Thunder Basin may be on the verge of the best first season for a Wyoming football program in more than half a century.
Then again, it’s not like the competition from other first-year programs has been stiff.
Of the 16 programs who have started or re-started their football programs since 1960, only two finished those first seasons with winning records — NSI in 2000 and Kaycee in 2009. And only five of those 16 finished their seasons with more than one victory. Combined, those 16 programs went 26-90-1 (.226) in their first seasons. From best to worst, those seasons are:
NSI 2000: 6-2
Kaycee 2009: 6-4
Wright 1984: 3-4
Snake River 2009: 3-4
Cheyenne East 1960: 2-6-1
Dubois 1968: 1-4
LaGrange 1961: 1-5
Encampment 1988: 1-5
Rock River 2014: 1-6
Bow-Basin’s first full season, 1973: 1-7
Farson 2009: 1-7
Goshen Hole 1966: 0-5
Wyoming Indian 1972: 0-6
Kelly Walsh 1965: 0-8
St. Stephens 2013: 0-8
Cheyenne South 2011: 0-9
Thunder Basin could top them all.
It might be unfair to heap this much expectation on a startup program. But Thunder Basin shouldn’t be considered a startup. Most of the players on the roster — and most of the coaches, too — were part of Gillette’s 9-2 season last year.
The only thing new about the program is the name. And the stadium. And the uniforms. And the idea that Gillette has to (eventually) split its talent pool in half.
The true startup this year is Gillette. The Camels have had just one losing season since 1997, and even that was 4-5. This year, though, with a new coach hired in mid-July and almost no players with varsity experience, the traditional powerhouse Camels are likely to struggle this fall. Both seasons start Friday, with Gillette traveling to Cheyenne East and Thunder Basin hosting Cheyenne Central.
However, the Camels’ success — not the ‘Bolts’ — will either validate or indict Gillette’s enrollment experiment. The decision to allow incoming seniors and juniors to choose their school may give Thunder Basin unprecedented success in its first season, but that may come at the expense of the Camels’ tradition.
Of course, the 2019 season — when both schools will have a full senior class of students who couldn’t choose their schools — will be the programs’ ultimate validation. Or their ultimate indictment.
Until then, the city of Gillette will have a startup that looks like a traditional power and a traditional power that looks like a startup.
Some other things I’m keeping an eye on this week:
In Star Valley, the defending 3A champs host Spring Creek, Nevada, which finished as the Silver State’s runner-up in its equivalent of 3A last year. On paper, it looks like a great game between two programs who saw a lot of success last season. It also has historic significance: it’s the first game in Wyoming history against a Nevada program. Back in 2012, I calculated Wyoming’s records against out-of-state opponents. Nevada was nowhere on the list. It will be after Friday. …
Rock Springs-Sheridan is an intriguing 4A game. I’m curious to see how the Tigers stack up against last year’s champs. With one of the most experienced lines in 4A, I think a lot of folks are underestimating what Rock Springs could do this fall. …
It’ll be interesting to see how Evanston plays against Riverton in the Red Devils’ 3A debut. Could be a good game in Fremont County. …
When I was talking to coaches for the Wyoming high school football preview magazine (out soon!), the first-year coach who impressed me most was David Joyce, who takes over at Jackson after stints as head coach at several schools in Colorado and Arkansas. He has a history of turning around struggling programs, and he has already done so in a western ski resort town (Vail, Colorado). He’s a great fit for Jackson and if the Broncs buy into what he can teach them, I think they can be contenders again soon. The Joyce era starts Friday against Teton, Idaho, which beat Jackson 40-0 last year. …
The season actually starts today (Aug. 24) with Upton-Sundance going to Lead-Deadwood, S.D. The Aug. 24 date is tied for the earliest start to a season in state history; Wyoming also had Aug. 24 games in 1979, 2001 and 2012. …
On to the picks, which I make by bolding the team I think will win the game:
Upton-Sundance at Lead-Deadwood, S.D.
Cheyenne Central at Thunder Basin
Cheyenne South at Natrona
Gillette at Cheyenne East
Kelly Walsh at Laramie
Rock Springs at Sheridan
Douglas at Powell
Evanston at Riverton
Shoshoni at Greybull
Altamont, Utah, at Lyman
Custer, S.D., at Newcastle
Rawlins at Moffat County, Colo.
Spring Creek, Nevada, at Star Valley
Teton, Idaho, at Jackson
Class 1A six-man
Meeteetse at Hulett
Kemmerer at Cokeville
Saratoga at Laramie JV
The remainder of the Zero Week schedule, including scrimmages and jamborees, includes:
Friday: Glenrock at Pine Bluffs; Mountain View at Green River; Tongue River at Buffalo JV.
Saturday: Big Horn, Moorcroft at Wright; Big Piney, Pinedale at Lander; Buffalo at Lovell; Burns, Lusk, Torrington, Wheatland at Southeast; Farson at Evanston JV; Guernsey-Sunrise, Lingle at Midwest; Riverside, Ten Sleep at Kaycee; Rocky Mountain at Powell; Thermopolis, Wind River, Worland at Cody.
Teams without a game/scrimmage/jamboree this week: Burlington, Dubois, Hanna, Moorcroft, NSI, Rock River, St. Stephens, Snake River, Wyoming Indian.
For a full schedule including kickoff times, check out the 2017 schedule and results page.
For any folks new to this blog, a reminder: I make picks for fun. When I’m wrong, I own it and enjoy it; upsets are usually more fun than predictability anyway! So if I didn’t pick your favorite team to win, don’t take it personally. High school football is a game, and games are fun.
As usual during Zero Week, here is a reminder of the rules I use to determine whether a Zero Week contest is a game or is something else:
- 1. Was the game played with four 12-minute quarters with normal timing rules?
- 2. Were officials used? And were normal rules of play instituted for the game?
- 3. Was score kept?
If these three criteria are met, I call it a game and record it as such on this site.
Finally, the 2017 season is here! What are you most looking forward to for this season? Leave a comment and let’s talk about the upcoming season, Zero Week or any other fun stuff you want to talk about.