SHERIDAN — Sheridan Bronc football is about more than winning state championships.
For the school with the most titles in state history (23) that may come as a surprise. Attend their postseason banquet, and the sentiment is easy to understand.
The lineup of events is the same each year: Eat together, watch highlights, thank parents, reflect on the seniors and pass the torch. While the spelled out intention is to remember the season that was, there’s more to it, and that was perhaps even more true at last night’s 2013 edition.
On the field, Sheridan finished it’s second straight 8-3 season in 2013. Again they watched their final opponent play for a 4A State Championship while sitting on the sidelines.
A one-point, 28-27, semifinal loss to eventual 4A champion Cheyenne East — a team they beat soundly in the regular season — left plenty to be desired.
Football didn’t end like they wanted it to.
Monday night’s mood wasn’t one of regret, however. Not even close. The 2013 highlight tape showed the good things from losses to Gillette, Natrona and East. There was little talk of failure, and plenty of accomplishment.
The family atmosphere was ever present.
Juniors took a trip to the toy section at Walmart, buying gifts for the departing seniors. Presented to the tune of laughter from the crowd, Senior All-State lineman Judson White was given a live Betta fish — known for their reliability — by junior Michael Larsen because he “always kept the team afloat.”
While it’s a desired status of any good sports team, the Broncs kinship runs deep. Beginning with trust-falls (literally) and leadership bonding exercises on the mountain in late August, seniors are not forced, but taught to care for each other.
The night began with a prayer from All-State lineman Justin Orum. He prayed for their coach Weston Johnson, who is fighting cancer. “Never Flinch” fundraising items were on display, and players signed T-shirts to send to their coach.
The sophomores didn’t get as much time with him as this year’s seniors and juniors did. In fact, Johnson was with the Broncs for only one year, in 2012, when he worked with defensive backs. Johnson knew Julian for longer, but with this Bronc football program, a year is all it takes to become an integral part of the fold.
It starts with the staff, complete with their own host of youngsters.
“About two football teams,” Julian joked about the children that trail the heels of the Bronc coaching staff.
Darin Gilbertson has the longest tenure, Marshall McEwen, out of Wheatland, is in his second year, and former Bronc All-American Jeff Martini coached with the varsity for the first year this fall. Jeff Mowry, DJ Dearcorn and Kevin Rizer back up Julian as well. Then there’s Cindy Woolston, who became a literal member of the staff this season. Always present, she signs for deaf sophomore lineman Ed Arzy.
Sheridan student-athletes posted a 3.22 grade point average this season, with their seniors departing after winning 47 games in four years, the most of any varsity program over the same time. Bronc football thrives in its underdog status.
“We’re the only small school that competes,” Julian said. “And it’s a challenge that we do it every Friday night.”
Sheridan proudly does more with less, most notably up front, and this year was no different.
Thirty-nine year statistician John Pine was first in line for food Monday night as Julian listed the numbers “Piner” helped compile. The “team stats” listed Monday included 6.9 yards per attempt on offense, and No. 1 in first downs and scoring offense. Their defensive back/pass rush combo gave up just five touchdowns through the air all year, and they were third in sacks. Sheridan’s defense allowed 4.6 yards per attempt this season and they were third-best in points allowed.
Their special teams were special this season. Allowing just 2.4 yards per punt return, junior punter Jess Edens will be back next year. All-State kick-returner Nick Gill graduates, but not without taking his share of the highlight reel Monday.
Ernie Rotellini and the chain gang were there to eat and watch the highlight tape — a lengthy affair.
A screening of the fluid 2013 Bronc offense as it dismantled opponents, complete with big hits and pancake blocks, even a couple of the earhole-variety on special teams, could grow a big ego on a high school kid.
But there were few if any puffed-up chests as each individual class stood on stage, receiving praise from their coaches. With nearly 30 kids there Monday, the talented sophomore class was the largest. Julian hopes to meet a program goal of graduating 20 seniors in a class with the 2016 group, something they’ve never done.
“They can realized they’re a good bunch, but at the same time they’ve got a lot of work to do,” Julian challenged the group. There’s bursting potential for Sheridan, with another talented freshman class coming up.
Sheridan graduates five starting linemen next year and for the second-straight season their quarterback, but the subject matter Monday was not on-field personnel and instead in respect to the character of the ones they will be losing.
“We’re pretty lucky with the guys we get to coach,” line coach Rizer said, turning to the underclassmen. “You young guys have a lot to look up to. If you take any of these leadership traits, we’ll be just fine next year.”
One-year starting quarterback Kameron Eckard stepped up and led 4A in multiple passing categories, earning All-Conference honors. Like many players last night he was clearly humbled by a coach’s words.
“Kam’s one of the biggest, fastest and strongest QBs I’ve ever coached,” QB coach Mowry joked. “But I bet he has the highest ACT score, and the highest completion percentage at 64 percent of anyone I’ve coached.”
His ACT score was 33.
“We have a belief as coaches that football can be life changing, both good or bad,” Julian spoke last. “We have an even bigger belief as coaches that our program changes kids for the better.
“Because there are going to be a lot of things bigger in life than the adversities we saw on the football field this fall. It’s our goal to help these guys become great men, it’s a little more than just football,” he said.
A brutal reminder of life outside football created a reverence around the 2013 team, and their motto was “Never Flinch.” It was how the Broncs broke huddles all year. Team prayers ended each contest, win or lose. At the end of the night, Julian acknowledged Johnson’s battle with cancer, saying that it’s not going well.
He explained that Johnson, who played at the University of Wyoming and with the Atlanta Falcons, maintains that it’s because of football that he’s been able to battle and fight this long.
He then read to the team a text he was sent earlier that day by Johnson.
“Send my best wishes to the seniors, and let the team know I wish I was able to make it,” Julian read. “And Never Flinch on anything you do in life.”
2013 Seniors: Cody Delk, Cody Welborn, Ethan Hoopes, Daniel Sessions, Nick Gill, Kameron Eckard, Trae Kaufmann, Tyler Kaufmann, Dane Chambers, Tyler Julian, Tim White, Judson White, Zach Shatek, Justin Orum and Ethan Hall.