The Wood River High School football program has made progress over the last two seasons and coach Kevin Stilling's Wolverines hope to make more strides when the nine-game 2011 campaign debuts Friday, Aug. 26 at the Hailey gridiron.
Wood River will try to win its season opener for the first time since 2005 when the Sugar-Salem Diggers invade Phil Homer Field in Hailey for a 7 p.m. nonconference contest. It's the first of two straight Wolverine home grid games before school begins Sept. 6.
Third-year head coach Stilling (6-10), last fall's Great Basin Conference "Co-Coach of the Year," has welcomed a slightly smaller turnout of 60 varsity and junior varsity players this season. Stilling appreciates the team's work ethic and the stability of its coaching staff, virtually intact from last year's 4-4 fourth-place Great Basin team.
Stilling said, "Our kids have gotten used to hard work and are familiar with our schemes. We've experienced some success and want to build on it.
"We have a slew of wingbacks and fullbacks compared to the last two years. We don't have a lot of depth on our line, but I like them and they're good kids. In fact, I feel our first group of linemen is as good as we've had in my four years coaching here," said Stilling.
Can Wood River make the State 4A playoffs in 2011? The Wolverines would have to move up a notch and finish in the top three teams of the six-team 4A Great Basin to qualify for the "Great Eight" playoffs on Friday, Oct. 28.
It's a tall order and Stilling has patiently brought the kids along, emphasizing small advances. But last fall, Wood River finished its season with two straight league victories and thus reached the .500 level for the first time in a decade.
To complete a 5-4 winning season in 2011 and qualify for the Great Eight state playoffs for the first time since a three-year state playoff run from 2005-07, Wood River would have to win two of its first four nonconference games and then go 3-2 in its Great Basin schedule.
Friday's Sugar-Salem game will be a good proving ground.
Sugar-Salem (8-2 last fall) was a State 3A playoff contender in 2010—beating Snake River for the first time ever 18-10 during the regular season and then losing at home to eventual state runner-up Snake River (8-4) by a 14-12 score. The Diggers lost a major player in Kenzy Fogle, who led them in tackles and rushing. But they replaced him with 5-10, 180-pound junior inside linebacker/fullback Chase Barber.
"It should be a big challenge," said Stilling. "Sugar-Salem runs a double tight end, double wing offense—Burley's offense, actually, and Middleton is good at it, so it's not entirely foreign to our kids. Their defense is 4-4, a lot like Buhl's. They're a real physical team."
Wood River has already played some football in August.
About 55 Wolverines attended a team camp Aug. 8-11 at New Plymouth, building team bonds by staying together at the National Guard Armory there and meeting other kids from Marsing High School.
Friday, Wood River players took part in a 30-minute running-clock pre-season jamboree in Nampa against Columbia, Middleton and Kuna. "We hung tough with all of them, and beat Kuna," said Stilling.
This past spring, junior varsity head coach Jeff Loomis helped by Jason Fry and Baba Street conducted a 12-week Huddle Leader leadership program for about 15 of the Wolverine football players.
Stilling said, "They met at 7:30 a.m. before school for about an hour. They dealt with working hard, knowing roles, dealing with change. It's a big reason our kids are working harder and more responsibly."
Wood River (3-1 at home in 2010) will have to replace the point production of its top four scorers from last year—graduated players Alex Padilla, Nathan Farrow and Tanner Farrow, plus placekicker Haylee Thompson, a senior who isn't playing football again this fall.
The Wolverines return five All-Great Basin selections. They are first-team offensive lineman Ben Williams, second-team running back Greg Lindbloom and second-team outside linebacker Drew Barsch, and honorable mentions Connor Braatz and Jake Vegwert.
Stilling said, "We still want to run the ball first when we're on offense. With all our wingbacks and fullbacks, it looks like we'll have running backs by committee this season."
Across the offensive line are left tackle Wyatt Griffith, left guard Ben Williams, center Jake Vegwert, right guard Drew Barsch and right tackle Kevin Cooley. Tight end is 6-5 Connor Braatz, a skilled receiver who has improved his blocking. Wide outs are Colton Larkin and Jared Anderson.
Quarterback is junior Tommy Bailey, who has been JV quarterback the past two seasons. "Tommy is a lot more seasoned than the usual first-year junior quarterback," said Stilling. "He should do a good job running the offense and we should be able to throw more."
Senior Austin Hafer, a transfer from Mountain View in Meridian, played American Legion baseball this past summer and got to know several of his future football teammates. "Austin is an explosive athlete and a good kid to have around who should add a lot on offense and defense," said Stilling.
Fullbacks are Greg Lindbloom and K.J. Savaria. "Both have a knack for finding those extra yards," said Stilling. Wingbacks include Hafer, Braxton Parish, Trace Tupper, Chance Larkin, Ian Keys and Gus Conrad, the only sophomore on varsity. Either Conrad or soccer player Trevor Brand will handle the placekicking.
Defensive linemen in the 3-4 alignment are left tackle Cooley, noseguard Vegwert and right tackle Braatz. Linebackers are Conrad and Savaria on the outside, and Williams and Barsch on the inside. Cornerbacks are Jared Anderson and Parish. Chance Larkin (free) and Hafer (strong) are safeties.
Hafer, Tupper and Keys are on track for kick returns, with Hafer and Tupper taking punts.
WOLVERINE NOTES—Not only has Wood River not won a season opener since beating Filer 42-0 in 2005, the Wolverines haven't scored any points in a season debut since playing Buhl close in a 28-25 loss in 2007. Since that time, Buhl has defeated Wood River 16-0, 46-0 and 37-0 in three openers.
Friday's game will be the first football meeting of Wood River and Sugar-Salem in 15 years. In 1995-96, the teams played three times—Sugar-Salem winning at home 36-0 in 1996 and taking two wins over coach Chris Malmgren's Wood River squad in 1995. Both of those games were in Hailey, Sugar winning 35-18 during the season and the Diggers prevailing 48-20 in the first-ever Wood River State A-2 playoff visit.
Former Wood River JV head coach Matt Nelson is now coaching the Wolverine eighth-grade program at the middle school, with Malmgren and Rob Swanson coaching the seventh-grade team at the school. Stilling said those coaches will employ the same varsity football schemes at the lower level.
Last fall, the Minico Spartans (6-3, 5-0) won their fifth Great Basin title in six years. In second place was Twin Falls (6-3, 4-1). Third was Jerome (3-6, 3-2) and fourth was Wood River (4-4, 2-3). Canyon Ridge (2-6, 1-4) was fifth and the Burley Bobcats (0-8, 0-5) were sixth.
Here is Wood River's 2011 varsity and JV roster.
Position symbols are Offensive and Defensive Lines (OL/DL), Running Back (RB), Defensive Back (DB), Quarterback (QB), Linebacker (LB), Inside Linebacker (InsideLB), Outside Linebacker (OutsideLB), Wide Receiver (WR) and Tight End (TE). Players with returning varsity experience have an asterisk (*).
Head coach—Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stilling (QB/OutsideLB).
Assistant coaches—Defensive Coordinator Jason Fry (RB/DB), Ken Bennett (OL/InsideLB), J.C. Nemecek (WR/DB) and Pete Naumes (OL/DL). Statistics—Jim King.
Seniors (11)—Connor Braatz (TE/DL)*, Colton Larkin (WR/DB)*, Greg Lindbloom (RB/LB)*, Braxton Parish (RB/DB)*, Chance Larkin (RB/DB), Trace Tupper (RB/LB)*, Austin Hafer (RB/DB)*, Connor Farrow (TE/LB)*, Jake Vegwert (OL/DL)*, Kevin Cooley (OL/DL)* and Brandon Van Horn (OL/DL).
Huddle leaders—Connor Braatz, Colton Larkin, Tommy Bailey, Braxton Parish, Jake Vegwert, Ben Williams, Buck Horn, Kevin Cooley and Chris Carnes.
Juniors (15)—Tommy Bailey (QB/DB), Jared Anderson (WR/DB), Nick Schell (WR/LB), Joe McGonigal (WR/DB), Ian Keys (RB/DB), K.J. Savaria (RB/LB)*, Drew Barsch (OL/LB)*, Ben Williams (OL/LB)*, Buck Horn (OL/DL), Calub Castle (OL/DL), Dennis Jackman (OL/DL), Karel Kaiser (OL/DL), Wyatt Griffith (OL/DL), Chris Carnes (OL/DL) and Davis Soares (WR/DB).
Sophomore (1)—Gus Conrad (RB/LB).
Head coach—Jeff Loomis (OL/DL). Assistant coaches—Baba Street (RB/OutsideLB), Shannon Flavin (OL/DL), Kainoa Lopez (QB/DB) and Boomer Gibson (WR/InsideLB)
Sophomores (8)—Cooper Bailey (RB/DB), Quinn Guthrie (RB/DB), Adrian Medina (RB/DB), Jason Williams (OL/DL), Cody Richmond (OL/LB), John Reigle (OL/LB), Mando Mondo (RB/DB) and Jake Flaherty (WR/DB).
Freshmen (26)—Hayden Thayer (QB/LB), Zac Swanson (RB/LB), Sam Burns (QB/DB), Kole Mauldin (QB), Logan Portillo (WR/DB), Aramys Gallegos (WR/DB), Isaac Easterday (TE/LB), Jorge Diaz (WR/DB), Hagan Barsch (TE/LB), Austin Savaria (RB/DB), Ryan Kotiga (RB/LB), Champe Kotara (RB/LB), Jeremy Ramos (OL/DL), Jackson Toothman (OL/DL), Nick Bell (OL/DL), Alex Bell (OL/DL), Taylor Douthit (OL/DL), Quin Gilman (OL/DL), Carlos Rangle (OL/DL), Junior Solis (OL/DL), Parker Bingham (OL/DL), Alec Poster (OL/DL), Billy Keys (OL/DL), Cody Carter (WR/DB), Alberto Gonzales (TE/DB) and Jack Rizzo (WR/DB).