A sure sign of the fall season to come is the popping of pads on high school practice fields as teams prepare for the new football season.
Practice for Lovell and Rocky Mountain started Monday, Aug. 15, and the Bulldogs concluded the first week of practice with a blue-white scrimmage on Saturday.
Both teams will see live action in the form of “zero week” games Saturday. Rocky Mountain will travel to Powell to meet the Panther junior varsity team at 11 a.m., and Lovell will travel to Buffalo for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
New Rocky Mountain football coach Richard Despain has 27 players out for football this year: seven seniors, 10 juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen, with a strong core returning from last season’s Rocky team that finished 5-4 after falling to eventual state champion Upton-Sundance 39-12 in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs.
“We had a good week,” Despain said following the first week of practice. “With a whole new (coaching) staff we’re basically installing everything new on offense and defense. As a staff we talked it out. We’re going with what we know.
“Parts of this offense are quite different, but the guys are doing a really good job across the board. The skill and the line guys are learning their stuff. We have good battles for backs and receivers. Several guys are settling in for line positions. Quite honestly I’m really excited.”
Despain said the Grizzlies’ seven seniors will play key roles this season, and many are returning starters. The seniors are Brian Crawford at running back and robber (linebacker/defensive back), Hunter Faughn on the line, Triston Rusch at guard and defensive line, Cole Simmons at quarterback, receiver and defensive back, Gehrig Sweat at running back and outside linebacker, Garrett Vezain at tackle and defensive tackle and Zac Zier at center, tackle and defensive tackle.
Rusch, Vezain and Zier will anchor the offensive line, and Despain said Simmons and sophomore Ethan Price are battling to replace Cole Wambeke as the starting quarterback.
“Both of them are doing a lot of good things. They’re two athletic kids,” Despain said. “We also have three backs coming to the top for two positions in Sweat, Crawford and Treyson Frost (junior). There are a lot of good things going on.”
Along with his head coaching duties, Despain will work as the offensive coordinator and as offensive and defensive line coach. Justin Moss returns to the high school team as defensive coordinator and will coach quarterbacks and linebackers, new teacher and coach Jessee Wilson receivers, defensive backs, kickers and punters and Scott Crosby running backs, defensive line and linebackers.
After the game at Powell Saturday, the Grizzlies will open the regular season Friday, Sept. 2, when they host Class 2A Kemmerer at 6 p.m. at the RMHS Field.
The Lovell Bulldogs are coming off a superb 8-2 season that saw them reach the second round of the Class 2A playoffs, falling to Glenrock 13-10, and while they lost 10 seniors to graduation, there are several starters returning.
Coach Doug Hazen said there are 45 players out for the team this season: 11 seniors, 12 juniors, 13 sophomores and nine freshmen.
Six starters return on offense, all seniors, Hazen said, in right guard Jaret Collins, right tackle Trace Murphey, fullback Riley Abraham, running back Tyler Teter, receiver/quarterback Brandon Teter and left guard Cade Gifford. Senior Kaleb Mayes also saw a lot of action at wide receiver.
The same seven seniors also return as starters on defense: Collins at tackle, Murphey at end, Abraham at outside linebacker, Ty Teter at inside linebacker, Brandon Teter at cornerback, Gifford at defensive tackle and Mayes at cornerback.
“I’m happy with our numbers,” Hazen said. “In 2A we’ll play teams with 30 players out. To get 40 or 45 out for football is not too bad around here.
“The seniors are setting the tone for this year, and with six or seven starters returning we know what to expect. We had a good off-season and camp is going very well. Of course we have work to do and we need to get a lot better with the details, but we’re improving every day.”
Hazen will be the defensive coordinator for varsity games once again and is coaching the quarterbacks and defensive backs. Bob Weber returns as the offensive coordinator for the varsity and coaches the wide receivers and linebackers. He is also the associate head coach.
Jeny Gardner coaches the offensive and defensive lines and will serve as the defensive coordinator for junior varsity games. Nick DeWitt coaches the running backs and linebackers and will serve as the offensive coordinator for JV games.
Calin McArthur is a volunteer coach, and Hazen said Chad and Lindsay Lindsay have “helped out a ton” in the weight room, along with Kevin Walker and Tiffany Wilkerson.
After the game Saturday in Buffalo, the Bulldogs will return to the road for their regular season
opener, traveling to Big Horn to meet the Rams for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
By David Peck