Summer, I bid you adieu. Bon voyage, adios, sayonara. Goodbye my lover; goodbye my friend.
This isn’t fun to say, and please don’t kill me, but summer is over. Yep, put your fishing gear away. Put the tent on the shelf in the garage to collect dust.
Wyoming prep teams hit the gridiron this week, and football season is officially upon us.
The unofficial start to autumn comes with the clashing of helmets. Two-a-days began Monday for the two-time reigning state champion Sheridan Broncs. The Big Horn Rams opened their first season in a new classification with their annual midnight practice last night — this morning? — and the Tongue River Eagles are prepping under a new head coach up in Dayton.
The 2016 season ended in Laramie for all three teams — filled with highs and lows. Sheridan and Big Horn took home titles, while Tongue River finished runner-up for the second straight year.
The momentum of a season ago should carry over right into practice this week. Expectations are surely high for all three programs, despite plenty of changes to rosters, schedules and staff.
Let’s start with the Broncs.
Sure, Sheridan has more state championships than any team in the state (25), but they’re in somewhat unfamiliar territory heading into 2017. The Broncs will be defending back-to-back 4A titles for the first time since 1994. In fact, 4A’s last three-peat came from Sheridan when it won four straight from 1990-1993.
The target spills off the backs of the Broncs.
The rivalry with Gillette probably won’t be as smash-mouth this season, as most of Gillette’s top players made the move to the new Thunder Basin High School. Sheridan travels to TBHS in Week 3, an intriguing matchup for sure.
But everyone has the Friday before, Sept. 8, circled on the schedule. Natrona comes to Homer Scott Field for a rematch of the 2016 title game — a 56-28 blowout that gave the Broncs title number 25. Natrona returns a boatload of varsity players, so this could be a slugfest.
Local fans will no longer have to pay much attention to the 2A football schedule this season, as the addition of TBHS dropped Big Horn down a class to 1A alongside cross-county rival Tongue River.
Clearly, the most exciting benefit of Big Horn’s reclassification is the renewed matchup with the Eagles. The two teams haven’t squared off since 2013, a time when Big Horn was beginning its climb to powerhouse status as Tongue River was rebuilding a program from a missed season in 2011.
Big Horn won that contest 46-0.
Now, though, both squads have recent championship experience — four trips in the last three seasons. Hopefully we’re not a year too late as the two teams reload from stellar senior classes, but it’ll be good to see the teams duke it out once again.
Many football fans peg Big Horn the preseason favorite because of the drop in class, but the Rams coaches won’t fall into the trap. 1A still breeds plenty of football power — Cokeville, Upton-Sundance, Pine Bluffs — so the class is just as top heavy as before. Good football must be played to win in all classifications, plain and simple.
The Eagles know what it takes to win in 1A, but now they’ll have to do it with a new head coach on the sideline. After five seasons with John Scott, Tongue River opens its first season with former assistant Steve Hanson at the helm. The program has already reestablished itself as a contender, but all coaching changes bring new challenges.
2016 was the best season in Sheridan County football history. Can 2017 come close to matching it? We’re about to find out.
Summer, you touched my heart, you touched my soul. And as you move on, remember me.
Now, it’s time we turn off the James Blunt and crank the Hank Williams Jr.