What's next for an Idaho eight-man high school football program that reached the pinnacle last fall with an undefeated 12-0 season and the school's fourth state grid title?
First of all, there is an actual football game, after weeks of hot practices. Carey hosts the Hagerman Pirates for the debut of the nine-game Panther season Friday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at Derrick Parke Memorial Field.
Starting with Hagerman, Carey School football players, fully 36 strong out of 40 boys in the entire 1A school, want very much to become champions all over again. They have pledged to work harder and do more.
Ninth-year Carey head coach Lane Kirkland (65-16) said, "We have a big target on us and the kids all know that. They know they have to do more. But this group has been very successful since the seventh grade. They're very mature and responsible in practices. They know what it takes to continue the Carey tradition, and they're fun to coach."
The Carey tradition is deep, starting with last season's highest-scoring Panther team of all time (572 points in 12 games, 47.7 ppg). It was the third unbeaten season for Carey, first since 1998. Carey is 33-3 over three campaigns, has won 21 of 22 games and two state titles in three years.
Carey has 10 returning seniors, compared to just three last August before the 12-0 season that ended with a 46-12 win over Kootenai up in Moscow. Kirkland said, "This group of seniors has seen and played a lot of football—maybe 50 games at varsity and JV levels—and they've had a lot of fun with it."
Although Carey will sorely miss the leadership of Heith Adamson (27 TD for 166 points last fall, 296 points career, 6 TD in the state title game), the Panthers won't miss a beat with their running game behind a very experienced line. And they've also got good size.
On offense, senior guards Tyler Chavez on the left and Todd Peck on the right are among the best in the Sawtooth Conference, if not the best. They flank junior center Blair Peck, who replaces first-team All-League Andrew Carlson.
Tight end is 6-4, 200-pound senior Wacey Barg ("a great blocker," said Kirkland). The coach has two excellent senior receivers in left end Brett Adamson and right end Dillon Simpson (7 TDs, 10 conv). Adamson has been a pleasant surprise with his speed, work ethic and ability to get open on his routes, Kirkland said.
All these assets up front should make life easier for Carey's offensive backfield including QB Trevor Peck (10 TD passes) and tailbacks Gonzalo Zarate (157 rushes for 1,200 yards, 15 TD) and Antonio Gamino (74 rushes, 500 yards, 9 TD, 126 yards in the title game).
Kirkland said about his running game that scored 53 of last year's 79 TDs, "Trevor has shown great poise and good smarts at practices and camp. He's more fundamentally sound. Gonzalo was our leading rusher. Gonzalo and Antonio are strong, quick and elusive."
Back-up quarterback is junior Caleb Cenarrusa, who has a great arm, and the booming, reliable placekicker is Zarate. Some of the first players off the bench will be Jacy Baird, with speed on end, and backs Lynn Mecham and Shane Bingham.
On defense (12.3 ppg last fall), Carey wants to apply relentless pressure from its ends because of the strong and experienced Panther front four.
They are left defensive end Barg ("fast with a long reach," said the coach), left guard Tyler Chavez (55 tackles), right guard Todd Peck (55 tackles) and right end Zarate (12 sacks). Chavez, Peck and Zarate are playing those same positions for the third consecutive year.
Tackling ability in Carey's 4-2-2 defense are big positives of left linebacker Antonio Gamino (58 tackles mainly at end last fall) and right linebacker Trevor Peck (98 tackles, in the top three tacklers for three years). Safeties are Dillon Simpson (71 tackles, 4 INT) and Baird. "They've really come a long way since last year's Richfield game," said Kirkland.
That Richfield game, a wild 34-28 Carey road victory last Sept. 5, was the turning point of the Panther championship season at the 1A Division 2 level. And Kirkland expects to face several early-season challenges starting with Friday's visit of 1A Division 1 Hagerman.
"We'll have some battles coming up, especially in the first four games. The first three conference opponents we play are all huge contenders," said Kirkland. "But we're focused on being prepared and ready."
Hagerman (6-3 last fall, 20-9 three seasons) has started unbeaten and dropped its final three games the past two years, including its 80-44 Halloween home loss to Raft River in 2008. The Pirates quarterback, Dylan Brooks, threw for 364 yards and three touchdowns in that one.
Kirkland said, "Hagerman always is a good-sized squad. Their linemen are usually big and their skill guys are fundamentally strong. Brooks, their quarterback, is a great passer and elusive runner. They spread out their offense with the shotgun with one back and a wide slot. We need to get to him as quickly as we can and keep someone home if he runs.
"They're good hitters and come at you with a 3-3 defense, but we saw that three front against Kootenai last year."
Hagerman hasn't lost to a 1A Division 2 team since Carey beat the host Pirates 50-22 to start the 2005 season—the last time the two teams clashed. After Hagerman, Carey visits North Gem (5-5 last year, two losses to Carey by 84-6) on Sept. 4, hosts an improved Murtaugh team Sept. 11 and goes to Mackay (8-2 last year) Sept. 18.
"Murtaugh seems like a dark horse, ready to explode," said Kirkland about a program that is 10-34 over five seasons.
Here's the Panther roster:
Carey High School varsity: Coaches Lane Kirkland (9th year, 65-16), Lee Cook and Lane Durtschi.
Team captains—Todd Peck, Trevor Peck, Tyler Chavez, Dillon Simpson and Gonzalo Zarate.
Seniors (10)—Todd Peck (G), Trevor Peck (QB/LB), Sean Ackley (G), Brett Adamson (E/DE), Dillon Simpson (E/S), Brad Peck (PK), Wacey Barg (E/DE), Tyler Willis (C/G), Gonzalo Zarate (RB/DE/K) and Tyler Chavez (C/G).
Juniors (10)—Brandon Dilworth (E/RB/S), Lynn Mecham (RB/E/LB), Andres Garcia (RB/LB), Joe Laidlaw (E/DE), Caleb Cenarrusa (QB/S), Shane Bingham (RB/LB), Blair Peck (C/LB), Antonio Gamino (RB/LB/K), Jacy Baird (E/S) and Jarett Koudelka (G).
Sophomores (6)—Dillon Cenarrusa (E/DE), Adrian Alvarez (G), Chance Chavez (G), Jack Cenarrusa (E/LB), Charlie Rivera (RB/LB) and Baley Barg (QB/DE).
Freshmen (10)—James Gamino, Francisco Gamino, Glen Andrews, Jayce Koudelka, Sheldon Hansen, Patrick Baird, Jordan Dilworth, Gunner Thompson, Garrett Lee and Austin Hennefer.