title run was to the Hornets. While the championship rematch the Hornets sought never materialized, this Week 1 showdown will give a good early indication of who’s the favorite in 2022.

Lingle at Lusk, Sept. 9. Lingle just might be the most improved team in 1A nine-man this year, and the Doggers’ hopes for a breakout season may just rest on their East Conference opener. The Tigers present a big challenge in that scenario, but isn’t that the point for a team trying to prove it belongs?

Rocky Mountain at Shoshoni, Sept. 23. This game has significant intrigue not only for the West Conference race but for the entire season, as the Wranglers and Grizzlies reprise their rivalry as well as last year’s state championship game.

Rocky Mountain at Wind River, Oct. 20. Don’t forget about the Cougars — they’re locked and loaded for another deep playoff run. This regular-season finale against the Grizzlies might just be a surprise in waiting.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Pine Bluffs; Lingle; Saratoga; Lusk; Wright; Southeast; Guernsey; Moorcroft.

West Conference: Shoshoni; Rocky Mountain; Wind River; Greybull; Big Piney; Riverside; St. Stephens; Wyoming Indian.

Preseason top five: 1. Shoshoni; 2. Pine Bluffs; 3. Rocky Mountain; 4. Wind River; 5. Lingle.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Shoshoni 32, Pine Bluffs 28. Honestly, though, no one can say for sure how this will shake out. Any of the top four are completely capable teams, and whoever wins it all in nine-man this year will have absolutely earned their praise.

Who’s your pick for a winner in what is by all accounts the most competitive year of nine-man football since its return in 2020? Which of the top four will it be, or is there a spoiler no one’s thinking of? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 2A.

–patrick

The new look in Class 1A six-man in 2022 has little to do with the teams in the classification and a lot to do with how they’re arranged.

For the first time since 2012, six-man teams will be organized into North and South conferences. The change, prompted in part by Guernsey’s departure to nine-man and Ten Sleep’s return, will reduce travel.

It won’t reduce the talent disparity, as the three top teams entering the season (Snake River, Dubois and Encampment) will all move together from the West to the South.

And in one final quirk to the season, conference schedules are front-loaded, with many conference games being played in Weeks 2-4 and the conference season itself ending in Week 7.

In a way, the schedule forces teams to always be on top of their game. But in six-man, where undefeated champs (like Snake River last year) are the norm, not the exception, that’s not unusual.

Four questions to answer

Is anyone catching Snake River? Probably not. Last year’s undefeated state champions return almost everyone, including four all-state players. No one in 1A six-man can come close to that. The Rattlers won’t have it easy — their conference schedule will make sure of that — but to start, everyone’s chasing Snake.

So who can give the Rattlers fits? Encampment and Dubois. The Tigers and the Rams, conveniently new South Conference rivals to Snake River, are the only two teams who return more than one all-stater (each return two). Although Snake handled each of them fairly easily last year, they’ll be competitive and potentially have the athleticism and experience to pull an upset. And Encampment draws the lucky straw on the schedule, getting to play both Snake River and Dubois at home.

What about the North Conference? Not just yet. Burlington should rebound well after a one-win season last year and is the early favorite, and Meeteetse, Midwest and Hulett all look fairly even entering the season. Kaycee could be a spoiler, and Ten Sleep is back. Of the group, Burlington is the one most likely to cause some trouble in the postseason, thanks to all-state QB Seth Wardell and a plethora of athletic players who can catch and run.

What do the coaches think about the new North-South conference setup? Meh. The coaches like that it would reduce travel for most teams, and they liked having a chance to see some new opponents in conference play. Beyond that? A lot of ambivalence in a classification where travel is long and opponents common regardless of any conference separation.

Preseason class MVP

Wyatt Trembly, Dubois. Not too many sophomores lead Class 1A six-man in rushing, but that’s exactly what Trembly did last season with 1,634 rushing yards in 10 games, notching a classification-high 30 total touchdowns. And he was also the No. 2 tackler in six-man with 143 tackles while also notching 18 tackles for loss, four sacks and 17 pass deflections. In a sport that rewards all-around players, Trembly fits that description better than anyone else in the classification.

Preseason class breakout player

Hunter Reilly, Hulett. The Red Devils’ hopes for repeating 2021’s success in 2022 rest on a trio of seniors, and Reilly will be the player Hulett turns to a lot. He is Hulett’s top returning receiver, as his 11 catches went for 313 yards (do the math, that’s more than 28 yards per catch), and he’s also the Red Devils’ top returning tackler on a defense that will need his leadership.

Other players to watch

Kannadis Peroulis, Snake River. Peroulis proved to be the Rattlers’ go-to player on the ground last year, rushing 125 times for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. His 12.6 yards per carry was one of the best marks in six-man. He’s also a solid defensive contributor, notching 72 tackles, two sacks and an interception last year.

Seth Wardell, Burlington. Wardell’s return under center is a big reason why Burlington is expected to have a big turnaround this season. He topped 1A six-man with 233.3 passing yards per game last year and completed almost 62% of his passes last year in the classification’s most productive passing offense.

Quade Jordan, Encampment. As a sophomore, Jordan finished third in rushing in 1A six-man last year, carrying for 1,537 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was third in scoring with 169 points and was second with 27 touchdowns. He also carried his weight on defense, tallying 68 tackles, four sacks and four fumble recoveries.

Joseph Pina, Meeteetse. The Longhorn’s 5-foot-6 junior dynamo was a beast on defense last year, running up 135 total tackles. His coach said Pina can play basically any position on defense — and that’s a good thing, considering he’s the Longhorns’ only all-conference player to return this fall. Pina will also have an expanded role on offense in Meeteetse’s backfield.

Four key games

Snake River at Dubois, Sept. 9. Both teams have championship dreams this season, so it seems a bit weird that this game will be in Week 2 instead of, oh, Week 8. But here we are, and the Rattlers and Rams will have to be on point early in the year to stay atop the West.

Burlington at Hulett, Sept. 10. The direction of the new North Conference will take shape early, as this one is the conference opener for both teams. They staged a classic last season, and this year might bring another.

Snake River at Encampment, Oct. 8. This rematch of last year’s championship game comes right in the middle of the conference season, and if both teams can carry the 2021 momentum into 2022, this one will be a huge one.

Midwest at Meeteetse, Oct. 14. The North Conference schedule ends with three Week 7 games, and none may be bigger than this one between two teams with big desires to prove themselves capable of hanging with anyone.

Predicted order of finish

North Conference: Burlington; Meeteetse; Hulett; Midwest; Kaycee; Ten Sleep.

South Conference: Snake River; Encampment; Dubois; Farson; Hanna.

Preseason top five: 1. Snake River; 2. Encampment; 3. Dubois; 4. Burlington; 5. Farson.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Snake River 54, Encampment 39. The South’s top three are more or less unanimous across coaches statewide; the order is the question, though. If it’s anyone other than the Rattlers, Tigers or Rams in the title game, be surprised; if it’s anyone but the Rattlers hoisting the trophy, be surprised, too.

Who’s your pick for six-man’s championship? Which teams might pull some surprises? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 1A nine-man.

–patrick

A high school football team can only have, at most, 99 players.

That’s because at most, a team can only have 99 different uniform numbers.

Of course, this is only a problem for a few select programs statewide. But if we were to put together all the teams in the state and choose players based on their uniform number, only choosing one player per number, what would that roster look like?

Well, probably something like what I’ve shared below — a compilation of Wyoming’s top returning players by their uniform number.

This is something I’ve done for four years (see the 20212020 and 2019 versions of this list to compare). It’s always fun to compare players in ways that are unusual; for example, is the better player a 3A backup fullback or a six-man starting wide receiver?

I did my best to look through last year’s stats as well as comments from coaches that I’ve talked to for the annual Wyoming high school football preview magazine to come up with this list. Even so, there’s probably a place where you think I screwed up. That’s cool — leave a comment and let’s chat about it!

My annual disclaimer: I can’t guarantee that the numbers players wore last year will be worn again by them this year. I can’t even guarantee that they’ll go out, or that they haven’t moved since the end of last year (although at least a couple players who would have made the list have moved out of state and have been removed). I used last year’s stat listings and rosters posted online to determine what jersey number players wore; if your team didn’t compile stats or didn’t post a roster, I didn’t (moreover, couldn’t) include those players. Also, at least two of these players wore more than one number last year; they’re noted with asterisks.

NumberNameSchool
1Keagan BartlettCheyenne Central
2Lucas TalichCody
3Tucker CarricatoSaratoga
4Grayson BeaudrieCody
5Colson CoonSheridan
6Ryan FornstromPine Bluffs
7Kade WeberWorland
8Alex MillsShoshoni
9Garet SchlabsCheyenne East
10Ashton HouskeeperLyman
11Wyatt PowellNatrona
12Stu LerwickPine Bluffs
13Breckin McClintockNatrona
14Ethan BrinkmanCheyenne East
15Dalton SchaeferPine Bluffs
16Seth MaxsonSnake River
17Hadley MyersSnake River
18Zane MathesonSnake River
19Russell CrosbyRocky Mountain
20Logan JonesGlenrock
21Wyatt TremblyDubois
22Nolan SpearsLingle
23Karson EwingDouglas
24Carson EardleyMountain View
25Aric SukoWheatland
26Jackson SchroederCody
27Remy BroussardCody
28Dom JarvisShoshoni
29Luukas RyhtiMeeteetse
30Holden McConkeyNewcastle
31Ty StrohscheinRiverside
32McKoy SmithLyman
33Quade JordanEncampment
34Charlie WonkaBuffalo
35Dillon GlickThunder Basin
36Ben NicholsLovell
37Matisse WeaverLander
38Preston NicholsLovell
39Korbyn ElaissenThunder Basin
40Pehton TruemplerShoshoni
41Slayd DaleySaratoga
42Carter ArchuletaDouglas
43Jeremiah SalmoGreen River
44Dylan AlexanderRiverside
45Jake SchlattmannGreybull
46Liam BaldwinPinedale*
47Logan ClassCody
48Lannon BrazletonPowell
49Ian SimmonsNewcastle
50Wyatt CampbellSoutheast
51Carter McBurnettRock Springs
52Braden VincentRiverton
53Max GregoryLyman
54Trevor EldridgeCheyenne East
55Korbin DewittShoshoni
56Drew SmialekWheatland
57Clay MerrittStar Valley
58Diego PaniaguaPine Bluffs
59Kolbe DierksCheyenne East
60Haydan HuyserGlenrock
61Dane BransonMountain View
62Zane CollinsLovell*
63Colton PrindleCheyenne Central
64Kiefer DunhamBig Horn
65Jacob PrellNewcastle
66Jeral NehlUpton-Sundance
67Lyric GordonRiverton
68Tyler MairMountain View
69Cordelle LanePinedale
70Dayne LampLusk
71Tiegen ThompsonSoutheast
72Chris BenboeCheyenne Central
73Cody CrawfordNatrona
74Gage FinleyGreen River
75Blake MillerLusk
76Sam BirdsallTorrington
77Dylen ClendenenRocky Mountain
78Tucker JensenWind River
79Tegen SeedsDouglas
80Mickey MaroniBurlington
81Vaun PiersonKaycee
82Tanner NielsenNewcastle
83Jackson LynnSheridan
84Tanner HatchCokeville
85Jake KampmanKemmerer
86Hogan TystadNewcastle
87Chase StewartStar Valley
88Collin HaslemRocky Mountain
89Kayden PharrNatrona
90Ezra ArchuletaRawlins
91Travis KelleyNatrona
92No returners identified
93No returners identified
94No returners identified
95No returners identified
96No returners identified
97No returners identified
98Beckham StoweKelly Walsh
99Jaxson StanleyShoshoni

*-Baldwin also wore No. 65; Collins also wore No. 86.

Special note: For the first time, this list has an honorable mention selection: Dom Kaszas, an all-state wide receiver who transferred from Sheridan to Cheyenne East over the summer. He wore No. 7 with Sheridan, but I have no idea what he’ll wear with East. …

–patrick

Cover of the Wyoming high school football preview magazine.

The 2021 version of the Wyoming high school football preview magazine, after a bit of a delay, is finally out!

The magazine has full previews on every team in Wyoming. No other publication does this to the depth you’ll find in this magazine.

The magazine is available here online. Hard copies should be available for free at the locations of the advertisers in the next week or so.

Please support the advertisers — they’re the ones that allow for this magazine to happen.

Thanks for your patience, and enjoy!

–patrick

For almost a decade, the calling card of Class 4A football was its predictability.

No more.

The moniker afforded to the “Big Four” programs of Natrona, Cheyenne East, Sheridan and Campbell County/Thunder Basin is officially dead.

The chance for a team outside that group to win a 4A championship for the first time since 2004 is more than just blind optimism.

Cheyenne Central proved last year it can hang with anyone. Rock Springs has been slowly building a scary program. Kelly Walsh was a semifinalist last year.

If 2020 was the beginning of the end of the Big Four, 2021 may represent the start of a new paradigm. The Big Seven? Eight? Nine? TEN?

One 4A coach put it succinctly: “There are no bye weeks in 4A anymore.” Note the last word.

And thank goodness for that.

Four questions to answer

Let’s start simple: Who’s the 4A favorite? Simple?!?! This is by far one of the hardest questions to answer, statewide in any classification, heading into the 2021 season. With Class 4A’s turnover this year, the classification is as unpredictable as ever. This year’s preseason survey of coaches turned in a variety of different answers as to who 4A’s favorite is; it will suffice to say that there’s no consensus.

Why is this so difficult? Most of last year’s teams were heavy on seniors. Only six (out of 39) first-team all-state choices are back this year in the entire classification, and only 15 (of 76) first-team all-conference players return. This season more than any will likely be defined by the offseason — which teams and players put in the most work to improve between last year and this year. And that’s always a crapshoot.

So who’d the coaches say? Well, Rock Springs, Thunder Basin, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne Central, Natrona, Sheridan… each one of those teams got at least some indication of being a true threat for a title. Of the four teams outside that discussion (Kelly Walsh, Cheyenne South, Campbell County and Laramie), keep in mind that KW was a semifinalist last year, Campbell County returns more starters than any other 4A program (eight on each side of the ball) and Laramie is the wild card with a new coach.

Is this year a harbinger of things to come this decade? It’s likely. East, Natrona and Sheridan are the only programs to win 4A titles since 2009. However, the 2020s are likely to be defined by a bit more parity than the 2010s were, meaning the chances of a titleist coming from someone other than these three programs is better than it’s been in a long, long time.

Preseason class MVP

Isaac Schoenfeld, Rock Springs. In a word: versatility. The only returning player in 4A who was on the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team a year ago, Schoenfeld, a University of Wyoming commit, has the size and skill to frustrate opponents. He does a bit of everything on defense — 26 tackles, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, two pass deflections last year — and was the Tigers’ top receiver last year with 37 catches, 610 yards and seven touchdowns. Oh, and he ran the ball a bit, too.

Presesason class breakout player

Carter McComb, Sheridan. McComb has been a two-time all-state choice at return specialist last year, and with good reason — last year, he only had 16 returns, but two went for touchdowns. Still, he has yet to find a consistent spot in Sheridan’s offense. That could change this year as the Broncs graduated a lot of receivers and need explosive players, like McComb, to give them a downfield threat.

Other players to watch

Cam Burkett, Kelly Walsh. KW’s lone all-state player last year will be the focus of every opponent’s defensive game plan. He carried for 1,090 yards and 17 TDs last year, and with the Trojans losing their next four top rushers to graduation, Burkett may have to do even more to keep KW in contention.

Ryan Baker, Thunder Basin. A successful junior year has turned up expectations on the ‘Bolts’ senior quarterback. He completed 159 of 271 passes for 2,084 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. In a season where several teams are changing quarterbacks, Baker’s return gives Thunder Basin some much-needed offensive stability.

Cadon Shaklee, Rock Springs. One of the top defensive players in the classification, no other player in 4A coming back this year can match Shaklee’s 101 tackles from a year ago. He also notched four sacks. He doesn’t have a big role on offense but still managed a pair of touchdown catches last year; that could grow as he grows.

Kaeden Wilcox, Natrona. Wilcox was Natrona’s statistical leader on defense last year, with an even 100 tackles, 40 solo tackles, six interceptions and seven pass break-ups. As the Mustangs rebuild their defense this year, Wilcox’s presence will give Natrona the necessary steadiness and consistency.

Four key games

Thunder Basin at Cheyenne East, Aug 27. The season starts with a bang as the ‘Bolts and Thunderbirds meet in a rematch of last year’s championship game. This game was the only game East lost all last year, so don’t read too much into how this game turns out either way — but you can bet both teams really want to win this one.

Cheyenne Central at Kelly Walsh, Sept. 3. Think the Indians won’t be hyped for this one? This is Central’s chance for revenge on the team that surprised it in the first round of last year’s playoffs. But Kelly will be ready, too, prepared to show last year’s upset was no fluke.

Natrona at Sheridan, Oct. 1. One of the most epic games of the 2020 season was the four-overtime breathtaker between the Mustangs and Broncs. But that’s no surprise — games between these two programs rarely disappoint. With both teams thinking about deep playoff runs this year, this one will be, as usual, critical to the 4A chase.

Rock Springs at Cheyenne East, Oct. 22. If the Tigers keep improving as they have been the past couple years, this game against defending champ East in the final week of the regular season could be the most critical game not only for the two teams involved but for all of 4A.

Predicted order of finish/preseason rankings

Rock Springs, Cheyenne East, Natrona, Sheridan, Thunder Basin, Cheyenne Central, Campbell County, Kelly Walsh, Laramie, Cheyenne South.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Rock Springs 21, Cheyenne East 20. Realistically, though, any team that makes the playoffs will have a good shot at winning it all. Be ready for weirdness, upsets and a surprise champion — because, let’s be honest, anyone who wins it this year will be a surprise champion.

Which team do you think has the best chance to stake a claim to a title in a year full of transition? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

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