The chase is on. Every summer hundreds of area football players strap on their pads and helmets and dream of holding up that elusive state championship trophy in November.
It’s a rite of passage, and the thrill of the chase is as real for the small 1A schools as it is for the 5A powerhouses.
Sugar-Salem won its first 3A championship last season and seems poised to be the team to beat again this year. Hillcrest rode a talented group of seniors to the 4A title last season and may be in rebuilding mode. Skyline won two consecutive 4A championships before missing out last season. The Grizzlies are hungry to return.
Welcome to the 2019 season. Clear off a space on the trophy case and get set to see who’s ready to make their run.
Anyone lacking for motivation?
“These guys were juniors last year,” Sugar-Salem coach Tyler Richins said before a recent practice. “Were they a big reason we won a state championship or were they along for the ride? They have their own legacy now.”
Motivation comes easy when you’re trying to defend a title.
“This is your team now, forget about last year,” Richins has preached this summer. “That’s history. You guys were the first team to win a state championship, now are you guys going to be the first team to repeat?”
Diggers linebacker Browning Bennion has bought in.
“I have my ring in my room and seeing it every morning it’s ‘Yeah, we did that,’ but then you have to come to practice and remember that’s all gone, that’s all wiped away. That’s history and we need to start a new season.”
Hillcrest coach Kevin Meyer has a lot of new faces running around the practice field this summer but he’s also looking for big things. The Knights’ senior class took over last year and the season culminated in a title win over Bishop Kelly. Can a new class lead them back to the big game?
“2018 is over,” Meyer said. “That was a great year and we’re just building on it. We talk a lot of doing the little things right. Playing within our system and working together … We have the nucleus to have a pretty good football team.”
Meyer noted that the championship is Hillcrest’s to defend and the new players take that task seriously. Last year’s team entered the season with some question marks, but quickly picked up steam.
“We never talked about it until midseason,” Meyer said of making a title run. “We just started getting better. We’re much further along than we were last year at this time.”
That should inspire optimism to all the teams that begin the season with young players or teams that are still trying to get on the same page and be competitive against established programs.
Thunder Ridge played its first varsity season a year ago and has yet to win a game. Coach Jeff Marshall is optimistic yet realistic as the program tries to grow.
“The main thing is we’re excited to have some continuity,” he said. “I expect us to execute a lot better. I’m looking forward to that.”
The task of balancing tough game experience and the raw, untested talent of underclassmen might be the biggest challenge for most teams entering the new season. Some may be ready to make their run at a championship, while others have to wait for all the pieces to come together.
North Fremont advanced to the 2A title game for the first time in nearly three decades last season. The Huskies came up short and a solid group of players have since graduated. Can the Huskies make another run?
“It’s going to be a matter of how fast we can grow up to get back to that level,” North Fremont coach Ben Lenz said.
Skyline coach Scott Berger likes what he’s seen from his team.
“The beauty of underclassmen is they turn into older classmen,” Berger noted.
With that said, welcome to a new football season in East Idaho, where chasing a state title is everything.