SHERIDAN — Aaron Woodward called the Sheridan Broncs football team a brotherhood. The quarterback trusts his teammates; those teammates reciprocate.
As Woodward and the Broncs don shoulder pads and fill their plates on the field, the dinner table has room for plenty more seats. The players slide over for their coaches.
The Broncs have become a family.
Ten years ago, Don Julian took over a Sheridan football team that hadn’t seen a winning season since 1996. Sheridan, which calls itself the football capital of Wyoming, hadn’t brought home a state title since 1995. There was a nice stretch of trophies in the 1980s and 90s, but a drought followed.
Julian came in to drench the dry spell.
But he knew he couldn’t do it alone. Task No. 1: Assemble a crew.
The coach brought in a group of guys from around the state with plenty of experience. Many of them knew each other back in their playing days. DJ Dearcorn (Tongue River), Jeff Martini (Sheridan) and Jeff Mowry (Riverton) were all selected to the 1999 Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 team. Marshall McEwen (Wheatland) was a 2001 and 2002 Super 25 selection.
Mowry played quarterback for Julian at Riverton — a group that one three state titles.
So Julian brought the gang together. Mowry and Dearcorn came first and joined Kevin Rizer and Darin Gilbertson.
It only took two years to hang a banner.
Sheridan played in three consecutive 4A title games from 2009-2011, winning two.
Martini and McEwen joined the staff in 2012. For Martini, the location felt like home, but the success was a bit new. As a standout with the Broncs, he earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors during his senior season. But the Broncs had just one winning season while Martini was there (1996), followed by three losing seasons to close his career.
“When you got here, it was immediate; you knew what you wanted to be a part of because it was something that I had never seen before,” Martini said about joining the coaching staff at his alma mater.
“I was itching, because I was the freshman coach for a year, to get with these guys and get to witness it and be a part of it. It was pretty special, and it’s been special for the last five years I’ve been with these guys.”
And the group has been together ever since, earning two more state titles and a shot at another this year. The original group won its 100th game together in a quarterfinal blowout against Cheyenne Central Oct. 27.
More coaches have joined along the way — Curt Mayer, Raith Durham, Aaron Gray. But the philosophies — and camaraderie — have only gotten stronger.
The Sheridan coaching staff preaches trust to its players day in and day out. A commitment to Sheridan football has built the Broncs program into the true football capital of Wyoming, and giving each player ownership in that construction has led to a steady stream of banners at the school.
But the coaches do more than talk the talk. The trust starts within the staff and blossoms into a desire to not let their peers down.
“I coached for probably 10 years, a little longer than that, before I came here,” Rizer said. “The first thing that I can say is I’ve never been around better football coaches — guys that are as knowledgeable as they are, but more importantly, the character that they have.”
That brotherhood that Woodward connected to his teammates, it’s no different among the coaches. They all emphasize the process it takes to get to a championship level — a process all of them have had plenty of experience with as players and coaches. That process involves a lot of work within the coaching staff as they ask for similar work from the players.
“You’ll never hear one of us badmouth or second guess anything anyone else is doing,” Dearcorn said. “There’s a lot of football knowledge in here, and even more importantly, there’s a lot of emphasis on doing the right things for the kids and building them up. That’s something that we all support.”
A sign hangs outside the locker room at Sheridan High School. It features quotes and sayings and pieces of inspiration from players, coaches and fans past and present who support the Broncs.
One of those quotes comes from the wives of the coaching staff: Behind every great coach is an even greater wife.
High school football coaches put in long, thankless hours for months out of the year. Those days and months get even longer when championships are on the line. All of Sheridan’s coaches have kids. McEwen’s wife, Maureen, just had a baby.
“We have wives that support the heck out of what we do,” Rizer said. “That’s really important.”
And because of the culture surrounding Sheridan football, the family has seeped beyond the sidelines. The football family and the real-life families overlap.
“It goes so far beyond football and practice,” Gilbertson said. “Our kids have grown up together at everybody’s houses. If somebody needs help with something at their house or moving or building, everybody’s got tools or trucks or time.
“It’s best friends; it’s brothers; it’s family.”
The Sheridan coaches bought into each other. That created buy-in among the players. That translated to one of the best football teams Sheridan and the state of Wyoming have ever seen.
And the family has rooted itself in Sheridan. It’s home.
“That’s what does keep us coming back every year,” Martini said of the bond within the program. “It’s a lot of work, and we’re here a lot. But every year, we’ve never walked away saying it wasn’t worth it.”