Cover of the Wyoming high school football preview magazine.

The 2021 version of the Wyoming high school football preview magazine, after a bit of a delay, is finally out!

The magazine has full previews on every team in Wyoming. No other publication does this to the depth you’ll find in this magazine.

The magazine is available here online. Hard copies should be available for free at the locations of the advertisers in the next week or so.

Please support the advertisers — they’re the ones that allow for this magazine to happen.

Thanks for your patience, and enjoy!

–patrick

For almost a decade, the calling card of Class 4A football was its predictability.

No more.

The moniker afforded to the “Big Four” programs of Natrona, Cheyenne East, Sheridan and Campbell County/Thunder Basin is officially dead.

The chance for a team outside that group to win a 4A championship for the first time since 2004 is more than just blind optimism.

Cheyenne Central proved last year it can hang with anyone. Rock Springs has been slowly building a scary program. Kelly Walsh was a semifinalist last year.

If 2020 was the beginning of the end of the Big Four, 2021 may represent the start of a new paradigm. The Big Seven? Eight? Nine? TEN?

One 4A coach put it succinctly: “There are no bye weeks in 4A anymore.” Note the last word.

And thank goodness for that.

Four questions to answer

Let’s start simple: Who’s the 4A favorite? Simple?!?! This is by far one of the hardest questions to answer, statewide in any classification, heading into the 2021 season. With Class 4A’s turnover this year, the classification is as unpredictable as ever. This year’s preseason survey of coaches turned in a variety of different answers as to who 4A’s favorite is; it will suffice to say that there’s no consensus.

Why is this so difficult? Most of last year’s teams were heavy on seniors. Only six (out of 39) first-team all-state choices are back this year in the entire classification, and only 15 (of 76) first-team all-conference players return. This season more than any will likely be defined by the offseason — which teams and players put in the most work to improve between last year and this year. And that’s always a crapshoot.

So who’d the coaches say? Well, Rock Springs, Thunder Basin, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne Central, Natrona, Sheridan… each one of those teams got at least some indication of being a true threat for a title. Of the four teams outside that discussion (Kelly Walsh, Cheyenne South, Campbell County and Laramie), keep in mind that KW was a semifinalist last year, Campbell County returns more starters than any other 4A program (eight on each side of the ball) and Laramie is the wild card with a new coach.

Is this year a harbinger of things to come this decade? It’s likely. East, Natrona and Sheridan are the only programs to win 4A titles since 2009. However, the 2020s are likely to be defined by a bit more parity than the 2010s were, meaning the chances of a titleist coming from someone other than these three programs is better than it’s been in a long, long time.

Preseason class MVP

Isaac Schoenfeld, Rock Springs. In a word: versatility. The only returning player in 4A who was on the Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team a year ago, Schoenfeld, a University of Wyoming commit, has the size and skill to frustrate opponents. He does a bit of everything on defense — 26 tackles, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, two pass deflections last year — and was the Tigers’ top receiver last year with 37 catches, 610 yards and seven touchdowns. Oh, and he ran the ball a bit, too.

Presesason class breakout player

Carter McComb, Sheridan. McComb has been a two-time all-state choice at return specialist last year, and with good reason — last year, he only had 16 returns, but two went for touchdowns. Still, he has yet to find a consistent spot in Sheridan’s offense. That could change this year as the Broncs graduated a lot of receivers and need explosive players, like McComb, to give them a downfield threat.

Other players to watch

Cam Burkett, Kelly Walsh. KW’s lone all-state player last year will be the focus of every opponent’s defensive game plan. He carried for 1,090 yards and 17 TDs last year, and with the Trojans losing their next four top rushers to graduation, Burkett may have to do even more to keep KW in contention.

Ryan Baker, Thunder Basin. A successful junior year has turned up expectations on the ‘Bolts’ senior quarterback. He completed 159 of 271 passes for 2,084 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. In a season where several teams are changing quarterbacks, Baker’s return gives Thunder Basin some much-needed offensive stability.

Cadon Shaklee, Rock Springs. One of the top defensive players in the classification, no other player in 4A coming back this year can match Shaklee’s 101 tackles from a year ago. He also notched four sacks. He doesn’t have a big role on offense but still managed a pair of touchdown catches last year; that could grow as he grows.

Kaeden Wilcox, Natrona. Wilcox was Natrona’s statistical leader on defense last year, with an even 100 tackles, 40 solo tackles, six interceptions and seven pass break-ups. As the Mustangs rebuild their defense this year, Wilcox’s presence will give Natrona the necessary steadiness and consistency.

Four key games

Thunder Basin at Cheyenne East, Aug 27. The season starts with a bang as the ‘Bolts and Thunderbirds meet in a rematch of last year’s championship game. This game was the only game East lost all last year, so don’t read too much into how this game turns out either way — but you can bet both teams really want to win this one.

Cheyenne Central at Kelly Walsh, Sept. 3. Think the Indians won’t be hyped for this one? This is Central’s chance for revenge on the team that surprised it in the first round of last year’s playoffs. But Kelly will be ready, too, prepared to show last year’s upset was no fluke.

Natrona at Sheridan, Oct. 1. One of the most epic games of the 2020 season was the four-overtime breathtaker between the Mustangs and Broncs. But that’s no surprise — games between these two programs rarely disappoint. With both teams thinking about deep playoff runs this year, this one will be, as usual, critical to the 4A chase.

Rock Springs at Cheyenne East, Oct. 22. If the Tigers keep improving as they have been the past couple years, this game against defending champ East in the final week of the regular season could be the most critical game not only for the two teams involved but for all of 4A.

Predicted order of finish/preseason rankings

Rock Springs, Cheyenne East, Natrona, Sheridan, Thunder Basin, Cheyenne Central, Campbell County, Kelly Walsh, Laramie, Cheyenne South.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Rock Springs 21, Cheyenne East 20. Realistically, though, any team that makes the playoffs will have a good shot at winning it all. Be ready for weirdness, upsets and a surprise champion — because, let’s be honest, anyone who wins it this year will be a surprise champion.

Which team do you think has the best chance to stake a claim to a title in a year full of transition? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

One statistic reveals just how good Class 3A football will be in 2021.

As a classification, Class 3A has more than half (23 of 45) of its first-team all-state players coming back this year.

Usually, about two-thirds of all-state players are seniors, so for a classification to have more than half of its all-state selections returning is almost unheard of.

The returners are concentrated in some specific programs, most notably in Jackson and Cody, last year’s opponents in the 3A championship. Douglas, Powell, Green River and Star Valley also return their fair share of talent.

Although Cody and Jackson have the most returning talent on paper, a title game rematch is no guarantee, especially in a classification known for plenty of regular-season upsets and the occasional semifinal surprise.

Four questions to answer

Broncs-Broncs again? Broncs-Broncs again. Cody and Jackson are both absolutely loaded with talent this year, and they start as the frontrunners to meet in the Class 3A championship game for the second year in a row. Jackson returns six all-state players and Cody returns four, two totals higher than any other teams in 3A. That’s a good place to start.

Can anyone else infiltrate the top tier? With as talent-filled as 3A is this year, absolutely. Douglas and Powell return three all-staters apiece, while Green River and Star Valley have two each. The Bearcats are the favorites in the East, and the road to the title will eventually go through Converse County one way or another, while the West — as usual — is full of teams ready to play spoiler.

Anyone else outside that group we should watch for? Maybe Worland. Maybe. The Warriors, at least on paper, have the potential to be a spoiler this year. They have an offense capable of quick strikes and also have 3A’s top returning tackler (see below).

How many Division I players might come out of 3A this year? More than usual. Lucas Chappell of Star Valley (Air Force) was one of the first Division I commitments of the state’s 2021 seniors. Colter Dawson of Jackson also picked up an offer from Air Force, and Bronc teammate QB Sadler Smith had several D-I official visits over the summer. How many times do we need to say it? 3A is loaded this year.

Preseason class MVP

Lucas Chappell, Star Valley. The two-time all-state lineman has already verbally committed to Air Force, so he’ll be a marked man for opposing teams. His defensive numbers don’t leap off the page — 30 tackles, three sacks a year ago — but he’s constantly fighting other teams’ specific plans to limit him. And his aggressive work on the offensive line speaks for itself.

Presesason class breakout player

Jackson Schroeder, Cody. If you’re not aware of Schroeder, it’s OK; his contributions to Cody’s title run last year were easy to miss among a sea of Bronc stars. But know this: He’s Cody’s top returning rusher AND top returning tackler. And he’s only a junior.

Other players to watch

Colter Dawson, Jackson. A tight end/linebacker combination that hearkens back to football’s forgone days, Dawson is an athletic multi-tool threat. He led the Broncs in defensive points as both a sophomore and a junior, and his play on offense makes him a threat as a pass-catcher and a blocker.

Sadler Smith and Brody Hasenack, Jackson. With 2,093 yards, Hasenack led all 11-man teams in rushing last year; with 1,973 yards, Smith led Class 3A in passing. Success in their senior year together will be reliant on the versatility and balance both showed last year.

Keltan Ewing and Rylan Wehr, Douglas. The dynamic pair of running back (Ewing) and wideout (Wehr) gives Douglas’ offense balance; they also both have key roles on defense. Ewing was the 3A East offensive player of the year; Wehr was a first-team Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 player. Combine it, and it’s easy to see why Douglas is the early favorite in the East Conference.

Aaron Carver, Worland. The Warriors could be 3A’s surprise team, and Carver — 3A’s leading returning tackler — is a big reason why. With 98 tackles last year, Carver left an impression on every opponent. His experience will help an experienced Warrior defense keep growing.

Four key games

Star Valley at Cody, Oct. 8. One bugaboo for Cody has been Star Valley, especially when they play at Spike Vannoy field. Star Valley has won its last 12 games in Cody; the Broncs haven’t beaten the Braves at home since 1991. Moreover, Cody has lost seven of its past eight against Star Valley. A win here, and Cody can shake off a lot of history.

Riverton at Lander, Oct. 8. The Fremont County rivalry game always provides some interesting twists, and with both teams trying to keep pace with Douglas — which plays Riverton two weeks prior to this game and Lander the week before — this could be a make-or-break for either the Wolverines or Tigers for 2021.

Douglas at Worland, Oct. 22. The Bearcats’ path to an East Conference title comes through Washakie County in Week 8. And a developing Warriors team could be a surprise, even for a loaded Douglas squad, in this regular-season finale.

Jackson at Cody, Oct. 22. Broncs vs. Broncs in Week 8 is by far 3A’s most anticipated game of the season. Last year’s title game aside, both teams return loads of talent, and both teams have high aspirations for this year. You can bet that more than pride will be on the line here.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Douglas, Worland, Lander, Riverton, Buffalo, Rawlins.

West Conference: Jackson, Cody, Powell, Star Valley, Green River, Evanston.

Preseason top five: 1. Jackson, 2. Cody, 3. Douglas; 4. Powell; 5. Star Valley.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Jackson 28, Cody 27. Last year’s top two teams are also this year’s top two teams, and anything could happen with teams as deep and experienced as these. The early nod, though, goes to the team from Teton County.

Is it possible to stop time and just play this 3A season over and over again? No, but wouldn’t it be fun if we could? And how do you see the only time we’re going to see the 2021 3A season coming together this year? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 4A.

–patrick

For the second year in a row, Class 2A looks like the most unpredictable classification in Wyoming.

Most of last year’s top teams lost a lot of their best players; most of last year’s also-rans have significant numbers of returners. Anything’s possible.

Lyman won last year’s championship despite not having a winning season since 2013. Will 2A give us another surprise in 2021?

Four questions to answer

OK, out with it — who’s the favorite? Torrington. The Trailblazers were 2A runners-up last year and were junior-loaded, so it makes sense for Torrington to be a preseason No. 1. The ‘Blazers have three all-state players coming back, more than any other 2A team, and have good depth and experience on both sides of the ball.

Who’s Torrington’s biggest threat? Probably Wheatland. The Bulldogs have a passing game that can’t be topped in the 2A ranks, and with Kade Preuit calling the signals, Wheatland will be tough to slow down.

What about the West? Look for parity. Last year’s West race was defined by it, and this year is shaping up similarly on paper. Similar to 2020, Lovell, Lyman, Cokeville, Mountain View, Big Piney and Thermopolis are all threats, capable of causing chaos in the standings with some well-timed victories.

Isn’t that last answer a cop-out? No. In talking with 2A coaches this summer, they, too, were flummoxed as to who might win it all this year. In addition to the parity in the West, the East, too, should be competitive from top to bottom. This year’s 2A champ may end up being a lot like Lyman was last year — overlooked at the start of the season but undeniable by season’s end. Upton-Sundance, Tongue River, Burns and Big Horn from the East all fall into that category entering 2021.

Preseason class MVP

Jake Hicks, Wheatland. A two-time all-state pick, Hicks led 2A in receiving yards per game last year (86.4), finishing with 42 catches for 778 yards; that was after a sophomore campaign when he was second in 2A with 562 yards on 21 catches. Oh, and he has an experienced quarterback throwing to him. Oh, and he’s Wheatland’s top returning tackler and had four interceptions last year.

Presesason class breakout player

Slade Roberson, Newcastle. Roberson’s 2020 season lasted barely more than one series, as an ACL/MCL injury in Zero Week ended the season for the Dogies’ quarterback early. But he’s healthy now, and he’s bigger and stronger than he was pre-injury. Newcastle may not be a title contender, but Roberson will keep the Dogies competitive.

Other players to watch

Connor Micheli, Mountain View. The Buffalos will lean a lot on Micheli, their only returning all-state player. He led Mountain View in passing and rushing last year (1,160 passing yards; 404 rushing yards) and he’s the only one of Mountain View’s top eight defensive players coming back this year.

Kade Preuit, Wheatland. Class 2A’s top returning quarterback threw for 1,474 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, thanks in part to looking deep. His accuracy wasn’t great last year (46.6%), but he’s a risk taker, with his 18.2 yards per completion leading Class 2A in 2020.

Beau Bivens, Torrington. Another returning starting quarterback? Yep… but Bivens is looking for redemption after dislocating his ankle in the semifinals last year and missing the title game. Prior to the injury, Bivens had thrown for 1,339 yards and 18 touchdowns in leading the Trailblazers to the brink of a championship.

Rho Mecham, Lyman. The Eagles’ defense was rock solid last year’s title run, and Mecham was a big reason why. His 10 sacks led Class 2A, and his 86 total tackles was one short of the team lead. On a defense that will need younger players to step up to maintain its success, Mecham’s presence will be huge.

Four key games

Lovell at Mountain View, Sept. 10. Two teams with a ton to prove this year meet in the West Conference opener, with the winner putting a big stamp of validity on its claims to a title run. A victory here means wonders; a loss isn’t the end of hopes, but it makes the rest of the season a lot more stressful.

Upton-Sundance at Wheatland, Sept. 17. The Patriots are 3-0 against the Bulldogs the past three seasons, so if Wheatland wants to make a run at the East Conference title, the first task is to overcome that trend. The Bulldogs do draw home-field advantage, but if history is any indicator, the Patriots won’t be an easy team to topple.

Big Piney at Lyman, Sept. 23. The Eagles’ only loss last year came to the Punchers, odd considering Lyman went on to win the 2A title and Big Piney missed the playoffs. The Eagles will certainly be motivated here, as will the Punchers as both teams try to keep their postseason dreams going in a tight West race.

Big Horn at Torrington, Oct. 1. Another lost moment in the 2020 season was the Rams’ victory against the Trailblazers in the programs’ first game against each other. The rematch in Week 5 will help dictate the direction of the East Conference for the rest of the regular season.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Torrington, Wheatland, Upton-Sundance, Burns, Tongue River, Big Horn, Newcastle, Glenrock.

West Conference: Lyman, Mountain View, Lovell, Big Piney, Cokeville, Thermopolis, Kemmerer, Pinedale.

Preseason top five: 1. Torrington; 2. Wheatland; 3. Lyman; 4. Upton-Sundance; 5. Mountain View.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Torrington 34, Wheatland 27. Two longtime rivals in a championship game? You love to see it. Unless, well, you’re from one of the 14 other programs trying to prevent this kind of game from happening.

Would you be down for a southeastern Wyoming championship? If not, who’s going to mess up a pairing like that, for the better? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 3A.

–patrick

Somehow, in Class 1A nine-man this year, the rich get richer.

Southeast and Lusk, last year’s participants in the championship game, combining for seven returning all-state players. The rest of the classification combined also has seven returning all-state players.

The embarrassment of riches flowing from Lusk and Yoder makes it hard to see how any other teams could challenge either the defending champion Cyclones or last year’s runner-up Tigers.

However, the name “Shoshoni” popped up a lot in conversations with coaches this summer, and the Wranglers might be the best in the West.

And remember how I mentioned that the rest of the state had seven returning all-state players? Well, four of those are in Pine Bluffs, a team that could challenge Lusk and Southeast from within its own conference and prove to be a title contender, too.

Four questions to answer

Are we going to see another Southeast-Lusk championship game? Possibly. On paper, the defending champion Cyclones from Yoder and the last year’s runner-up Tigers from Lusk have the two strongest teams in Class 1A nine-man. Southeast was hit harder by graduation, giving Lusk an early edge in the chase for the 2021 title.

Is anyone else a threat? Not really. Shoshoni and Rocky Mountain are the two teams in the West with the highest preseason expectations, and Pine Bluffs will be improved as well. Those three teams are the most likely outside shots at a title, and on a good day they could give Southeast and Lusk true challenges — but they’re not the favorites.

Will another running back crack 3,000 yards this year? Don’t count on it. Drake Lamp did that for Lusk last year, rushing for 3,057 yards; no other player was above 1,300, showing just how much of an anomaly the record-setting year actually was. If any running back is capable of it, though, maybe it’ll be Lamp’s replacement in Lusk, as the Tigers return all of their starters on the offensive line.

Will we field a full set of teams this year? Thankfully, yes. Last year’s schedule was a bit wonky as both St. Stephens and Wyoming Indian had to cancel their seasons due to COVID-19 restrictions in their school districts. Both the Eagles and Chiefs are ready to return this fall, adding depth to nine-man as a whole and, more importantly, giving two more groups of high schoolers the opportunity to play high school football.

Preseason class MVP

Cord Herring, Southeast. A first-team Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 player last year, Herring will be key to the Cyclones’ title defense. He ran for 797 yards and 17 touchdowns last year and also led the Cyclones in defensive points. His role will be even bigger in 2021.

Presesason class breakout player

Dylan Molzahn, Lusk. On a team with a 3,000-yard rusher last year, Molzahn still managed 572 rushing yards and six TDs last season. His role should expand greatly in 2021 as opportunities for carries that weren’t there last year will be this year.

Other players to watch

Ryan Clapper, Southeast. Clapper is one of only two two-time all-state players playing in Class 1A nine-man this year. He’s made his mark most definitively as the leader of Southeast’s diverse backfield, averaging 10.6 yards per carry, finishing with 1,090 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

Pehton Truempler, Shoshoni. The junior will be at the forefront of the Wranglers’ offensive and defensive plans this fall. He leads all of the Wranglers’ returners in tackles with 98. He also ran for 537 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He’ll be asked to do even more in 2021.

Dayne Lamp, Lusk. As a sophomore, Lamp finished with more tackles (157) than any other player in Class 1A nine-man. He also helped clear the way on the Tiger offensive line. Watch for his game to expand this season as the Tigers mount a run at a title.

Stu Lerwick, Pine Bluffs. The Hornets had the top passing game in 1A nine-man last year, and Lerwick was the architect. As a sophomore, he led nine-man with 1,857 passing yards, completing more than 55% of his passes. No other returning quarterback in nine-man this year threw for more than 900 yards last year; Lerwick’s 2020 total more than doubles that.

Four key games

Shoshoni at Rocky Mountain, Sept. 10. Barring something unexpected, the Grizzlies and Wranglers are likely the top two teams in the West, and this conference opener for both teams will have big implications come season’s end.

Lusk at Pine Bluffs, Sept. 10. The Hornets have an opportunity to turn an entire classification on its ear if they can knock off the Tigers in the conference opener. Pine Bluffs has all four of its all-state selections coming back and could be a challenger in the East, but the Tigers will be a challenge right off the bat.

Wyoming Indian at St. Stephens, Oct. 14. After a year away, the Chiefs and Eagles get to return to the field this year. These two programs have a deep basketball rivalry but have only played each other in football once, in 2013. With Shoshoni and Wind River also in the West Conference, it will be fun to watch how these Fremont County rivalries develop now that everyone is back.

Southeast at Lusk, Oct. 15. The game that decided the 1A nine-man championship last year could also decide the East Conference champion this year. As noted, both the Cyclones and Tigers have lots of returning experience, making this one THE most anticipated game of the season.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Lusk, Southeast, Pine Bluffs, Moorcroft, Saratoga, Lingle, Wright.

West Conference: Shoshoni, Rocky Mountain, Riverside, Greybull, Wind River, St. Stephens, Wyoming Indian.

Preseason top five: 1. Lusk, 2. Southeast, 3. Pine Bluffs, 4. Shoshoni, 5. Rocky Mountain.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Lusk 37, Southeast 24. On paper, the Tigers are nine-man’s most balanced and most talented team. But the East Conference is loaded this season, full of teams ready to capitalize if the Tigers slip.

Is a Lusk-Southeast rematch a nine-man inevitability? Or is there another team that we’re overlooking who will be hoisting the trophy in November? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 2A.

–patrick

Farson’s second undefeated season in three years was yet another demonstration of the high standards set in six-man.

I mentioned this stat in last season’s preview, but it’s worth repeating: The combined record of the 11 six-man champs since 2009 is 126-2. Kaycee’s 2015 team is the only champ who had an in-state loss in that time.

Seemingly the question in six-man isn’t who will win — it’s who will dominate.

Among the suitors are basically every team in the West Conference and a handful in the East. Any one of about six or seven teams could be the one to rise up this year. Moreover, six-man is slimmer this year, as both Ten Sleep and NSI Academy are gone for the year — Ten Sleep dropping temporarily due to low numbers, NSI Academy gone for good due to the closure of the school.

Six-man’s sleeker, but tougher, look for 2021 has many potential endings. But if history is any indicator, the result in November will be an undefeated season for someone.

Four questions to answer

Which is the stronger conference? The West, by far. All six of the returning all-state players in six-man are in the West Conference. The West has six teams this year to the East’s five, with no weaklings in the group. And three of last year’s final four came from the West. Watch for similar dominance this year.

Of those West teams, who’s looking the most like a champ? On paper, Meeteetse. The Longhorns had a huge breakthrough season in 2020 and finished as runners-up to Farson. They did lose some key players to graduation but return some of six-man’s best playmakers, and in six-man, that’s huge.

Who else is in the discussion? Everyone in the West. Snake River didn’t graduate anyone; Dubois was young but explosive; Encampment nearly dethroned Farson in the semis and gets back several important players; Burlington is always a tough draw; Farson is the defending champ. Be ready for parity and lots of it.

So the East is really that weak? This year, yes. Kaycee, despite losing all three of its all-state picks from last year, is the best of the bunch in early goings in the East, and Hulett and Guernsey-Sunrise could be competitive, too. Those teams are the favorites on that side of the state and are the conference’s best hopes for a playoff victory. However, every team in the East is chasing to catch up to the standard set in the West.

Preseason class MVP

Dace Bennett, Meeteetse. Bennett was the only player in 1A six-man last year to both run and throw for at least 1,000 yards. The Longhorns’ field general completed 89 of 187 passes for 1,406 yards and 28 touchdowns and also ran for 1,282 yards and 23 touchdowns. He led six-man in all-purpose yards. He also had 100 tackles and four interceptions on defense.

Presesason class breakout player

Vaun Pierson, Kaycee. The only returning player in the state to earn all-conference honors as a freshman, Pierson showed early on that he could hang with six-man’s top players. With Kaycee graduating three all-state players, Pierson will have more opportunities on both sides of the ball; with another year of growth and maturity, he could set the pace for others to follow.

Other players to watch

Zander Risner, Snake River. Risner is a two-time all-state selection already, and his defensive prowess has earned him those honors. He tied for the lead in six-man with 21 tackles for loss last year and was fourth overall in the classification with 121 total tackles. His leadership will be key on a Snake River team that’s still young.

Koye Gilbert, Encampment. Gilbert was one of six-man’s top receivers last year. He had 32 catches for 524 yards and nine touchdowns last year. He was also one of the classification’s top defensive players, finishing seventh in six-man in defensive points per game while notching 86 tackles, three sacks, four fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks.

Max Claar, Dubois. Claar is a senior on a team full of younger players, so his leadership will be just as important as his play. His play is clear, though: He led Dubois in scoring last season, was third in tackles and found success both running and receiving the ball.

Kalvin Erickson, Meeteetse. Erickson led six-man in receiving yards (695) and receiving touchdowns (15) and was second in the classification in catches (33). He also led the classification in total tackles with 153 for the season. If that isn’t an all-around player, who is?

Four key games

Encampment at Snake River, Sept. 10. The Carbon County adversaries meet in Week 2 in both teams’ West Conference openers. A loss here will be difficult to overcome for either team — stakes that seem almost unfair to have so early in the season.

Dubois at Meeteetse, Sept. 18. Dubois hung tight with Meeteetse last year, and with another year of experience, the young Rams could put themselves on everyone’s radar if they can finish the job they couldn’t in 2020. Meeteetse should be ready this time around, though.

Hulett at Guernsey, Oct. 1. After Kaycee, the Red Devils and Vikings return more key players than any other squads in the East. This game could end up deciding who’s at home in the first round of the playoffs, something that may end up being key if either wants to pull off that elusive first-round upset.

Farson at Meeteetse, Oct. 16. The rematch of the 2020 title game comes in Week 7, and chances are good that by the time this game rolls around, last year will be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. Both teams have high hopes this year, and how they perform in this game could dictate each team’s postseason direction.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Kaycee, Hulett, Guernsey, Hanna, Midwest.

West Conference: Meeteetse, Snake River, Encampment, Farson, Dubois, Burlington.

Preseason top five: 1. Meeteetse; 2. Snake River; 3. Encampment; 4. Kaycee; 5. Farson.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Meeteetse 48, Snake River 40. The Longhorns have the playmakers and the experience to do big things this season. The biggest question mark will be surviving a rugged West Conference loaded with capable teams.

What do you think? Who’s ready for that unbeaten season that has become six-man’s standard? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

Next Thursday: Class 1A nine-man.

–patrick

A uniform number is something special.

It’s the source of pride, whether it’s in face paint, T-shirts or tattoos. It’s the one way, outside of their play itself, that players can be identified. It’s how coaches usually refer to opposing players.

With 99 options to choose from, a number can follow a player forever. The choice isn’t always easy.

The list below represents the top 99 (minus a few) players in Wyoming high school football, as listed by uniform number. Altogether, the list represents all classifications, all positions, all geographic areas — a solid cross-section of the Wyoming football scene.

But forming this list is always one of the most challenging tasks of my summer. Choosing one player per number when numerous players are deserving becomes a fool’s errand. Conversely, sometimes FINDING one returning player who wore a given number at any school in the state is tough.

Even if your favorite player isn’t connected with the number on the list, trust me — I considered them all. You’re welcome to disagree, and I welcome comments on this post to let me know which number, and name, you’ve got your eye on this fall.

My annual disclaimer: I can’t guarantee that the numbers players wore last year will be worn again by them this year. I can’t even guarantee that they’ll go out, or that they haven’t moved since the end of last year. I used last year’s stat listings and rosters posted online to determine what jersey number players wore; if your team didn’t compile stats or didn’t post a roster, I didn’t (moreover, couldn’t) include those players. Also, at least one of these players wore more than one number last year; they’re noted with asterisks.

This is the third year I have done this list — you can see a couple repeaters from the 2020 and 2019 lists on this year’s list.

NumberNameSchool
1Andrew SkorczRock Springs
2Brody HasenackJackson
3Jacob SchieveGreen River
4Geoffrey JohnsonSaratoga
5Connor MicheliMountain View
6Reed ThompsonPine Bluffs
7Nathanial TalichCheyenne Central
8Sadler SmithJackson
9Cam BurkettKelly Walsh
10Taylor PierceWorland
11Brock DouzenisWorland
12Ryan BakerThunder Basin
13Cooper GarberBig Horn
14Samuel RamsbottomKaycee
15Gavin GoffCheyenne East
16Dom LopezCheyenne East
17Hadley MyersSnake River
18Sam ScottJackson
19Peyton CorniaEvanston
20Zach RatcliffPowell
21Cade ButlerBig Horn
22Ryan ClapperSoutheast
23Kaeden WilcoxNatrona
24Cadon ShakleeRock Springs
25Jayden ArchuletaDouglas
26Isaac SchoenfeldRock Springs
27Jonathan Vazquez VargasJackson
28Keltan EwingDouglas
29Rylan WehrDouglas
30Holden McConkeyNewcastle
31Lane OeschStar Valley
32McCoy SmithLyman
33Cord HerringSoutheast
34Aaron CarverWorland
35Hyannie FaustoWheatland
36Tanner CollinsMountain View
37Matisse WeaverLander
38Preston NicholsLovell
39Texas TannerSheridan
40Toran GrahamPowell
41Slayd DaleySaratoga
42Tim VerburgCampbell County
43Cayden DymondCampbell County
44Colter DawsonJackson
45Jake SchlattmannGreybull
46Samuel HulickBuffalo
47Charlie NicholsCheyenne Central
48Cooper HarrimanGuernsey
49Conor ManloveBurns
50Kris TopaumRiverton
51Dylan MolzahnLusk
52Dawson CurtisDouglas
53Thomas HowardBig Piney
54Riley BlackburnLusk
55William PewJackson
56Daniel GormanCody
57Frank ArmajoLander
58Diego PaniaguaPine Bluffs
59Chris LarsonSheridan
60Lucas ChappellStar Valley*
61Jaxson McGeeGreen River
62Sheldon ShoopmanPowell
63Wade BarkerEvanston
64Kelton BournazianRock Springs
65Mason WellsLusk
66Lane SchramekPowell
67Will BakerSoutheast
68Kirk KaySoutheast
69Eddie TokarczykHulett
70Dayne LampLusk
71Cale HawsBurns
72Taylor FossCampbell County
73Chase OsterGreybull
74Ivor McPhieLander
75Matt McMillanKemmerer
76Kyle LogarDouglas
77Dylen ClendenenRocky Mountain
78Jacob KnoblochTongue River
79Josh ThompsonBig Horn
80Jake HicksWheatland
81Vaun PiersonKaycee
82Heston FisherSaratoga
83Rodee BrowWheatland
84Jackson KirkbrideBurns
85Jake KampmanKemmerer
86Hogan TystadNewcastle
87Robert KoivupaloLander
88Chase MillerTorrington
89Lucas EngleRiverton
90No returners identified
91Tyson ChristiansenRocky Mountain
92No returners identified
93No returners identified
94No returners identified
95No returners identified
96No returners identified
97No returners identified
98No returners identified
99Jaxson StanleyShoshoni

Chappell also wore No. 88 last fall.

–patrick

It’s never too early to look ahead — and in that spirit, here are the top five teams entering 2021 for every classification of Wyoming high school football. Obviously, these lists were put together way too early, but that’s part of the fun, right?

Class 4A
1. Sheridan
: The Broncs return three all-conference players, tied for the most in 4A, and will have both speed and strength returning.
2. Cheyenne East: Last year’s champs lose a lot to graduation but do return all-state receiver/defensive back Gavin Goff.
3. Rock Springs: The Tigers have two all-staters back in Isaac Schoenfeld and Cadon Shaklee and could break through with them leading the way.
4. Thunder Basin: The ‘Bolts will need to reload after all but one all-conference player; that one, though, is QB Ryan Baker.
5. Cheyenne Central: If the Indians can recover from last year’s rough ending, they’ll be tough again.
Wild card: Natrona. The Mustangs lose a lot to graduation but also consistently develop talent quickly in a big program.

Class 3A
1. Jackson
: The Broncs are loaded for a title run: All six of Jackson’s all-state selections this year were juniors.
2. Cody: With four returning all-staters, the defending champs will be tough to beat.
3. Douglas: The Bearcats return some talented playmakers, particularly RB Keltan Ewing and WR Rylan Wehr.
4. Powell: Three returning all-staters will keep the Panthers capable of playing with anyone in 3A.
5. Star Valley: Count out the Braves at your peril; they’ve got enough returners to stay competitive.
Wild card: Lander. The Tigers have gotten consistently tough the past couple years but are still looking for a postseason breakthrough.

Class 2A
1. Torrington
: Three returning all-staters, more than anyone else in 2A, put the Trailblazers in the catbird seat.
2. Lyman: Rho Mecham and McCoy Smith give the defending champs a good base from which to build.
3. Wheatland: Kade Preuit is a tough QB to stop, and he’ll have help around him to keep the Bulldogs growing.
4. Upton-Sundance: In a tough East Conference, the Patriots’ three returning all-conference players will be key.
5. Cokeville: Three returning all-conference players, tied with Lyman for most in the West, will boost the Panthers.
Wild card: Mountain View. The Buffalos’ young players will have to grow quickly for them to remain a West threat.

Class 1A nine-man
1. Lusk
: The Tigers return five all-state players, most in nine-man, giving last year’s runners-up a good base.
2. Pine Bluffs: All four of the Hornets’ all-state selections are returning in 2021, so watch out.
3. Southeast: The defending champs graduate a lot but do get back all-staters Cord Herring and Ryan Clapper.
4. Shoshoni: The Wranglers return four all-conference selections, most in the West Conference.
5. Moorcroft: All-state QB Zane Linder leads a growing group of Wolves who could surprise.
Wild card: Riverside. The Rebels could be a fun team to watch grow next year.

Class 1A six-man
1. Meeteetse
: With only six all-staters coming back in the entire class, Meeteetse has the upper hand by returning two.
2. Encampment: Koye Gilbert is a playmaker, and the Tigers proved in 2020 they’re never to be counted out.
3. Kaycee: The Buckaroos return three all-conference selections, most in six-man this year.
4. Snake River: The young Rattlers return their key playmakers and are on the rise.
5. Farson: Cree Jones is the only returning all-state or all-conference player for the defending champs.
Wild card: Dubois. The West will be tight again, but the young Rams showed flashes of competitiveness last year.

What do you think? Who’s ready for a title run in 2021? Leave your thoughts in a comment, and let’s think way too hard about something that’s still months and months away.

–patrick

The 2020 Wyoming high school football guide, previewing every active team in the state, is out!

Click here to read it.

Free print copies will be available in print at the locations of all the advertisers, hopefully within a few days (depending on how fast the mail can make it happen). Be sure to support the advertisers who are in the magazine — this can’t happen without them!

Also, a HUGE thanks to the publishers, CNS Inc., for putting it all together — they do they layout, sell the ads and handle distribution.

–patrick

It’s impossible to talk about Class 4A football in Wyoming without talking about the influence of the Big Four.

Combined, the group of Sheridan, Natrona, Cheyenne East, and the unique circumstance of Gillette (up to 2016) and Thunder Basin (since 2017) have combined for 71 playoff victories since 2009.

The other 4A programs in Wyoming — Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne South, Kelly Walsh, Rock Springs and Laramie, and previously Evanston (left after 2016) and Green River (left after 2010) — have combined for six.

The stratification seemed to break a bit in 2019, as Cheyenne Central reached the semifinals while Natrona didn’t. Even so, two Big Four programs — Sheridan and Thunder Basin — met for the championship.

Sheridan won the big-school championship for the fourth time in five years, continuing the Big Four’s domination over the classification.

Central’s resurgence, though, is showing the path other 4A schools can take to challenge the supremacy of the programs that have dominated the goings-on for a decade.

Four questions to answer

Is the guard really changing in Class 4A? Yes, but don’t get too excited. Cheyenne Central — which hadn’t won a playoff game since 2009 prior to last year — will be the fifth team in the title chase, breaking up the “Big Four” of Cheyenne East, Thunder Basin, Sheridan and Natrona. And Rock Springs is hovering. However, there’s still a clear split between the top and the bottom of the classification.

Who’s going to win it all this year? Probably a team from Cheyenne. Both East and Central are absolutely loaded this year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them play each other in a title game in November. That said, Sheridan can never be counted out, Thunder Basin will again be extremely talented, and Natrona lacks experience but has loads of tradition and depth.

Any hope for anyone else? Not really. I love what I saw from Rock Springs last year, and if they can turn close losses into close victories, the Tigers can be one of those teams other coaches hate to see on a schedule. Campbell County showed some spunk in the quarterfinals, too. And Laramie’s been the beneficiary of a transfer boom. All that said, a quarterfinal victory for anyone who’s not Thunder Basin, East, Central, Natrona or Sheridan would be a surprise. Central’s entry into this discussion is welcome surprise in a staid 4A, but a surprise nonetheless.

Really — nothing about Sheridan? OK, time for the Broncs to get their love. They deserve it. With four championships in five years, Sheridan can never be ruled out of a 4A championship chase. No program develops talent faster or more consistently than the one up north.

Four players to watch

Graedyn Buell, Cheyenne East. Buell did something pretty rare last year — he was named the Class 4A offensive player of the year as a junior. The stats back that choice, though. He led the entire state regardless of classification with 2,989 passing yards, completing 201 of 327 passes while sporting a 35-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Carter Lobatos, Cheyenne Central. No player in Wyoming will be a bigger threat on both offense and defense than Lobatos. He led the Indians’ rushing attack with 1,238 yards last year, and he also led Central’s defense with 127 tackles — second-best in 4A last year.

Jaxon Pikula, Thunder Basin. Pikula was a consistent threat out of Thunder Basin’s backfield, running for 1,189 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. He also caught 17 passes for 129 yards as part of a balanced ‘Bolts offense.

Andrew Johnson, Cheyenne Central. Johnson led Class 4A in receptions last year with 73 and was second in receiving yards with 994. But on defense, he finished with five interceptions and 10 pass deflections, numbers that no other returning player in 4A could match in 2019.

Four key games

Week 0 games, Aug. 28. The opening week of the season gives us two critical games that will go a long way in shaping this season’s 4A race — Central at Natrona and East at Thunder Basin. Both Cheyenne teams have high hopes, and if they can anchor those hopes to a 1-0 record, those hopes turn into expectations.

Thunder Basin at Rock Springs, Sept. 4. The Tigers could be 4A’s biggest surprise this year. All it would take is a couple attention-getting victories early in the season. Rock Springs has no better opportunity than this game against the ‘Bolts in Sweetwater County in the second game of the season.

Cheyenne East at Sheridan, Sept. 25. The Broncs have won the past seven games they’ve had with the Thunderbirds. East will need to find a way past Sheridan, at Homer Scott Field, to really show it belongs in the championship conversation.

Cheyenne East at Cheyenne Central, Oct. 9. The annual Capital Bowl takes on added fervor in 2020 with both teams trying to stake claims to the top spot in 4A. This might be the most critical rendition of the intra-city rivalry in more than a decade.

Predicted order of finish

Cheyenne East, Sheridan, Cheyenne Central, Thunder Basin, Natrona, Rock Springs, Laramie, Campbell County, Kelly Walsh, Cheyenne South.

Way-too-early title game score prediction

Cheyenne East 33, Sheridan 26. Class 4A will probably be (and normally is) the classification with the most variability between teams from the beginning to the end of a season. The game we see between them in September will probably be wildly different from any playoff rematch.

What do you think about 4A’s changes? Leave a comment, or drop a line on Twitter or Facebook.

–patrick

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