What do you do for an encore after a record-setting season like the Wood River High School varsity football team (6-4) enjoyed in 2011?
And there was much to enjoy for Wolverine fans—most single-season wins since 1975, most points scored in 45 seasons of Hailey football (281, 28.1 ppg), highest scoring game ever (72 points at Wendell), the end of a nine-game losing streak to Buhl, and the first victory over Jerome since 2005.
Then there was running back Greg Lindbloom. He shared the award of Great Basin Conference “Offensive Player of the Year,” made the All-Idaho second team as a runner and earned the team’s coveted “Cross the Line Award” for all-around studliness for a second straight year.
Remember, Wood River entered the season thinking its rocket offense was going to be “running by committee.”
Then the Wood River rushing attack went out and averaged nearly 300 yards per game, with unstoppable Lindbloom setting school records of 193 rushes for 1,426 yards including six 100-yard games and 21 touchdowns for 128 points.
Lindbloom followed Tyler Peters and Nathan Farrow as rip-roaring running backs making the most of coach Kevin Stilling’s Wing-T rocket series that has gained respect in the Great Basin Conference.
It was the best of times for Wood River football including four straight wins and a State 4A playoff appearance, which turned into a hard-fought 41-13 loss to eventual unbeaten State 4A champion Blackfoot (12-0).
Fourth-year head coach Stilling (12-14), last fall’s Great Basin Conference “Coach of the Year,” graduated 10 players from that third-place GBC team but has a solid nucleus returning among 55 players in the Wood River football program.
There are 12 seniors on the 26-player varsity that includes a strong group of juniors and three or four sophomores who will contribute right away.
The Wolverines return three 2011 All-Great Basin selections. They are first-team offensive lineman and outside linebacker Ben Williams, first-team outside linebacker KJ Savaria and first-team inside linebacker Drew Barsch. Williams and Barsch made All-League for the second straight year.
Barsch won the team’s “Best Defensive Player” award, and Williams earned the “Toughest Wolverine” honor in 2011.
“Our running game will be similar to last year, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see (senior quarterback) Tommy Bailey come out in the shotgun as our offense tries a little more throwing,” Stilling said.
“We’ll have KJ Savaria and Ben Williams at fullback getting the lion’s share of the carries, with Ian Keys, Gus Conrad and Hayden Thayer at wingbacks. Conrad and Thayer do a good job blocking the edge. Running by committee will be more what we do,” he said.
Stilling added about his line, “Our front is our strength, while we’re inexperienced in the defensive backfield.”
The “front” on defense includes down linemen Karel Kaiser, Chris Carnes and John Reigle, with linebackers Savaria and Champ Kotara on the outside, and Barsch, Ben Williams and Cody Richmond on the inside. Rotating as linemen will be Jackson Toothman, Buck Horn and Wyatt Griffith.
Defensive backs include Conrad, Thayer and Tommy Bailey at safety, along with Cooper Bailey, Jared Anderson and Adrian Medina. Coach Stilling is pleased to have two members of the boys’ varsity soccer team, seniors Trevor Brand and Zack Freeman, as this year’s kickers.
Wood River will try to win its season opener for the first time since 2005 when the varsity makes the three-hour trip to play the Salmon Savages on Friday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. It should provide a real test for the Hailey secondary.
Salmon, also making its season debut, relies on 5-11, 187-pound junior quarterback Jed Tibbitts. His passing and running accounted for 37 touchdowns last fall, leading Salmon to nine consecutive wins before a 23-21 State 3A quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Snake River (9-3).
His favorite receivers have graduated, but Tibbitts should make a big impact as Salmon drops down to the 2A classification in the Nuclear Conference. Stilling said, “Salmon graduated a lot of kids, but they’ll be the biggest school in 2A this year. They have an extremely physical tradition and will play hard. Like Buhl, they do a few things and do them well.”
Completing its non-conference slate, Wood River (6-3 at home in 2010-11) visits Buhl Friday, Sept. 7 and then comes home to entertain Gooding on Friday, Sept. 14 and Kimberly for Homecoming Sept. 21. Gooding (1-0) is vastly improved the last two years (9-10), although Wood River has snuck away with 14-12 and 20-6 victories over the Senators.
The Wolverine junior varsity hosts Salmon Thursday, Aug. 30 at 6 p.m. at Phil Homer Field in Hailey and entertains Buhl Thursday, Sept. 6.
WOLVERINE NOTES—Last year’s season opener matched Wood River and Sugar-Salem of Sugar City in their first grid meeting in 15 years. Ending up as a 25-22 Sugar-Salem victory in Hailey, the outcome kept a streak alive of Wood River not winning a season opener since beating Filer 42-0 in 2005.
This year, Wood River will play the Salmon Savages for the first time since 1997, when the Wolverines lost 42-28 at home during a 0-8 season for coach Dave Zamora. In the all-time football series, Salmon leads 11-5 including eight straight wins over Wood River teams. The last time the teams played up north, host Salmon prevailed 45-0 in 1995.
It’s been 25 years since Wood River defeated Salmon, that 34-20 Homecoming triumph coming Oct. 9, 1987 during a 3-6 season for coach John Blackman. Mark Jefferson returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in that game. It’s been 40 years since Wood River captured its only road win at Salmon, 13-6 in 1972.
Last fall, the Minico Spartans (9-1, 5-0) won their sixth Great Basin title in seven years. In second was Twin Falls (5-4, 3-2). Third was Wood River (6-4, 3-2) and fourth Canyon Ridge (4-5, 2-3). Jerome (2-6, 1-4) and Burley (2-6, 1-4) placed fifth and sixth…
The top three teams kept their coaches, Stilling and 17th-year Minico coach Tim Perrigot along with sixth-year Twin Falls coach Allyn Reynolds. Jerome replaced Gary Krumm (30-27) with Sid Gambles. Newcomers are Jed Thomas (Burley) and Justin Alsterlund (Canyon Ridge). Jerome, Burley and Minico all won their openers last Friday, while Canyon Ridge lost a close 12-9 OT home game to Columbia.
Here are Wood River’s 2012 varsity and JV rosters.
Position symbols are Offensive and Defensive Lines (OL/DL), Running Back (RB), Defensive Back (DB), Safety (S), Quarterback (QB), Linebacker (LB), Inside Linebacker (InsideLB), Outside Linebacker (OutsideLB), Wide Receiver (WR), Tight End (TE) and Kicker (K).
Head coach—Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stilling (4th year, 12-14).
Assistant coaches—Defensive Coordinator Boomer Gibson, Pete Naumes (RB/DL), Ken Bennett (OL/DL), J.C. Nemecek (WR/DB), Andy Miles (QB) and Zeke Herron (OL/DL).
Seniors (15)—Jared Anderson (WR/DB), Tommy Bailey (QB/S), Drew Barsch (TE/InsideLB), Trevor Brand (K), Chris Carnes (OL/DL), Zack Freeman (K), Wyatt Griffith (OL/DL), James “Buck” Horn (OL/DL), Karel Kaiser (OL/DL), Ian Keys (RB/DB), Joe McGonigal (TE/S), KJ Savaria (RB/OutsideLB), Nick Schell (TE/LB), David Soares (WR/DB) and Ben Williams (RB/InsideLB).
Juniors (6)—Cooper Bailey (WR/DB), Gus Conrad (RB/S), Quinn Guthrie (RB/S), Adrian Medina (WR/DB), Cody Richmond (OL/InsideLB) and John Reigle (OL/DL). Junior sliders (V/JV)—Max Mihalic (OL/DL) and Jason Williams (OL/DL).
Sophomores (2)—Hayden Thayer (S) and Jackson Toothman (OL/DL). Sophomore sliders (V/JV)—Hagen Barsch, Parker Bingham, Cody Carter, Taylor Douthit, River Kelly, Champ Kotara (OutsideLB), Kole Mauldin and Zac Swanson.
Head coach—Shannon Flavin. Assistant coaches—Jeff Loomis, Baba Street, Kainoa Lopez and Doug Stewart.
Juniors (2)—Max Mihalic and Jason Williams.
Sophomores (19)—Hagen Barsch, Parker Bingham, Sam Burns, Cody Carter, Jorge Diaz, Taylor Douthit, Aramys Gallegos, Alberto Gonzalez, River Kelly, Champ Kotara, Austin Krenz, Kole Mauldin, Jeremy Ramos, Jack Rizzo, Lucas Robertson, Austin Savaria, Emmett Say, Junior Solis and Zac Swanson.
Freshmen (13)—Ryan Anderson, Branson Atkinson, Anthony Flores, Bennett Frayer, Gunner Gibson, Wyatt Johnson, Chris Lentz, Dee Jay McMurdo, Alec Nordsieck, William Pfau, Omar Salamanca, Matt Schell and Vrej Velasquez.