It doesn’t matter what school — Bonneville, Rigby, Highland — if you wear pads and a helmet, and go nuts for a leather ball, chances are the team you play for is competitive within 5A District 5-6.
With another season starting, every team within the district has strengths and weaknesses.
Madison, while losing most of its starters to graduation, has an offensive backfield (running back Blake Moseley) to lean on.
Rigby, coming off a 4-6 season, has a new coach, Armando Gonzalez, and system to integrate.
Hillcrest, led by coach Jeff Marshall, has offensive playmakers that could rival Marshall’s once pass-heavy offenses at Blackfoot.
Bonneville has a quarterback, Brock Saxton, that embodies 18-year-old Peyton Manning.
In a year where there is no clear favorite, anything can happen.
“Honestly, I think the conference is up for grabs,” Bonneville coach Matt Virgil said. “I think your normal, typical powers have gone down.”
Highland — led by highly recruited defensive lineman Tommy Togiai — remains a powerhouse within the conference, too.
“We got a tough conference,” Hillcrest coach Jeff Marshall said. “Highland is in our league and they’re always good. The always send kids to major colleges every year. Madison has a lot of athletes and are well coached. Rigby has a new coach that’s coached college ball for a number of years. Bonneville is going to improve … and so I think we’re going to have a tough 5A conference.”
Football is back, and the Post Register introduces every team within its coverage area.
Coach: Matt Virgil, second season
Last year: 3-6, missed the playoffs
Returning starters: five offense, five defense
Season outlook: With one year under his belt, Bonneville coach Matt Virgil said the Bees will be “fun to watch” during the coach’s’ second go-around.
With skill position players like receiver Dillon Sorensen and running back Austin Ford to work around third-year starting quarterback Brock Saxton, the Bees are slated to garner some high-flying highlights in their single-back, spread offense.
“I think last year, including myself and the staff, was all new,” Virgil said. “It’s a new system with the kids, so now, going into year two, expectations are set. They understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”
With no clear leader within the conference, the Bees will rely heavily on their trio of Saxton-Ford-Sorensen to generate points against skilled defenses like Idaho Falls (Aug. 25) and defenses that remain questionable (Hillcrest, Madison).
Defensively, Virgil said the Bees “are pretty adaptable” with their 4-3 base, Virgil said.
“We’re just going to try and shut down what our opponents are trying to do,” Virgil said.
Virgil added that Bonneville is still young, but per Hillcrest coach Jeff Marshall, the Bees’ junior class will be one to look out for when the season starts.
“I think we’ll have a pretty good team this year,” Saxton said.
Impact players: Quarterback Brock Saxton, wide receiver Dillon Sorensen, running back Austin Ford
Saxton — Bonneville’s coaches spoke highly of the senior quarterback, calling him “a coach on the field”. Will be vital to the Bees’ offense.
Sorensen — Tall, athletic and a downfield threat for a Bonneville team that averaged 22 points a game in 2016.
Ford — Ford received all-area honors as a wrestler, and he may garner recognition as a running back, too. His bruising style should complete the Bees’ offensive “big-three”.
Keys to success: Offensive line health. The Bees struggled to keep 2016 starter Saia Taufatofua safe, never having the same starting five at the offensive line throughout their 2016 campaign.
8/25: @ Idaho Falls (7 p.m.)
9/1: vs. Timberline (4 p.m.)
9/7: vs. Hillcrest (7 p.m.)
9/15: @ Skyline (7 p.m.)
9/22: @ Minico (7 p.m.)
9/29: @ Highland (8:15 p.m.)
10/6: @ Canyon Ridge (7 p.m.)
10/13: vs. Madison (7 p.m.)
10/20: vs. Rigby (7 p.m.)
Coach: Jeff Marshall, fifth season
Last year: 3-6
Returning starters: Six offense, two defense
Season outlook: Offense rules in contemporary football.
Hillcrest certainly acknowledges that.
After a disappointing 3-6 season, the Knights look to bounce back with a sophisticated offense and a quick (but young) defense, per coaches Jeff Marshall and C.B. Nelson.
“I know this: we returned quite a few players on offense and so, I expect our offense to be pretty good early,” Marshall said. “But I expect our defense (to hold up) — we have a lot of speed.”
Second-year starter Dalton Clark will be responsible for patenting a plethora of jet sweeps, receiver screens, option handoffs and a dense playbook by Marshall.
During a preseason practice, Clark threw into tight windows all while scrambling on bootlegs and options.
“I think we’re looking pretty good,” Clark said. “The offense is doing really good, our line is getting better, wide receivers are looking good, too.”
Justin Moore and Oakley Hussey will also play vital roles on this year’s Knights team.
Hussey was impressive during the Knight’s summer camp. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior showed solid footwork while playing out of the slot and backfield positions.
“He’s a big kid,” Marshall said of Hussey. “And he’s only a junior. He’s worked hard … and very athletic. He went to a lot of camps this summer and he has some people looking at him.”
He could be compatible with junior running back Jordan Neuerburg. Neuerburg will be responsible for running through holes Moore creates at the fullback position.
Moore is a potential two-way starter — Marshall didn’t clarify whether he would be or not — but regardless: Moore will have a significant role in the Knight’s loaded backfield.
“We’re gonna expect a lot out of him, he’s got a big job to do,” Nelson said. “But I think every coach would tell you they would like no two-way players, if they could, because it’s a tough deal.”
Impact players: Quarterback Dalton Clark, fullback Justin Moore, flex player Oakley Hussey.
Clark — In his second season, Clark will use varying offensive sets to demonize opponents. Running or throwing (or both).
Moore — The sturdy fullback will most likely play both ways for the Knights.
Hussey — Showed promise during summer camp with good footwork and WR-prototype frame.
Keys to success: Outscore the heck out of opponents. Hillcrest was outscored 21.6 to 19.7 last season, per Max Preps. That could change thanks to two components: maturity at the quarterback spot and an easier schedule. Marshall said Clark “can make any throw” in the playbook and has improved his consistency and mechanics from a year ago. From watching early season practices, Clark will be involved in multiple facets of the offense: option running and throwing through a motion offense.
8/25: vs. Skyline (7 p.m.)
9/1: vs. Blackfoot (7 p.m.)
9/7: @ Bonneville (7 p.m.)
9/15: @ Lake City (noon)
9/22: vs. Madison (7 p.m.)
9/29: @ Twin Falls (7 p.m.)
10/6: vs. Rigby (7 p.m.)
10/13: @ Idaho Falls (7 p.m.)
10/20: @ Highland (5:30 p.m.)
Coach: Mitch Buck, 22nd season
Last year: 8-4, lost 28-20 in second round of the playoffs
Returning starters: four, including the Bobcats’ kicker.
Season outlook: Madison coach Mitch Buck has seen it all.
It’s why he wasn’t too fazed when asked about losing most of his 2016 starting core to graduation during a preseason practice.
Madison, which graduated 18 starters, will have to rely on youth, speed and quarterback Jordan Porter if it wants to remain atop of the 5A standings in 2017.
It won’t be easy, either.
“I think (the conference) is going to be pretty even,” Buck said. “The fact that all schools are similar in population, so our team sizes are similar on the football field.”
The Bobcats’ season schedule bumped up 8.8 points, according to Max Preps, and dropped over 1,000 spots in the website’s national ranking (No. 1,228 in ‘16, No. 2,640 in ‘17).
Yet, Buck, running back Blake Moseley and offensive tackle Hunter Proctor said the Bobcats have a chance to return to the 5A state playoffs in 2017 if they lean on consistent quarterback play and “utilize their speed.”
“We don’t have as much size as we did last year, obviously, but I think that the group we do have, we all work hard enough to make up for it,” Proctor said.
Impact players: Quarterback Jordan Porter, running back Blake Moseley, offensive tackle/defensive end Hunter Proctor, inside linebacker Parker Weber
Porter — The junior will be in charge of controlling a Bobcat offense looking to utilize speed and “team unity” to win six games for the fourth consecutive season.
Moseley — Will benefit from the Bobcats’ youth. Played well catching passes on screens out of the shotgun position, earning all-area honorable mention honors as a junior because of it.
Proctor — A two-way player who is slated for a big season, Buck said. The junior will be a cornerstone of a defense that allowed just 15 points per game a year ago.
Weber — Another returning starter on defense, Weber will look to plug holes in between the gaps.
Keys to success: It’s all about Porter. Buck said teams are as successful, and competent, as their quarterback. Those may be some heavy words for Porter, a second-year starter at Madison. Blake Moseley said the Bobcats’ speed will be prevalent to help Porter, though. What they lack in size, Moseley said, they make up in speed.
8/25: vs. Lake City ( 7 p.m.)
9/1: vs. Idaho Falls (7 p.m.)
9/8: @ Sky View (7 p.m.)
9/15: @ Blackfoot (7 p.m.)
9/22: @ Hillcrest (7 p.m.)
9/29: @ Rigby (7 p.m.)
10/6: vs. Highland (7 p.m.)
10/13: @ Bonneville ( 7 p.m.)
10/20: vs. Skyline (7 p.m.)
Coach: Armando Gonzalez, first season
Last year: 4-6, lost in first round of the playoffs
Returning starters: seven returning offense, two on defense
Simply put, Rigby’s athletic department traded an introverted coach for an extroverted one during the offseason.
At a Monday practice, Trojans coach Armando Gonzalez physically participates in most offensive drills, rapidly skipping from one end of the practice field to another in a matter of minutes.
“He’s like an energizer bunny,” tight ends coach Steve Godwin said of Gonzalez.
That’s an understatement.
Taking over for former coach Randy Waite, Gonzalez will implement a no-huddle, college-like approach to his first year at the helm.
Gonzalez said his first season’s difficulty will be communication-based, as systems are taught differently whenever there’s a coaching chance (“It’s like teaching Japanese,” he said).
Still, Rigby has a solid core of players within the defensive line and at skill positions.
“We’re going to have some good skill position players,” said Gonzalez, who took over on May 15. Waite is now coaching at Crater High School in Central Point, Ore.
Offensive lineman Nate Franz received all-area recognition during his sophomore season. More of the same is expected from him as a junior, offensive lineman Burke Mouser said.
Running back Braden Youngstrom should be a focal point of the offense. During his junior season, he ran for 1,292 yards and tallied 12 total touchdowns (nine on the ground).
Finally, senior quarterback Tanner Clayton will be responsible for running Gonzalez’s RPO (run-pass-option) system. Clayton has the prototypical build to do it (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and looked sharp during Monday’s practice. He’ll have to improve on his turbulent junior season: 1,278 passing yard (55 completion percentage) for nine touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Nose tackle Tane Togiai — cousin to nationally recruited Highland defensive lineman, Tommy — should be punishing on the line, defensive line coach Vic Martinez said.
The only consistent needed, per coach Gonzalez, is the offensive line.
“From my standpoint, Rigby is the team to beat,” Bonneville coach Matt Virgil said. “Obviously, they had change at the head coaching job, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects them.”
Impact players: Quarterback Tanner Clayton, wide receiver Austin Good, offensive lineman Nate Franz, nose tackle Tane Togiai, running back Braden Youngstrom
Clayton — with a prototypical quarterback build, Clayton could improve on his troubling junior season.
Franz — A consistent on the offensive line, Franz will be looked at for the Trojans to build around.
Togiai — A cousin of Highland’s highly-touted, Tommy, Tane will look to bulldoze offensive lines from the nose tackle spot.
Keys to success: Take care of the football and winning in the trenches. Gonzalez — who coached at Cal State Northridge from 1997 to 2001 — preached “taking care of the football and limiting turnovers” putting some pressure on returning quarterback Tanner Clayton and an offensive line still looking for all five of its pieces.
8/26: vs. Douglas (NV, 10 a.m.)
9/1: @ Skyline (7 p.m.)
9/8: vs. Minico (7 p.m.)
9/15: vs. Kuna (7 p.m.)
9/22: @ Blackfoot (7 p.m.)
9/29: vs. Madison (7 p.m.)
10/6: @ Hillcrest (7 p.m.)
10/13: vs. Highland (7 p.m.)
10/20: @ Bonneville (7 p.m.)