Four questions to answer
Will Snake River ever lose again? Yes, but maybe not this year. The Rattlers enter 2023 on a 21-game winning streak and have had undefeated seasons in three of the past four years. The run has been dominant: Dubois was the only six-man team to stay within 45 points of Snake River last year. When a team starts that far ahead of the pack, it doesn’t really matter how many players graduate — they start at the top of the list.
Can anyone hang with the Rattlers this year? Yep, and Snake River won’t need to look outside its conference for some of its biggest competition. Two South Conference rivals, Encampment and Dubois, return the individual firepower to make six-man waves this fall. Meanwhile, North foe Burlington, last year’s title-game victim, continues to display the kind of depth that makes most other teams envious. Any of the top four could take it all; after that, the gap widens pretty fast.
So who’s coming out of the North then? Burlington, and can we put a pin in the rest of that? The Huskies has the early edge in the North as the team that played in War Memorial Stadium to end last season and as the team that returns the bulk of the experience. However, four of the other five teams in the North — Meeteetse, Kaycee, Hulett and Midwest — all appear to be on more or less equal footing entering 2023. The chase for the North’s four playoff spots could be one of the most exciting playoff races in the state this fall.
Will six-man’s newest team be a contender? Possibly. Casper Christian played a hodgepodge of six-man games last year against a few other varsity squads as well as Natrona’s freshmen and sophomores, finishing 1-6 but going 0-4 against the other six-man teams in the classification. This year, though, the Mountaineers return every player from last year’s team, and they have an added motivation by being playoff-eligible members of the South Conference this fall, a benefit they didn’t have last year.
Preseason class MVP
Wyatt Trembly, Dubois. Class 1A six-man’s co-offensive player of the year in 2022 should be even better as a senior — and that’s as much expectation as it is praise. Trembly’s 2022 was incomparable in six-man ranks, as his 2,502 rushing yards set a state six-man record. The expectation that 2023 could be even better, stats-wise, comes in part because of Dubois’ significant losses to graduation and the Rams’ necessity to rely on six-man’s best player even more.
Preseason class breakout player
Ethan Salzman, Meeteetse. Salzman has done double duty the past couple years, playing a season of golf with Cody’s team before joining the Longhorns for the back half of the football season. However, as a senior this year, Salzman is dedicating the fall to football alone. That stability could boost the young Longhorns to success.
Other players to watch
Quade Jordan, Encampment. As the Tiger program leaves its honeymoon stage as six-man’s newest team, Jordan’s play will be a huge reason why Encampment will be looked at as a part of a consistently successful developing program and not just a fortunate interloper. Already a two-time all-state selection, Jordan broke 1,000 yards rushing (1,084) and also had 70 tackles on defense, including 14 for loss, last season.
Joseph Pina, Meeteetse. The Longhorns’ only returning all-state player did it all last year to earn his second all-state nod. He led Meeteetse in rushing, receiving and tackles. He was a four-digit back, carrying for 1,234 yards, and a triple-digit tackler with 122. The Longhorns will be thin, but they’ll be competitive thanks to Pina.
Seth Maxson and Isaiah Skalberg, Snake River. Snake River’s recent run of dominance could continue if Maxson and Skalberg continues their successful runs. Maxson led the Rattlers in tackles and defensive points, while Skalberg was a solid pass-catcher and one of Snake’s best defensive players, as well.
Vaun Pierson, Kaycee. When you lead your team in both rushing yards and tackles, you have to be doing something right. The Buckaroos’ lone returning all-state selection, Pierson ran for 991 yards last season — while averaging 9.6 yards per carry — and led the Kaycee defense with 109 total tackles, including 15.5 for loss. He may be asked to do even more this year.
Four (OK, five) key games
Hulett at Burlington; Kaycee at Meeteetse, Sept. 8. With an unpredictable North Conference race, the opening weekend of conference play will be absolutely crucial. The Northwest teams draw home field this year, and the winners will take a temporary edge in a playoff race that could be decided by the thinnest of margins.
Dubois at Snake River, Sept. 9. The West Conference title eventually has to go through Baggs and the two-time defending champs. And what better way for a Ram team with exceptional talent but no berth in the championship game since 2014 to make a statement than right here against the Rattlers? The conference opener could be the conference decider.
Encampment at Snake River, Oct. 7. The Rattlers draw a bit of luck this year by having their two toughest opponents, on paper, come to Baggs for their games. That said, the Tigers would love to beat their Carbon County rivals — something they did in 2020 but haven’t done in four tries since — and help prove that 2023 is their year.
Burlington at Dubois, Oct. 21. This is about as big as a nonconference game can get in six-man. Last year’s regular-season game was close — Dubois won 60-52 — but the Huskies took their revenge and won by 49 in the playoff semifinals two weeks later. How will both teams respond to that history? And how crazy of a season will each team have seen before this game in Week 8?
Predicted order of finish
North Conference: Burlington; Meeteetse; Kaycee; Midwest; Hulett; Ten Sleep.
South Conference: Snake River; Encampment; Dubois; Farson; Casper Christian; Hanna.
Preseason top five: 1. Snake River; 2. Burlington; 3. Encampment; 4. Dubois; 5. Kaycee.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Snake River 49, Burlington 33. The old cliche about having to beat the best to be the best is kind of lame, but I think it applies this year in six-man. With no one team emerging as a direct threat to the Rattlers, the two-time defending champs are the ones to look out for until some other team shows otherwise.
Next Thursday: Class 1A nine-man preview.