Often referred to as the black-and-blue division, the Nuclear Conference has shown up a little more Purple and Yellow on the color wheel the past two seasons.
With two dominant conference championship runs in 2018 and 2019, North Fremont hasn’t lost a Nuke game since October 2017.
“Firth is always tough, and they wiped the floor with us last year,” Ririe coach Jim Newton said. “Salmon is unpredictable, and they have a good senior class, and West Jeff is coming back with a good group.
“And then there’s North Fremont (long pause) North Fremont. I’ve never beaten North Fremont.”
Salmon offensive coordinator, athletic director, and oftentimes head coach Jeremy Burgess has the long-view perspective of the Nuclear Conference. As always, he is excited to see how it plays out this fall.
“It’s going to be an interesting year, regardless,” Burgess said. “Ririe has numbers, Firth has speed, and West Jeff has lots of young kids with lots of experience.
“Then, of course, you have North Fremont (pause, deep sigh). North Fremont.”
While it’s unclear where the Firth football season will end, it will again have its beginnings with a season opener against West Side.
For every season dating back to 2010, Firth has opened with the Pirates in a fall ritual that has favored the boys from Dayton in seven of 10, including each of the past three seasons.
The Cougars have finished under .500 in each of the past two seasons since last claiming the Nuclear Conference title in 2017. With seniors at key skill and trench positions, the Cougars will aim to break that underwater cycle in 2020 with seven returning starters on offense and seven on defense.
Coach: Jordan Bartlett, 2nd season
Last year: 4-5, lost in state opener
Impact players: Jason Tucker, Sr., RB/LB; Athan Blonquist, Jr., DE/TE; Gage Vasquez, So., QB; Brandon Richards, Sr., OG/DT; Sam Park, jr., RB/LB; Angel Arriaga, jr., DB/WR; Trent Telford, sr., RB/LB.
Aug. 28 vs. West Side, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 vs. Soda Springs, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Bear Lake, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 at South Fremont, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Ririe, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 vs. Salmon, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 at West Jefferson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 vs. North Fremont, 7 p.m.
NORTH FREMONT HUSKIES
With two losses against 21 wins the past two seasons, the Purple People Eaters are kicking hard in Fremont County.
Gone is the stable of 3-year starters on the Huskies' line that helped drive the team deep into the state playoffs, but waiting in the wings are some young, hungry jackals with blood in their noses. Even so, North Fremont returns six starters on offense and six on defense for a team that was ranked No. 1 most of last season.
“We have tough kids, and because of that, running downhill is one of our strengths,” veteran coach Ben Lenz said. “We lost of a lot of talent on that line, and we have some younger kids coming in ready to prove themselves.”
North Fremont Huskies
Coach: Ben Lenz, 9th season
Last year: 10-1, lost in state semifinals
Impact players: Luke Hill, Sr., QB/DB; Jordan Lenz, Jr., RB/WR/DB; Carson Dye, Sr., C/DT/DE.
Aug. 28 vs. Filer, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 at Malad, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 vs. West Jefferson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Salmon, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Aberdeen, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Ririe, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Firth, 7 p.m.
After coaching this same group of players since they were fourth-graders, Ririe coach Jim Newton is preparing to say goodbye to the class of 2021 football Bulldogs.
Before that happens, however, there’s some more football to play.
“Been coaching these boys for nine years, and this is going to be our last hurrah,” Newton said.
Down to 38 players following the graduation of 12 seniors, Ririe still has one of the biggest rosters in the Nuclear Conference. Newton is confident that will again work in Ririe’s favor, and result in another state playoff run.
“We kind of sat down and evaluated our personnel, and we are going to modify some things to take advantage of the things we do well,” he said.
Coach: Jim Newton, 6th season
Last year: 5-4, lost in state opener
Impact players: Gabe Sommers, sr., RB/QB/UTIL; Gage Morgan, sr., QB/MLB; Keagan Park, sr., TE/DL; Egan Bennon, Sr., OL/DL.
Aug. 28 at Soda Springs, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 vs. Malad, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 at Valley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. Bear Lake, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 vs. Salmon, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 vs. Firth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at West Jefferson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 at North Fremont, 7 p.m.
Salmon grad and former gridiron menace Tyrell Penner flipped the switch on the Salmon program in 2019 -- taking a team that had gone 2-13 in its previous two seasons all the way to the state playoffs.
Salmon finished 5-4 in 2019, spreading the field and taking advantage of the open space where they could work.
Open space -- very much a Salmon kind of mindset.
“We only have 25 out, so we are trying to piece together a lineup and use the tools we have,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Burgess said. “We have nine seniors and seven juniors, so while we may not be able to field a JV team and get the young kids experience for next year, the leadership of our upperclassmen is a positive.”
Coach: Tyrell Penner, 2nd season
Last year: 5-4, lost in state opener
Impact players: Dillon Pilkerton, sr., QB/LB; R.J. Foster (Leadore), sr., OL/DL; WIll Garrett, sr., RB/LB; Blazen Burgess, sr., WR/DB; Tyler Fitte, jr., LT/DE; Caden Caywood, sr., WR/TE/LB.
Aug. 28 vs. Anaconda (MT), 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 vs. South Fremont, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 at Teton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Ririe, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 vs. North Fremont, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Firth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 vs. West Jefferson, 7 p.m.
WEST JEFFERSON PANTHERS
Talk to sophomore West Jeff coach Ty Minto, and you get a sense that his approach to the game can be cooked down into one six-syllable word.
After inheriting a program that went 7-3 and graduated all but one starter, Minto understood 2019 might be a struggle. Indeed it was. An 0-8 struggle.
With 38 boys out and a triple-option offense in place, Minto’s Panthers are ready to hold themselves -- and the opposition -- to account in 2020.
All 11 starters on offense and defense return.
“We learned a lot last season,” Minto said. “We learned what a new team can learn in one year, and I realized I need to refine everything I have brought to this program, refine it again, refine it again, and build from there.”
West Jefferson Panthers
Coach: Ty Minto, 2nd season
Last year: 0-8, no playoffs
Impact players: Kazden Rogers, jr., QB/S; Brevan Newman, sr., RT/DE; Bridger Poulsen, sr., FB/OLB; Jaden Burtenshaw, sr., RB/OLB; Kyson Gabrish, sr., RB/MLB; Dylan Burtenshaw, sr., RB/S.
Aug. 28 at Declo, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 vs. American Falls, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 at Teton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. Malad, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 at North Fremont, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 vs. Ririe, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Firth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Salmon, 7 p.m.