No classification exemplifies the changes that reclassification can bring like Class 1A nine-man.
The classification came together in two waves — one the wave of programs who decided against opting up to 11-man and playing in Class 2A, the other wave the group of six-man schools who made the jump up.
Somehow, they all fit together in nine-man. Wyoming’s first attempt at a nine-man classification since 1994 is a fun experiment. Whether it will last is still up for debate, but the longevity of nine-man will, one way or another, be influenced by the first season.
Last time Wyoming messed around with nine-man, it lasted only six years.
This time, two waves of misfits will help decide if nine-man is a failed experiment or a fixture for years to come.
Four questions to answer
What should we expect from this classification in 2020? In short, who knows? This classification didn’t even exist last year, and as an amalgamation of former 11-man and six-man teams, literally anything is possible. The only team that reached the 1A 11-man semifinals last year that’s still around in 1A nine-man this year is Southeast, and that vacuum at the top creates all kinds of opportunities for something new.
Does any one team have the advantage in nine-man’s first season? No. But three teams keep getting mentioned by nine-man coaches: Lusk, Southeast and Rocky Mountain. Those programs have the talent and experience that other coaches envy, and that edge puts those three programs near the top in nine-man’s first go-round.
What about the former six-man programs? Watch out. Four former six-man teams are moving to nine-man this year, and they’ve all got potential. Saratoga, Riverside and Lingle all bring back at least one player who was all-state at six-man.
What’s the most overlooked thing about nine-man’s new setup? The renewed rivalries. Lingle-Southeast is returning to Goshen County, and Riverside-Greybull comes back to Big Horn County. Meanwhile, four Fremont County schools (Wyoming Indian, St. Stephens, Shoshoni and Wind River) form a quadrant of regional rivalries that will be fun to explore.
Four players to watch
Drake Lamp, Lusk. Lamp is trying for something rare this season — his fourth all-state selection. He led Class 1A 11-man in rushing last season in both total yards (1,633) and yards per game (204.1). But he’s never had a chance to play in a playoff game, and that’s gotta be motivating.
Tryston Truempler, Shoshoni. Truempler is the Wranglers’ go-to player. He was third in all of Class 1A 11-man last season with 26.4 defensive points per game and was by far Shoshoni’s leading tackler. On offense, the quarterback also led Shoshoni in both passing yards (747) and rushing yards (640), accounting for 11 touchdowns.
Tyler Banks, Rocky Mountain. On a senior-laden Grizzly team, Banks has plenty of support. But his role as a leader on both sides of the ball can’t be understated — he ran for 1,049 yards and eight TDs last year and was also second on the team with 66 tackles.
Noah Rimmer, Saratoga. Rimmer is a beast for the Panthers. He led Class 1A six-man in receiving yards last year despite not playing in the postseason, and he finished fourth in six-man in defensive points. His skills translate well to nine-man, and he’ll help the Panthers stay in the East Conference race.
Four key games
East-West Jamboree, Aug. 28. In a classification with so much uncertainty, a series of scrimmages during Zero Week in Casper could be the source of a lot of clarification. Nine teams are scheduled to attend the first-of-its-kind mass nine-man jamboree.
Lingle at Southeast, Sept. 11. Both the Doggers and Cyclones want to challenge for the No. 1 spot in the East Conference. The fact that the Goshen County rivals face each other in the conference opener is certainly clear, and motivating, to both squads.
Rocky Mountain at Shoshoni, Sept. 11. Two top contenders for the West Conference championship also meet in the conference opener in Week 2. This game, win or lose, will help set the pace for the rest of the season in the West.
Riverside at Greybull, Oct. 9. These two southern Big Horn County rivals haven’t played each other since 2014, and Riverside hasn’t won this game since 2008. Having the rivalry back is nice, but this game will also likely have big postseason implications, too.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Southeast, Lusk, Saratoga, Lingle, Moorcroft, Wright, Pine Bluffs. West Conference: Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni, Riverside, Greybull, Wind River, Wyoming Indian, St. Stephens.
Preseason top five: 1. Southeast; 2. Rocky Mountain; 3. Lusk; 4. Shoshoni; 5. Saratoga.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Southeast 28, Rocky Mountain 26. Class 1A nine-man should be a class full of parity, and several other teams have the goods to make championship runs. On paper, though, the Cyclones and Grizzlies have the best chances to be the last two teams in November.
Next Thursday: Class 2A.