The records alone indicate how dominant Star Valley has been the past four seasons.
10-1 in 2015.
11-1 in 2016.
10-1 in 2017.
10-2 in 2018.
Along the way, the Braves have won three straight championships, falling short only in 2017.
This year, the Braves will try to win their fourth title in five years, and on paper, this year’s team could be one of the program’s all-time best.
To win the title this year, though, they’ll have to survive a rugged and talented West Conference. Specifically, Cody returns four all-state players while Jackson returns a 2,000-yard rusher.
The Braves will also have to survive a tough schedule that includes a season opener against the defending 3A champions from Utah, Summit Academy, and a Week 2 game against the defending 3A champions from Idaho, Sugar-Salem (which destroyed Star Valley in a game last year).
Meanwhile, across the state, Douglas has the potential to be the best team in the East, Worland is slowly climbing and Torrington is regrouping after back-to-back losses in the championship game.
Regardless, Star Valley is still king — and everyone else in 3A is trying to find a way to avoid being the Braves’ jester.
Four questions to answer
Can anyone catch Star Valley? Probably not. The Braves return five all-state and seven all-conference players; both those totals are higher than any other 3A team in the state. They return key players on the line and in the backfield.
Who’s the Braves’ biggest threat? Someone named the Broncs. Cody has four quality all-state players returning and has the most diversity and athleticism of any potential title-game opponent. And they’ve proven they can go into Afton and win (see 2017). Jackson, meanwhile, returns a ton of playmakers and is a legit title threat, as well.
Will the East Conference produce anyone who’s a threat for the title? It’s not likely. After back-to-back title game losses, Torrington has a new coach who will need time to rebuild after some devastating losses to graduation. Douglas returns three all-staters and is the early favorite to win the conference, but the Bearcats will need something special to hang with the best from the West. And Worland and Lander are both capable but unproven.
So, I should watch Star Valley every chance I get? Now hold on. If I have a chance to watch any 3A team this fall, I’m watching Jackson. Jeydon Cox is a dynamic rushing threat, and I’m excited to see him chase down a second 2,000-yard rushing season. Per my unofficial records, only six players have hit 2,000 rushing yards in a season in state history, and Cox could be the first to make it happen twice in a career.
Four players to watch
Jeydon Cox, Jackson. Obviously. Look at this number: 2,257. That’s the number of rushing yards Cox had last year over 10 games. It’s an insane level of productivity, and the Broncs will be one of the strongest teams in the state if for no other reason than Cox is back this fall.
R.J. Cazier, Star Valley. While we’re talking about running backs, let’s not overlook Cazier, who ran for 1,212 yards last year in helping the Braves to the 3A championship. The consistency Cazier gave to the Braves’ rushing attack will be a key piece of their attack in 2019, as well.
Chase Merrell, Star Valley. Merrell is getting serious consideration from colleges thanks to a breakout junior season. He was Star Valley’s leading receiver with 23 catches for 496 yards, and he was also the Braves’ No. 2 tackler and led 3A with eight interceptions.
Parker Merritt, Star Valley. How can anyone overlook Merritt, who was the 3A West lineman of the year last year as a junior? In short, no one can. He was a key piece of the Braves’ rushing attack on offense, and on defense he efficiently racked up 50 tackles. (And in case you’re counting, yes, that’s three players from Star Valley.)
Four key games
Jackson at Cody, Sept. 27. Both Bronc squads have visions of state championships this season — and for good reason. The West Conference opener for both squads is key to fulfilling that vision, with the winner taking the early lead for the conference title.
Torrington at Douglas, Oct. 4. Either Torrington or Douglas has won the East Conference championship every year since 2013. One way or another, the path to the East’s top playoff seed still goes through this game.
Jackson at Star Valley, Oct. 11. One of the toughest things for Jackson this season is that the games that look like the Broncs’ toughest — the ones against Cody and Star Valley — are both on the road. If Jackson can sneak out this road victory in a rivalry game, look out.
Star Valley at Cody, Oct. 18. This game between the Braves and Broncs has always been a key West Conference game. The past two years, though, the rivalry has taken on added meaning, as a pair of semifinal meetings has added a competitive spirit to a game that’s already full of it.
Predicted order of finish
East Conference: Douglas, Worland, Torrington, Lander, Rawlins, Riverton.
West Conference: Star Valley, Jackson, Cody, Powell, Green River, Evanston.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Star Valley 35, Jackson 21. On paper, the Braves and the Broncs have enough returning talent to be the preseason favorites. A bunch of things could derail this matchup — maybe a Cody victory in the West Conference opener, maybe a surge from Douglas, maybe one of 3A’s famous playoff upsets — but all indicators keep pointing to this as the matchup we’ll see in Laramie.
Stadium tour and season preview video
Next week: Class 4A preview.