The 2018 Wyoming High School Football Preview Magazine is now out and posted here at wyoming-football.com!

I spend two months compiling what you see here — preview stories about every team in the state, interviews with every single head coach, players to watch, schedules, key games, predictions and more. It’s a heck of a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it. You won’t find a more thorough, comprehensive and complete preview of Wyoming high school football anywhere else.

Thanks again to all the coaches statewide for their help! I couldn’t do this without their cooperation, and it’s greatly appreciated.

Hard copies should be out soon. Stop by any of the advertisers listed in the magazine to pick up your FREE hard copy. And mad props to the advertisers for allowing this magazine to become a reality.

–patrick

Four-peats don’t happen often in Class 4A.

The last big-school team to four-peat was Sheridan from 1990-93. Prior to that, it was Worland from 1924-27.

That’s it. For now.

In 2018, Sheridan could complete the third four-peat at the big-school level in Wyoming history. The Broncs have plenty of challenges facing them this year — among them the loss of a big senior class and an entire state’s worth of teams targeting them as the team to beat — but that doesn’t change the fact that Sheridan’s poised to make some history.

Four questions to answer

Will Sheridan win a fourth consecutive championship? The odds are good. If I had to guess, I’d say Sheridan’s odds were about 50/50 — it’s a 50 percent chance that Sheridan will win 4A, and a 50 percent chance the other nine programs combined have. The Broncs have a ton of new personnel and a new coach in Jeff Mowry, but they also have tradition, high expectations and momentum.

Who’s got the best shot to challenge Sheridan? No one knows. Honestly: No. One. Knows. In my interviews with 4A head coaches this summer, the definitive response to this question was seemingly “Uhhhh….” Now, coaches did say some teams are in the running. Kelly Walsh has a chance, maybe Natrona, maybe East, maybe Thunder Basin… but not a single coach could give a specific reason, outside of tradition, why any team other than Sheridan should be considered a legit contender for the 4A crown. And if you’re in Sheridan, that’s a good thing.

So who actually has the best shot? Kelly Walsh. If you cut through all the presuppositions, the team that’s unanimously on the rise is KW. Opposing coaches came away impressed with the Trojans’ performance last year, their ability to finally get a playoff victory (first since 2009) and the personnel that returns. If last year was a breakthrough, this year could be the start of a pattern.

Will new coaches at Sheridan and Cheyenne Central change 4A much? Not this year. Jeff Mowry in Sheridan learned from Don Julian for several years and likely will not mess with what’s working. And Mike Apodaca inherits a rebuilding project at Cheyenne Central that will take longer than a year to turn around completely. In five years, we may look back on this and see the start of something new, but for now, don’t expect too much boat-rocking.

Four players to watch

Parker Christensen, Sheridan. In July, Christensen verbally committed to the University of Wyoming. He earned that opportunity after running for 1,049 yards on just 98 carries (do the math and that’s 10.7 yards per carry). As one of the top running backs in the state, playing for the three-time defending champs, Christensen will have a huge responsibility ahead.

Brock Spiegelberg, Kelly Walsh. As KW shifted to a balanced running game, Spiegelberg piled up the stats. He ran for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he’s Class 4A’s leading returning rusher. As the centerpiece of the Trojans’ offense, he could put up even bigger numbers this fall — and more importantly, lead KW deeper in the playoffs.

Zach Alexander, Cheyenne East. Alexander is preparing to enter his third year as East’s starting middle linebacker — an honor few 4A players could ever claim. As the centerpiece of the defense, he’s been a steady performer, and he’ll lead East’s defense in a wide-open 4A race.

Chase Brachtenbach, Natrona. Not too many players lead Natrona in defensive points as a junior, but that’s exactly what Brachtenbach did last season. The Mustangs’ leader in tackles for loss and sacks, Brachtenbach will be a key piece of a rebuilding Mustang defense.

Four key games

Thunder Basin at Cheyenne Central, Aug. 24. There’s probably not a 4A game on the schedule that has more questions than this one. How will Thunder Basin come back after losing a large chunk of seniors? How will Central play under new coach Mike Apodaca? Will either one be a surprise challenger? This game should help answer a lot of those queries.

Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne East, Aug. 31. If the Trojans want to be taken as a serious 4A title contender, they have to beat the Thunderbirds. East has beaten KW nine consecutive times, and KW hasn’t won at East since 2006. If the Trojans can get this one, they’ll be right in the thick of things.

Sheridan at Natrona, Sept. 7. Sheridan got the best of Natrona in both of their matchups, including the big one in the state title game. Both teams look to be contenders again this fall, so this early season matchup should set the pace for 4A for the rest of the season.

Natrona at Kelly Walsh, Oct. 5. This Oil Bowl could have higher stakes than any Oil Bowl in the past decade. Both the Mustangs and Trojans want to be in the title chase, and what better way to prove yourself than against your cross-town rival?

Predicted order of finish

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Sheridan 34, Kelly Walsh 26. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the 4A ranks this year. What is clear, though, is that no one team has specifically risen up to give Sheridan a challenge for 4A supremacy. An undefeated state champion is unlikely, but Sheridan will remain the favorite until someone — anyone — proves they can knock the Broncs out of the king’s throne.

What do you think? I’ve got Sheridan down to win it all in November. Do you? Who’s the Broncs’ biggest challenger? Leave a comment, because I’ve got some thoughts and I want to work through them with you all.

–patrick

Cody’s run to the 2017 Class 3A championship was pretty special.

With one inspired run, the Broncs won their fifth state title, ended Star Valley’s attempt at a three-peat and established themselves as one of the favorites to win 3A in 2018.

However, a lot of uncertainty surrounds 3A this year.

Of the seven returning all-state selections, three play for Cody and three for Torrington; most teams are trying to rebuild this year. New coaches at Rawlins, Lander, Green River and Powell make the classification unstable. Worland has switched conferences.

When the stream gets stirred up like this, the lack of clarity makes it difficult to navigate — but exciting to try to wade through.

Four questions to answer

Was Cody’s state championship a fluke? No way. The Broncs proved they were the best team at the right time last year, and the playoff victories they earned against Buffalo, Star Valley and Torrington — all as the lower seed — were all definitive. That means the Broncs didn’t just win a title last year. They set a new standard for the program.

Does that mean that Cody’s the favorite to win the 3A title again this year? Sort of. Cody returns three all-state players, more than any other 3A school except Torrington. And there’s the rub. Torrington, last year’s 3A runner-up, is loaded for another deep playoff run. We may see a repeat in the 3A title game this year, and this time the Trailblazers could be the ones hoisting the champions’ trophy.

Isn’t Star Valley still in the mix? Yeah… but this year is a true test for the program. The Braves lost more seniors than a nursing home at Sunday brunch. Until we know if those new players have the ability to bear the brunt of the old expectations, it’s best to wait and see with the Braves this year.

What big offseason change will affect 3A the most long-term? John Scott’s hiring at Lander. Scott has a history of taking under-performing programs and turning them around. He’s done it at Kemmerer, Gillette and Tongue River. And now he’s at Lander, taking over a program that’s gone 2-31 combined the past four seasons. The turnaround won’t be immediate, but knowing Scott’s history, it will happen.

Four players to watch

Bryan Lemmon, Torrington. Lemmon might be 3A’s best running back — for the second year in a row. He ran for 1,261 yards and 18 touchdowns last year in leading the Trailblazers to the title game. He also had 25 catches for 475 yards… and he was also Torrington’s leading tackler last year, giving opposing offenses fits from his linebacker spot.

Jared Grenz, Cody. One number makes Grenz stand out on the stat sheet: 31.8. That’s how many yards per catch Grenz averaged last year, needing only 16 catches to rack up 509 yards. He also ran 48 times for 341 yards (a not-too-shabby 7.1 yards per carry). His big-play ability will be key for Cody’s repeat run.

Anthony Mitchell, Green River. The Wolves’ lone returning all-state player did most of his damage last year on defense, where he was second for Green River in defensive points. Graduation may open up more opportunities on offense, though, as Mitchell is in prime position to become the Wolves’ main aerial threat.

Treyton Paxton, Riverton. Even in a down year last year, the Wolverines’ passing game was still on point. Paxton led that effort by throwing for 1,520 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has to break in basically an entirely new group of receivers (Riverton’s top four receivers from last year are all gone), but Paxton’s abilities throwing the ball could make his receivers’ jobs, and transitions, easier.

Four key games

Green River at Torrington, Sept. 14. One of the most intriguing nonconference games of the season puts Green River on the road against Torrington — the same matchup that ended the Wolves’ season last year. Although it won’t count for any playoff seeding, this game will be huge for both teams to gauge their abilities against teams from the other side of the state.

Rawlins at Douglas, Sept. 21. A heartbreaking 17-14 loss to Douglas nearly marked the end of a long string of losses the Outlaws had suffered to the Bearcats; Rawlins last beat Douglas in 2001. Both teams will need this victory to stay in the race for a home playoff game.

Riverton at Worland, Sept. 21. The Warriors’ East Conference opener… wait, what? Yep, it’s true — after years in the West, Worland jumps to the East Conference this year to balance the conferences after Buffalo’s drop to Class 2A. And this conference opener against the Wolverines will likely have huge playoff seeding implications.

Cody at Star Valley, Oct. 12. The Braves have to be hungry for the opportunity to play the Broncs again. Remember, on its way to the 3A title last year, Cody had to knock off undefeated Star Valley in Afton. They did. This game won’t have the same stakes, but it will be a chance for both teams to make a late push in the West Conference.

Predicted order of finish

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

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Torrington 20, Cody 13. On paper, the Trailblazers and Broncs are the clear favorites in their respective conferences. But 3A is quirky, especially in the playoffs, so there may be a surprise or two after Week 8 that could derail this potential dandy of a title game.

What do you think? Is a rematch of last year’s title game inevitable, or will we see another surprise team come up and win the title the way Cody did last season? Comment with your thoughts and let’s discuss how 3A might turn out this fall.

Next Thursday: Class 4A.

–patrick

Class 2A football was going to be exciting in 2018, regardless.

Then along came Buffalo.

The Bison’s move from Class 3A to Class 2A this season adds another solid program to what was already a classification full of intrigue. With both returning champion Mountain View, runner-up Glenrock and a host of others looking at 2018 as “their” year, Buffalo’s entry into the equation makes this season one to watch.

Oh, and there’s five new coaches in the classification, making the classification that much more uncertain.

Four questions to answer

Will Mountain View repeat as 2A champion? Definitely maybe. The Buffalos definitely return enough talent (five all-state selections) to win another title. The problem is that Glenrock — last year’s runner-up — is also returning boatloads of talent, and Buffalo is moving from Class 3A to Class 2A right in the middle of a resurgence. Mountain View is still one of the favorites, but it’s gonna be tough.

What’s that about boatloads of talent in Glenrock? Two running backs, 3,495 combined yards — that’s what the Herders have back in seniors Ian Arnold and Tucker Bopp. There hasn’t been a more dangerous pair since Butch and Sundance. The Herders’ line is still young, but their backfield is stacked for another deep playoff run.

And what was that about Buffalo? The Bison are ready for a breakthrough. And they would have been ready for a breakthrough even without a move from 3A to 2A. With seven starters back on both offense and defense, including three returning all-state picks, the Bison will be competitive immediately at the 2A level.

How much have coaching changes affected 2A? In a word, bigly. Five Class 2A schools — Burns, Greybull, Lovell, Moorcroft and Wheatland — have new coaches. That’s more than any other classification in the state. And while all five new coaches have interesting backstories and challenging roads ahead, the most intriguing offseason hire was Jeny Gardner, the state’s first female head coach, at Lovell.

Four (OK, six) players to watch

Ian Arnold and Tucker Bopp, Glenrock. There’s not a more dynamic pair of running backs in Class 2A — heck, maybe in the state — than the Herders’ pair of Arnold and Bopp. The speedster Bopp ran for 1,949 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, while the powerful Arnold ran for 1,546 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Kimball Madsen and Braeden Walk, Mountain View. The juniors split time at quarterback and wide receiver last season, combining for 1,874 passing yards and 409 receiving yards. The Buffalos’ plan is to do more of the same this year, with each player getting his chances to run, catch and throw, a twist that may be enough to keep opposing defenses off-balance.

Colton Caves, Wheatland. Don’t overlook Wheatland this season, and don’t overlook Caves. He ran for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and also led the Bulldogs in solo tackles last season. He may shift to quarterback this season — the Bulldogs were still figuring that out late this summer — but regardless of where he is, he’ll be the focus for opposing teams.

Colby Rees, Mountain View. If the foundation of all great teams begins with the line, then the Buffalos are in good shape with Rees leading the way. He was the Class 2A lineman of the year last year as a junior, leading the Buffalos in assisted tackles while finishing second for Mountain View in defensive points, and he should be even better this year.

Four key games

Wheatland at Newcastle, Aug. 31. Even though the bulk of the 2A focus has been elsewhere this offseason, both the Bulldogs and Dogies have talented and deep squads returning this season. They’ll need to be on their games early — they meet in Week 1 of the 2018 season, and the losing team will have to play catch-up for the remainder of 2018.

Buffalo at Glenrock, Sept. 21. Glenrock has won or shared the East Conference championship four years running, but Buffalo presents a league challenge the Herders haven’t had to face in years. The Bison’s move from 3A gives the East Conference an entirely new dynamic, and this Week 4 matchup could be huge.

Mountain View at Pinedale, Sept. 28. On paper, this showdown between the Buffalos and Wranglers could have important implications for the West Conference championship and playoff seeding. Both squads return lots of players from last year’s squads, and Pinedale gets the home-field advantage this time around.

Mountain View at Greybull, Oct. 19. In the aftermath of Mountain View’s state title, it’s easy to forget how efficiently Greybull beat Mountain View in Week 8 last season, smoking the eventual champs 41-15 in the regular season finale. It will be interesting to see if this year’s game is more competitive — and who ends up winning what could be an important game in the conference title race.

Predicted order of finish

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

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

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Buffalo 20, Mountain View 19. The top three spots in 2A are clear, with Buffalo, Mountain View and Glenrock. Buffalo would have been a contender in 3A; in 2A, the Bison just might be the favorites.

What do you think? Is Buffalo the team to beat? Mountain View? Glenrock? Someone else who’s overlooked but ready for a breakthrough? Put your thoughts in a comment and let’s talk 2A.

–patrick

After 77 seasons without a state championship, Pine Bluffs won its first in 2016.

The Hornets liked winning state titles so much, they did it again in 2017.

Now poised on the edge of a three-peat, Pine Bluffs may face its toughest challenge yet — and it won’t have to leave its conference to do so.

Both Big Horn and Upton-Sundance are trying to challenge Pine Bluffs for the Class 1A 11-man title in what might be the toughest conference in the state to win this fall. And, as always, Cokeville lurks out west.

Four questions to answer

Where’s the strength of Class 1A 11-man? The East Conference. With Big Horn, Upton-Sundance and Pine Bluffs, the three best teams (on paper) in the classification are all in the East Conference. After that, the talent level drops off pretty significantly, so it will be a pretty big surprise if one of these three teams doesn’t come away from 2018 with the first-place trophy in their possession.

Of those three, which one is most likely to win it all? Big Horn. By far. The Rams return all six of their all-state selections and almost the entirety of the rest of their squad. That will make the transition to new head coach Kirk McLaughlin — previously an assistant with the Rams — smoother than usual. While Upton-Sundance and Pine Bluffs return enough players to be favorites in pretty much any other year, this year everyone’s starting the season chasing the Rams.

No love for the West Conference this year? Nope. Cokeville graduated 10 seniors. Wind River is resurgent but may still be a year away from state title contention. Rocky Mountain lost a bunch of key players and has a long history of quarterfinal playoff exits. Don’t be surprised if the East sweeps the West in the first round of the playoffs.

Wait, what? A sweep??? The West Conference may field only four teams this fall, as Saratoga has forfeited its varsity season and Wyoming Indian has question marks about whether it can gather enough players (and many conference foes are playing the Chiefs with their JVs anyway). If that’s the case, the remaining four teams in the West are guaranteed playoff spots… and the seven teams in the East are left fighting for the remaining four. Competition will breed success.

Four players to watch

Kade Eisele, Big Horn. Eisele was a huge part of Big Horn’s success last year, running for 1,768 yards and 25 touchdowns. The workhorse of the Rams’ offense could put up even bigger numbers this year thanks to an experienced offensive line and another year of physical development.

Seth Mullinax, Big Horn. One of the guys blocking for Eisele is Mullinax — and he’s hard to miss. At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, Mullinax is a nimble and powerful offensive guard. He’s also got the potential to be a terror on defense, but most of the time opposing defensive lines double-team him. Sometimes that doesn’t even work.

Hunter Jeffres, Pine Bluffs. As a junior, Jeffres led Pine Bluffs in defensive points. He was the Hornets’ leader in both solo and assisted tackles. He might draw more attention from opposing offenses this year, which may affect his stats, but he’ll still be a key piece of the Hornets’ three-peat run.

Clayton Louderback, Upton-Sundance. On a senior-laden Patriot team, Louderback the quarterback has the job of keeping the offense chugging. He’s a dual threat, running for 586 yards and throwing for 1,114 more while combining for 24 touchdowns last year. With a veteran line in front of him, he could be even more dangerous this fall.

Four key games

Upton-Sundance at Big Horn, Sept. 21. Big Horn smacked Upton-Sundance 53-13 last year, so you know the Patriots have been looking forward to proving that one was an anomaly. They get their chance early in the season, and if they can somehow upset the Rams in Sheridan County, the Patriots could prove to be the team to beat in the East.

Big Horn at Pine Bluffs, Sept. 28. Obviously, this is a rematch of last year’s Class 1A 11-man title game. But more than that, this game is likely to be a key piece of the East Conference championship race this fall. This game is just as much present as it is past.

Wind River at Rocky Mountain, Oct. 12. If either the Cougars or Grizzlies want to challenge Cokeville for West Conference supremacy, they’ve got to get past each other first. For Wind River, this could be huge, with the Cougars’ game with Cokeville looming in Week 8 — if they can get past this one first.

Pine Bluffs at Upton-Sundance, Oct. 12. When the preseason top three are all in the same conference, it makes sense that each one of their meetings will be huge. This Week 7 contest is likely to play a huge part in determining the East Conference champion, playoff hosting duties and more.

Predicted order of finish

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

West Conference: Cokeville; Wind River; Rocky Mountain; Shoshoni; Wyoming Indian. (Saratoga will not field a varsity-level team this season.)

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Big Horn 34, Upton-Sundance 26. The Rams start the season head and shoulders above the rest of the 1A 11-man field. Whether U-S, or Pine Bluffs, or Cokeville, does enough to catch the Rams this season will be the huge question of the season.

What do you think? Whose turn is it to finish atop the 1A 11-man mountain? Leave a comment with your thoughts on the 1A 11-man scene this fall and let’s figure it out together.

Next Thursday: Class 2A.

–patrick

At the beginning of the season in Class 1A six-man, the talk will be about Kaycee — and rightly so.

The Buckaroos have won three consecutive Class 1A six-man championships and 30 games in a row, tied for second-longest in state history and just five shy of the overall mark of 34 set by Laramie from 1959-63.

However, whether Kaycee even has the opportunity to break that streak, much less win a fourth consecutive six-man championship, is very much in question.

Graduation decimated the Buckaroos’ lineup, and several other teams (Farson, Burlington, Snake River, Meeteetse, Hanna) think this year might be their year. For once, the competition will be strong in six-man.

Four questions to answer

Will Kaycee win a fourth consecutive six-man championship? Probably not. The Buckaroos lost half its team to graduation — yes, half — and will rely on a ton of younger players to stay competitive. That turnover opens the door for Farson, the six-man runners-up the past two years, to come into the season as favorites for the title.

If Farson’s the favorite, who else is in the title chase? Snake River and Burlington. The three teams split the West Conference title last season, and all three return enough firepower to be state title contenders. Farson’s individual talent — always a bigger deal at six-man than 11-man — gives the Pronghorns the upper hand on paper in the preseason, but both the Rattlers and Huskies could be problematic for Farson this season.

Is anyone from the East a contender? Not really. As noted, Kaycee lost a lot of talent, but pretty much every other team in the East did to. Hanna is the lone exception, but most of the Miners’ key players this year are juniors — setting the team up well for a 2019 push but likely making a run at a championship this year more difficult than usual.

Who’s got the best chance to be a surprise contender? Meeteetse. The Longhorns will have six seniors — a ton for six-man — and could compete for the West Conference crown if everything lines up well. We’ll know Meeteetse’s fate early: The Longhorns play Snake River, Burlington and Farson consecutively in Weeks 3-5.

Four (OK, five) players to watch

Lain Mitchelson, Farson. Mitchelson is arguably the best athlete in Class 1A. Also an accomplished basketball player and track athlete, Mitchelson ran for 944 yards, threw for 412 and received for 276, combining for 24 touchdowns. He also led the Pronghorns with almost 20 defensive points per game.

Clancy Gines, Farson. Gines helps give the Pronghorns the physicality they need to be both respected and a little bit feared by opponents. His 954 rushing yards was tops for Farson last year, and he was second (behind Mitchelson) in defensive points per game.

Hunter Rouse, Kaycee. Somehow, these Kaycee quarterbacks just keep getting the job done. Rouse threw for 18 touchdowns last year and had only two interceptions. His ability to control the pace of the game — and protect the ball — will be huge keys as the Buckaroos’ only returning all-state player tries to push his team toward a fourth consecutive six-man championship.

Conor McGraw and Shane McGraw, Hanna. The twin juniors come from good stock; they’re the sons of NFL player Mike McGraw and grandchildren of NFL player “Fum” McGraw. They’re starting to make their own names, too. Conor was all over the field last year and led Hanna in receiving and defensive points, while Shane led the Miners in rushing yards and also split time throwing the ball, too.

Four key games

Snake River at Burlington, Sept. 7. The Rattlers and Huskies are both trying to challenge Farson’s supremacy in the West Conference. However, the team that can’t get this victory in Week 2 to open conference play will be chasing not only Farson but also the team that wins this game — and that’s going to be a tough spot this season.

Meeteetse at Farson, Sept. 28. This is the third game in Meeteetse’s brutal three-game stretch of Snake River, Burlington and Farson. Meanwhile, this will probably be Farson’s first big test of the season. Maybe the Longhorns sneak this one out in Farson thanks to the seasoning they’ll have had by the time this game rolls around.

Farson at Burlington, Oct. 12. This Week 7 showdown might be Farson’s toughest challenge on the season. Overcoming a long trip to Burlington, as well as a formidable Huskies team, will be key for the Pronghorns to prove their mettle in a title chase.

Kaycee at Hanna, Oct. 13. Kaycee’s trek to a fourth consecutive title will be difficult regardless. This trip to Carbon County might be a trap if the quickly maturing Miners continue to improve. Will this game usher in a changing of the guard at the top of the East Conference?

Predicted order of finish

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

West Conference: Farson; Burlington; Meeteetse; Snake River; Riverside; St. Stephens; Dubois. (Ten Sleep will not field a program this fall.)

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Farson 48, Burlington 42. After two runner-up finishes, it’s about time for Farson to hoist the first-place trophy. They have the talent and the experience to do just that.

What do you think? Is a four-peat in the cards for Kaycee, or is it time for another program to hoist the trophy and end the Buckaroos’ reign? Leave a comment to talk some six-man.

Next Thursday: Class 1A 11-man preview.

–patrick

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

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