In 2013 the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies reached a major goal by hosting a Class 1A playoff game. They didn’t win it, falling to the Lingle-Ft. Laramie in the first round, but the 6-3 season gave the Grizzlies something to build – and improve – upon.
“We’re optimistic,” Coach David Hayes said. “Cokeville is the team we’re chasing, but in the 1A West we’re confident we should fill that second seed and should be shooting to try to knock Cokeville off their perch.”
The Grizzlies played an intra-squad brown and gold scrimmage Friday and will open the season this coming Friday by hosting the 1A East Tongue River Eagles at 7 p.m. at the RMHS Field in Cowley.
Asked his team’s strength, Hayes noted, “Our senior class has gained a lot of experience through the years. Kirby (Winland) is a very experienced quarterback by playing young. He’s a very good quarterback with talent and experience.
“We have depth in certain areas, like at running back. Our line is about seven deep.”
Asked his team’s challenges, Hayes said depth in certain positions would be a challenge if an injury occurs. Some players would have to be shifted around, he said.
“Our defensive line needs to prove themselves,” he added. “We have some guys with something to prove in front of them.”
Winland returns as a rare fourth-year starter at quarterback. Hayes said the tall signal caller can stand in the pocket to fire the ball but can also roll out and throw on the run.
“Kirby has great leadership and athleticism,” Hayes said. “He has a good arm and is much more accurate.”
Backing up Winland and taking snaps from center in certain formations will be senior Bill Depain, who also starts at flanker. Sophomore Cole Simmons is another backup, and junior varsity quarterbacks will be freshmen Lathan May and Wyatt Horrocks.
Senior standout running back Cannon Simmons must sit out the season due to concussions he suffered a year ago, but there’s talent in the backfield in senior tailback Caleb Horrocks and senior fullback Tyler Lindquist. Rotating in will be junior Cordell McFarlane and sophomore Brian Crawford. Despain is the flanker.
Cole Simmons will be the split end, with junior Cole Wambeke also lining up at end. Tight ends are senior Jordan Arnold and junior Travis Banks.
Anchoring the line will be seniors Anthony Estes at right guard and John Higgins at right tackle, both of whom started as sophomores and juniors and even started a pair of games as freshmen. Junior Ben Estes returns at left guard, and sophomore left tackle Garrett Vezain saw some varsity action a year ago, Hayes said. Junior Shay Bond or sophomore Zach Zier will start at center, and backing up on the line will be junior Wes Homewood.
“We’ll run a mix of run and pass,” Hayes said. “We have different sets that feed off each other, and it’s tough to defend us.”
Anchoring Rocky’s stacked 4-4 defense will be ends Higgins and Anthony Estes and tackle Vezain, with the second tackle likely to be Homewood, Zier or Ben Estes. Sophomore Triston Rusch will also be in the mix.
Returning starters in the linebacker corps will be Caleb Horrocks on the outside and Lindquist inside. Inside backer Arnold also has varsity experience, as does McFarlane on the outside.
Working in at linebacker will be Crawford, Bond and Banks.
“Our backers have a lot of potential,” Hayes said. “They just need to get more sound with their footwork.”
Returning at cornerback will be Despain and Cole Simmons, and Winland will start at safety. Backing up will be Cole Wambeke and McFarlane.
Despain returns as the kicker, and the punter will be Simmons, Lindquist or Caleb Horrocks.
Hayes said with eight players “in the box,” Rocky’s goal defensively will be to stop the run and force teams to pass the ball. He said the team will run more man-to-man coverage this season than in the past.
The TR challenge
Tongue River will prove to be a worthy opening opponent, Hayes said, noting that the Eagles have some players back that missed the game with the Grizz a year ago. TR will run the ball and look strong on the right side, and will also be tough on defense, Hayes said.
“They will be a tough team for us,” he said. “If we can keep teams off-balance, they’ll have a hard time with our offense. Defensively, we need to stop teams at the point of attack.”
By David Peck