With practices less than a month away (20 days for 4A schools, 27 for everyone else), the chatter about football season is already starting across the state. Reclassification and graduation have shifted the favorites’ roles to some new teams, although no one looks like a runaway lock for any state championships.
It’s a year of change for Wyoming high school football, but the basic tenets of success remain the same. Here are some of the teams I think have the best chances for capitalizing on what they already have.
Feel free to add your thoughts with a comment; I’d love to hear who you think has the best chances at winning state titles.
1. Sheridan: Austin Woodward, maybe the best player in the state this year, is back. So is his favorite target, T.J. Stender. The Broncs proved they can play with anyone last year and if they find some role players to step up, they’ll not only play with anyone, they’ll beat anyone.
2. Green River: The Wolves lost some talented players, true. But they also have a few back — namely a savvy, athletic quarterback in Drew Martinez.
3. Gillette: Because it’s Gillette, that’s why. The Camels simply reload. And they’ve got a starting QB in Alan Sisel that’s been under varsity center since his sophomore year.
4. Cheyenne Central: Lots of youth on last year’s team, which was a big reason the Indians never really threatened the top teams in the state. But lots of guys are back — namely WR Kyle Grott, DE Hayden Jones and QB Conner Long — and they’ll be big reasons why no one will overlook Central this fall.
5. Cheyenne East: We’ll see. The top four in 4A seem pretty clear-cut, but East under coach Chad Goff has been one of the most consistently successful programs in Wyoming’s big-school football the last few years.
On the rise: Laramie. No, I don’t say that just because I moved here. I say that because there’s nowhere else to go for the Plainsmen, and this year they’ve got some talented athletes and a chance to at least make the playoffs — if not do some damage once they make it.
On the fall: Natrona County. No, I don’t say that just because I don’t live there anymore. I say that because last year’s team was brimming with seniors and couldn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. It’ll be a tall order for NC to climb into the championship chase. But NC always seems to do best when it’s underestimated, so watch out.
1. Douglas: A couple of key cogs from last year’s championship run are back — like CST Super 25er Pierre Etchemendy and wideout Ryan Adams — and although there are key roles that need to be filled, the Bearcats have the talent, and now the confidence, to fill them.
2. Lander: The Tiger could be a scary team out West thanks to how much experience is back. Lots of young players have been filling key roles for Lander the past two years.
3. Buffalo: It’s hard to count out the Bison at any stage of the season, as tradition has proven they know how to get the job done year in and year out.
4. Cody: Just like seemingly every other team in 3A, the Broncs lost lots of seniors, so it’s last year’s success that this choice is based on.
5. Pick ‘em: Riverton, Jackson, Torrington, Powell….. Wheatland, Rawlins, Star Valley, Worland…. Bueller? Bueller? Class 3A looks as open as it has ever been.
On the rise: Lander. A lot of the Tigers’ studs are back this fall, and this could be Lander’s breakthrough year to the top after a few at the bottom.
On the fall: Buffalo. I’ve still got them ranked third out of respect for coach Pat Lynch and his ability to make lemonade. But the Bison lost a ton of great players from last year’s team and have a ton of work to do before they can think about another championship run.
1. Kemmerer: Several juniors were important parts of last year’s run to the championship game, including CST Super 25 lineman Eric Robinson, so the talent is there for another conference title and playoff push.
2. Glenrock: Don’t be shocked if the Herders throw a bit more on offense this year — their quarterback, Kyle Farley, is back, as is their top receiver, the underused but dangerous Dustin Worthington. Worthington caught nine passes last year and six went for touchdowns.
3. Burns: Although the Broncs don’t have the athleticism that helped them win the 2A championship last year (i.e. Duell Petsch is gone), there are still several important players back from last year, like Frankie Vossler and Shane McDonald, that’ll make the transition to 2009 a little bit smoother.
4. Lovell: The Bulldogs, like every team, have some big positions to fill, but a load of experienced seniors should help make Ken Boatwright’s second year with the Bulldogs easier, and maybe more successful, than the first.
5. Moorcroft: I don’t think last year was a fluke, and having guys like Shane Hadley and Dee Jay Hacklin back to help shoulder the load in their senior seasons should help the Wolves stay in contention.
On the rise: Mountain View. Last year was an abnormally tough one for the Buffalos, who should be right back in the mix this fall.
On the fall: Big Horn. Moving up to play some bigger schools will be tough for the Rams, especially in their first year, and with every week so important to the conference race and playoff seeding, they can’t wait long to adjust. I still think Big Horn makes the playoffs, though — having a returning QB in an option-based offense is a huge advantage, and the Rams have that in junior Colby Wollenman.
Class 1A 11-man
1. Southeast: It’s more than just three consecutive championships that puts the Cyclones here. They also have three all-staters back this season, including last year’s 1A offensive player of the year, Tanner May.
2. Wind River: The Jordans, Doug and Trent, will be a handful for any team to stop this fall — especially if the Cougars can build off the confidence created by last year’s trip to the semifinals.
3. Hulett: The Red Devils had five all-state selections last year. Four were juniors. In the first year of remixed, reclassed 1A 11-man, the Red Devils could be a big surprise.
4. Burlington: The Huskies weren’t far away from a state championship last year, and with three all-state players coming back, Burlington should be right back in the thick of things again this fall.
5. Lusk: The Tigers were oh-so-close to making the title game last year, and although they have some big shoes to fill, they return all-state QB Lance Hladky for his junior season and should be able to build around him.
On the rise: Dubois. The Rams were a young team last year. They’ll definitely be better this year, but in an expanded conference, making the playoffs will still be a tall order.
On the fall: Cokeville. When’s the last time you didn’t see Cokeville in a preseason top five? Like 1947? The Panthers will probably be good enough to make the playoffs again, but they’re definitely not among the preseason favorites because of a lack of experience.
Class 1A 6-man
1. Guernsey: It’s pretty simple here — the team that’s had the most success at 11-man, one that ran lots of six-man style passing and misdirection rushing plays the past few years, gets the early preseason nod in six-man’s first year. Guernsey’s JV team also got some six-man in under its belt last season, so it’s not like the Vikings are coming in blind.
2. Meeteetse: The Longhorns have more experience in the six-man game than anyone else, and in the first full-fledged season of Wyoming six-man, that will pay off huge, especially early in the season.
3. Ten Sleep: The basketball season proved the Pioneers have the athletes to compete with anyone, and Scott Erdahl and Tony Villareal, both juniors, will make for a nice 1-2 combo. As usual, though, the only question for Ten Sleep is if they’ll have enough players to fill out a complete team.
4. Hanna: The bulk of the Miners’ squad was juniors last year, including their only all-stater in QB Jon Borah. With a ton of playing time returning, the big question is how quick Hanna will adapt to the new style of play with a new coach.
5. Midwest: The Oilers have dabbled in six-man for several years now and will have a better grasp of the game early in the season than most of their opponents — something that will help lead to success in the win column.
On the rise: The remaining four six-man schools — Kaycee, Snake River, Farson and Fort Washakie. When building programs from scratch, there’s nowhere to go but up. (Of these, I think Snake River has the best chance to make a run. Basketball and track helped prove they have the type of athleticism needed to make up for their inexperience.)
Now’s your chance — post a comment and let me know if you think I hit the nail on the head or if I mis-swung and hit my thumb instead.