David Hayes sees it as more of a reloading process than a rebuilding one. Though the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies have to replace 11 graduated seniors, the second-year RMHS head coach said his refurbished team is coming together nicely heading into Friday’s season-opener in Sheridan against Normative Services.
“I hope it’s a reloading,” Hayes said. “We made improvements this week. It was kind of ragged until this week. We have a couple of new kids, and we’re trying to get around some injuries, but we’re coming along.”
The Grizz have a solid base of eight seniors on the squad this season, although one key senior, running back and linebacker Logan Friedly, is still coming back from a shoulder injury suffered during a summer rodeo and may not return to the lineup for a few weeks.
Friedly’s loss has left the Grizzlies thin in the backfield, requiring a shift of personnel. Expected starting quarterback Jake Jones, a junior, is moving to running back, leaving an untried freshman, Kirby Winland, at the helm of the Grizzlies.
“Kirby is coming along well,” Hayes said. “We needed to strengthen our backfield. Kirby is starting the first game of his high school career. He has shown pretty good leadership as a freshman in the huddle. He’s kind of learning on the fly, but he has pretty good poise. We’re run oriented, but he’s able to pass the ball if we need to.”
Rotating at running back in Rocky’s two-back, multiple-set offense will be Jones, senior Derik Romero and junior Bryce Ward. All three will play, Hayes said, although Romero and Jones will likely get the starting nod this week as Ward is nursing a hip injury. Waiting in reserve are freshmen Cannon Simmons and Caleb Horrocks.
“They are all solid backs,” Hayes said. “They’re tough-minded and they know how to run. Our backfield is strong. We just need to get healthy. We’re really looking forward to Logan getting healthy.”
The flanker will be junior Wilson Flowers, backed by senior Jaeden Herd, who is healing from a broken pinky. Top receivers are split end Brandon Altman, a senior, and tight end Joey Jewell, a sophomore who Hayes said is “really coming along.” Also catching passes will be freshman Bill Despain and sophomore Xavier Mangus.
The line will be anchored by returning senior guard Braden Grant (5-10, 230) on the right side. He will be flanked by senior right tackle Caleb Estes, who saw time a year ago, and sophomore center Billy Guenther. On the left side will be sophomore tackle Carlos DeLaCruz and senior guard Brady Penman. Sophomore TJ Willis was working toward a starting role but injured his knee and is trying to come back from that injury, Hayes said.
Backing up the starting five will be senior Matt Parker, junior Mark Ferguson, sophomore Joey Carroll and freshmen John Higgins and Anthony Estes.
Hayes will call the offense, assisted by new assistant coach Brandon May.
The defense will be quick and fast, though “not real big,” Hayes said.
“We’ll run a lot of different sets,” he said. “We’ll have a very aggressive defense. We’ll run a lot of stuff, and we’ll do a lot of blitzing from the edges. It will be tough to pinpoint our defense. Coach (Justin) Moss does a great job with it.”
Linemen will be Ward, Penman, Parker and Grant, backed by Willis eventually. Linebackers will be Jones and Romero on the outside and returning starter Estes in the middle. In the defensive backfield will be Flowers, Herd, Jewell and Altman.
Joe Davis will coach the linemen and special teams this season, and Thomas Bridges and Scott Crosby will provide help as volunteer assistants.
Hayes said Tuesday night that the Grizz had had “two days of really solid practice” this week in preparation for NSI Friday and coming off last Friday’s “week zero” game at the Cody junior varsity.
“We’ve made big strides,” Hayes said. “We’re looking a lot better. We’re ready to go.
“We’re ready to start the season. We look like a varsity football team. I’m excited and ready to go.”
The Rocky JVs host Riverside Saturday at 10 a.m. in Cowley.
By David Peck