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.