Note: This is the first of five classification previews for the 2020 season at wyoming-football.com. Previews will run every Thursday for the next five weeks.
Since its reintroduction to Wyoming in 2009, six-man football has seen nothing but dominant champions.
The combined record of the 11 six-man champs since 2009 is 115-2. Only one champion (Kaycee in 2015) had an in-state loss during its championship season.
For comparison, the champs in 4A, 2A and 1A 11-man have a combined nine losses in that span; 3A champs have a combined 12 losses.
Domination isn’t just an expectation in six-man. It’s a requirement.
This year’s dominant team is a bit tougher to find, as four teams leave for the new nine-man division, one team comes back to varsity play for the first time in almost 30 years and another returns after a couple years away.
While the conversation starts with last year’s champs, it doesn’t end there — not in a year where parity could actually be part of the season in a classification that rarely sees it.
Four questions to answer
Can Snake River make another shutout run like last year’s? No. Snake River’s nine consecutive shutouts last year is a feat we’ll likely never see again in six-man. And the Rattlers graduated six all-state players, leaving opportunities for several other teams to fill the void left by those departing seniors.
But can Snake River repeat as champs? Ask the coaches, and they’ll give you the standard answer — they’re the champs until someone beats them, that makes them the favorites, and so on. But six-man should have parity at the top this season, and several teams are capable of making a title run.
So who’s the favorite? Dunno. One of the challenges in assessing the preseason prospects is that of the 40 players selected all-conference last season, only 14 return, thanks to graduation and teams moving to nine-man. Farson and Burlington have three returners apiece, and Hanna and Kaycee two apiece, so pencil them in at the top for now.
What’s new this year? With a little luck, two “new” teams. Encampment played a mix of varsity and sub-varsity teams last year and finished 5-2, and the Tigers will be a fully-fledged West Conference team this year. Meanwhile, Ten Sleep has missed the past two seasons due to low numbers but is scheduled to return in 2020.
Four (OK, five) players to watch
Parker Clawson, Farson. Clawson was incredibly valuable on a balanced Pronghorn team last season, leading them in receiving (30 catches, 436 yards) and finishing second in tackles. He’s also Farson’s only returning all-state pick.
Devon Grosstick and Jase Smith, Hanna. They’re not twins, but they put up similar numbers in 2019. Grosstick, a senior, caught 25 passes for 376 yards and had 202 defensive points; Smith, a junior, caught 22 passes for 290 yards and had 208 defensive points. As Hanna’s two returning all-state picks, they’ll be key in getting the Miners back to Laramie.
Zander Risner, Snake River. The Rattlers’ only returning all-stater has a lot on his shoulders as a junior. He’s Snake River’s only returning player who had more than 20 tackles last year — and he had 78. That total included 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.
Dalton Peterson, Encampment. Even though the Tigers didn’t play a full varsity season last year, Peterson made his presence known. As a junior, he led 1A six-man in defensive points per game with 33.4 and was one of only three six-man players with at least 100 tackles; the other two played deep into the playoffs, while Peterson accomplished his feat in only seven games.
Four key games
Snake River at Hanna, Sept. 5. Both the Rattlers and Miners are going to look drastically different than they did when they met for the state championship last season. And if either wants to be a contender to return to Laramie again this season, a victory here in this non-conference but intra-county contest will be mighty helpful.
Farson at Burlington, Sept. 11. The West Conference is always competitive in six-man, and both the Pronghorns and Huskies should be near the top again this fall. Winning this one — the conference opener for both squads — will go a long way in reaching the goal of a conference championship.
Snake River at Encampment, Sept. 12. The Tigers’ first official conference game comes at home against the defending state champions. What an opportunity for Encampment to prove it belongs in the discussion as something more than a novelty.
Hanna at Kaycee, Oct. 23. On paper, the Miners and Buckaroos should be near the top of the East Conference again this season, so when they meet in the regular-season finale, it’ll likely be for way more than just pride.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Hanna, Kaycee, Hulett, Guernsey-Sunrise, Midwest, NSI Academy. West Conference: Farson, Burlington, Snake River, Encampment, Dubois, Meeteetse, Ten Sleep.
Preseason top five: 1. Farson; 2. Burlington; 3. Hanna; 4. Snake River; 5. Encampment.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Farson 44, Burlington 38. The West Conference will be top-heavy, and that’ll prepare those teams for postseason play. That said, though, six-man appears to have more balance than usual, so don’t look for one team to dominate the season like we’ve traditionally seen.
Next Thursday: Class 1A nine-man.