The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies are stuck in a rut, and they want to dig out. After successfully making the Class 1A, 11-man playoffs in each of the past three seasons, then losing in the first round, the Grizz are determined to take the next step this season.
“We always talk about improving every week, and we have the same philosophy,” head coach David Hayes said. “That has been our goal for a long time, all 11 players being accountable and doing their job. It’s just a matter of coming in and being confident we can beat a team in the playoffs.
“This year we’re seeking more confidence and the team is more experienced. We should be stronger on the line.”
Although the Grizz will miss four-year starting quarterback Kirby Winland, whose injury late last season was one reason the Grizz didn’t advance in the playoffs, and other talented skill players like Bill Despain, Caleb Horrocks and Tyler Lindquist, the players taking their place are ready to step up and will operate behind an experienced and talented line.
Stepping in at quarterback will be senior Cole Wambeke, who played split end last season.
“Cole has always been a very accurate passer and a smart player,” Hayes said. “As a senior he’s ready to lead. We should be decent across the board on offense along as the line does what we need them to do.”
Backing up Wambeke will be junior Cole Simmons, and the junior varsity quarterback is freshman Ethan Price.”
A talented and speedy backfield includes senior halfbacks Cordell McFarlane and juniors Brian Crawford and Gehrig Sweat, a transfer from Townsend, Mont. The fullback is senior Travis Banks.
Cole Simmons is the flanker, with sophomore Tristan Jewell, junior Gareth Flowers and senior Jared May at wide receiver. Tight ends are senior Dylan North and sophomore Wyatt Horrocks.
The Grizz have six linemen with starting experience, Hayes said, in junior left tackle Garrett Vezain (6-0, 234), senior left guard Ben Estes, junior center Zac Zier (6-1, 237), senior right guard Shay (Dakota) Bond and senior right tackle Wes Homewood (6-5, 251). Junior Triston Rusch has experience and can fill in anywhere along the line, Hayes said.
“We’ll have strong running and will be able to pass off the run because of it,” Hayes said. “We have a chance to be pretty solid on offense.”
A big, experienced line and solid linebackers will be the strength of Rocky’s 4-4 stacked defense in 2015, Hayes said, adding, “If we stay disciplined we’ll be pretty darn strong.”
Ends Banks and Rusch and tackles Zier, Vezain and Homewood will make up a strong front.
“We’re big in the middle and have strong guys on the ends,” Hayes said.
Linebackers include McFarlane and Crawford on the outside and Sweat, Bond, Estes and Horrocks inside.
A talented defensive backfield includes corners Wambeke, Simmons and Jewell, Hayes said, noting that in some formations, the Grizz will use a strong safety in the form of Estes, Sweat or Horrocks. Safeties in normal formation include Jewell, Price and Wambeke.
“We can stack eight and use a strong safety so when they run we’ll have nine in the box,” Hayes said. “We have strong balance between the line and linebackers. It will be tough to run on us.”
Simmons and Sweat will handle kicking and punting duties.
Hayes will be the defensive coordinator and co-special teams coordinator as well as the head coach. He will be assisted by Tobee Christiansen as offensive coordinator and co-special teams coordinator, Pat Winland as offensive and defensive line coach and Daniel Robertson as assistant offensive and defensive coordinator.
The Grizzlies will open the season by traveling to Dayton to meet familiar 1A East opponent Tongue River Friday at 7 p.m. The Grizz pounded TR in Dayton two years ago, 35-0, but fell at home to the Eagles a year ago, 14-7.
Hayes said the Grizz will be looking for a payback but realize the Eagles will be tough at home.
“They’ll be all pumped up because it’s their first game ever under the lights,” he said. “We lost 14-7 last year but were inside the 20 several times. I feel like we should have won last year
“It’s a big game for our confidence and our record.”
The Grizz will open the home and conference season on Friday, Sept. 11, when they host the tough Shoshoni Wranglers at
By David Peck