Hillcrest football preview

Players run through drills during practice at Hillcrest High School on Aug. 21.

The 4A state championship is typically a battle between District 6 teams and Bishop Kelly. Hillcrest won the title last year and Skyline won consecutive championships in 2016 and 2017, giving the district eight titles since 2007.

So who’s taking home the hardware this season?

If Hillcrest is going to repeat the Knights will have to do it with a whole new crew of starters. Bonneville has the core of its team returning and Skyline looks to make another run as both the Bees and Grizzlies make quarterback changes.

Idaho Falls and Shelley have new head coaches and Blackfoot returns eight offensive starters from last year’s playoff team.

“A lot of these kids, even though they didn’t start, they played,” Idaho Falls coach Marty Duffin said, echoing the sentiment of a lot of coaches with young lineups.

As for the teams with returning experience, the District 6 streak is still a challenge.

“We want to go deep in the playoffs,” longtime Blackfoot coach Stan Buck said. “We want to win state. There’s no reason we can’t be one of those teams at the end.”

HILLCREST KNIGHTS

It seems like the Knights barely had time to celebrate their state title and now key players have signed with colleges and the newcomers are looking to find their niche.

“It’s been a work in progress,” coach Kevin Meyer said. “We got a lot of guys to replace, but we feel pretty good with kids we got coming back.”

Losing nine players on each side of the ball presents plenty of challenges, but Meyer said the cupboard’s not empty, especially on the line.

Trace Laird returns at tackle and Spencer Astel at guard. Astel is also expected to be a cog in the defense at linebacker along with corner Gutama Haws.

Hillcrest was a heavily run-oriented team last season, averaging 342 yards on the ground and rushing for 49 touchdowns. That likely won’t change, but the newcomers have some big shoes to fill.

Look for some of the young players to make an impact.

HILLCREST KNIGHTS

Coach: Kevin Meyer, 2nd season

Last year: 12-1, won the 4A state title

Returning starters: Offense 2, Defense 2

Impact players: Trace Laird, Sr.,OL; Spencer Astel, Sr., OL/LB; Gutama Haws, Sr.,CB; John Zirker, Sr.,TE; Tre Kofe, Soph., RB; Dallin Caldwell, Sr., OL, Seth Curtis, Sr.,QB.

Schedule

Aug. 31 vs. Raymond (Alb.), 10 a.m. at Holt Arena

Sept. 5 vs. Rigby, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 at Shelley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 vs. Bonneville, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 vs. Blackfoot, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Madison, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10 at Skyline, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 vs. Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.

BONNEVILLE BEES

When Matt Virgil started coaching a Bonneville four years ago, he noticed there might be something special about the group of incoming freshmen. That group has now become the core of a Bees team that could challenge the dominance of Hillcrest and Skyline atop the 4A District 6 conference. Bonneville is loaded with skill players, including tailback Tavyn Lords, speedster Colton Reifschneider at receiver, Willie Nelson at linebacker, and a host of others.

“We saw five or six of these guys start as sophomores,” Virgil said. “They’ve been the young guys now they’re the old guys … The kids have high expectations for themselves and they put in the work.”

Jordan Perez takes over the starting quarterback position for Nelson, who’s probably a better fit on the defensive side, Virgil said, adding colleges have been interested in Nelson as a linebacker.

“(Perez) gives us a little versatility at quarterback,” Virgil said. “He’s more of a run threat.”

BONNEVILLE BEES

Coach: Matt Virgil, 4th season

Last year: 4-5, fifth in conference

Returning starters: Offense 9, Defense 8

Impact players: Kai Howell, Sr., WR/CB; Jordan Perez, Sr., QB; Tavyn Lords, Sr., RB; Colton Reifschneider, Sr., Rec.

Schedule

Aug. 30 at Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.

Sept. 6 vs. Canyon Ridge, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 at Blackfoot, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 vs. Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 at Preston, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 vs. Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 vs. Shelley, 7 p.m.

Oct. 17 vs. Rigby, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 at Skyline, 7 p.m.

SKYLINE GRIZZLIES

Two years removed from back-to-back state titles, coach Scott Berger is again tweaking his offense.

With Cruz Taylor moving to quarterback, expect the Grizzlies to revert back to more of a true spread offense, with Taylor giving the team more options. The style will be similar to what Skyline ran in 2016, Berger said, noting that after losing some explosive skill players, the 2017 team took advantage of a solid line and ran the ball with a power game.

Last year?

“We had limitations,” Berger said. “We were a trick offense, reverses, double passes.”

Along with Taylor, Luke Ruiz should be a key part of the offense. The running back ran for tough yards a year ago, and Eli Ames could be a big-play guy, Berger said. Receiver Connor Maloney is a returning all-area player.

The defense has plenty of experience with lineman Brixton Gilbert and safety Christean Thomas returning.

SKYLINE GRIZZLIES

Coach: Scott Berger, 11th season

Last year: 8-4, lost in state quarterfinals

Returning starters: Offense 6, Defense 2

Impact players: Cruz Taylor, Sr. QB; Brixton Gilbert, Jr., DL; Conner Maloney., Jr, Rec.

Schedule

Aug. 30 vs. Orem (Utah), 8:15 p.m. at Holt Arena

Sept. 6 vs. Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 at Rigby, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 at Madison, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 vs. Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.

Oct. 3 vs. Blackfoot, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10 vs. Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 at Shelley, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Bonneville, 7 p.m.

IDAHO FALLS TIGERS

Former assistant coach Marty Duffin takes over at Idaho Falls and will have a relatively young team.

Most of the team’s returning experience will be on the offensive line, which will be key to how the offense develops.

The Tigers have historically been a running team and that’s not expected to change, Duffin said. Taggert Miller, who played last year when Cannon Thompson was hurt, will play at quarterback and has some weapons with running back Spencer Moore and receivers Jackson Baker and Bradley Thompson.

Defensibly, the linebacking corps should be solid with Clayton Rohner and Gus Meacham.

“There are young kids who haven’t played a lot and they’ll have to step up,” Duffin said.

IDAHO FALLS TIGERS

Coach: Marty Duffin, 1st year

Last year: 7-4, lost in state quarterfinals

Returning starters: Offense 5, Defense 2

Impact players: Andrew Finlinson, Sr.,OL; Bracken Beck, Sr., OL; Spencer Moore, Sr. RB.

Schedule

Aug. 30 vs. Lewiston, 7 p.m.

Sept. 6 at Century, 7 p.m. at Holt Arena

Sept. 13 at Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 vs. Shelley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 vs. Skyline, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 vs. Bonneville, 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 vs. Columbia, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 vs. Blackfoot, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

BLACKFOOT BRONCOS

Blackfoot wants back in the mix.

Thanks to an experienced offense, a return to prominence is possible for the Broncos.

“We have to have a good year,” coach Stan Buck said. “It’s important for us to be pretty successful. We’ve been down these last couple years. We want to be back to being the guys that people are concerned about.”

The Broncos took the first step forward last season, returning to the state playoffs after a one-year absence. They put up a good fight before losing 44-36 in the first round at Middleton.

That was the theme of a 4-6 season in which Blackfoot was in games, but not on the winning end of a lot of them. It was the second consecutive losing season for what has been a traditionally successful program under Buck, who enters his 28th season as Blackfoot’s head coach.

But eight offensive starters return this season, including quarterback Craig Young. He finished last season strong, completing 28 of 43 passes for 246 yards and leading the offense to its second-highest scoring output of the season in the final game of the year.

- Jeff Papworth/Idaho State Journal

BLACKFOOT BRONCOS

Coach: Stan Buck, 28th season

Last year: 4-6, lost in first round of playoffs

Returning starters: Offense 8, Defense 5

Impact players: Craig Young, Sr., QB; Reece Robinson, Sr., DB.

Schedule

Aug. 31 vs. Lakeland, 1 p.m.

Sept. 6 vs. Star Valley (Wy.), 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 vs. Bonneville, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 at Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 at Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Oct. 3 at Skyline 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 vs. Madison, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 at Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Shelley, 7 p.m.

SHELLEY RUSSETS

Shelley kicks off the season under new direction with the hiring of Shelley graduate Josh Wells to lead the program.

Wells was hired to replace Jake Monahan, who resigned last fall after the football season and has moved on to be an assistant coach at Snake River High School.

Shelley is coming off a 2-8 campaign which is not what the Russets fans are used to. In 2017, the Russets made it to the semifinals of the 3A state playoffs, just a year after being in the state finals.

The Russets' move into the 4A classification and with the mix of 5A schools in the High Country Conference, made for a rough season.

The team is learning a new offense and defense from Wells, who has vowed to return the Russets to days of 'smash mouth football.' Numbers were up when practices started this year, with nearly 80 players showing up for the first fall practice.

Shelley tweaked the schedule to make it more manageable.

-Fred Davis/Bingham County Chronicle

Schedule

Aug. 28 at Sky View (Utah), 7 p.m.

Sept. 6 vs. Sugar-Salem, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 vs. Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 at Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 vs. Pocatello, 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 at Bonneville, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 vs. Skyline, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 at Blackfoot, 7 p.m.

Allan Steele is Sports Editor of the Post Register. Reach him at 208 542-6772 and follow on Twitter at @asteele12000