As I stood chatting with new Sheridan High School head football coach Jeff Mowry during a media day event Tuesday morning, I admittedly needed his help pairing names with faces as staff photographer and sports reporter Bud Denega worked to grab portraits of this year’s varsity players.
We’re putting together a special football magazine for the first time this year, highlighting Sheridan County’s gridiron talent and showcasing why it’s the football capital of Wyoming. We’re pretty excited to present 40 pages of glossy photos and stories previewing the season and the things that make these teams so successful on the turf.
That magazine will be here in early September, so be on the lookout for more information regarding the release (and tailgate party!).
But back to Tuesday.
I sort of felt bad. This will be my fifth season covering the Broncs, certainly the most successful football team in the state during that span. I’ve interviewed gobs of players and coaches about everything from social media usage to in-depth run-pass-option offensive schemes.
For the most part, those players and coaches haven’t changed too much. Every year, it’s sad to see a senior class go but exciting to see a new batch of youngsters nestle into varsity roles.
This year, though, both of those feelings hit extremes, so I needed coach Mowry’s help figuring who the heck was going to fill the copious number of vacancies on the depth chart.
While Mowry helped me identify some of the newbies, the depth chart was hardly filled.
The one area of certainty for the Broncs comes in the backfield. Every football fan in the state knows Parker Christensen as a name that will find a nice home in the headlines this year. He split carries with Kyle Custis last year but quietly carved himself into a back that eventually accepted an offer to the University of Wyoming. He’ll still share carries — we’ll get to that — but his load will be heavy as the rest of the SHS offense tries to catch up.
Joining Christensen in the backfield are Garrett Coon and Quinn Heyneman, two of the very few Broncs with decent amounts of varsity experience. Coon, a junior, and Heyneman, a senior, will help lighten Christensen’s load and also create some reassurance for the offense.
As to who else will start for the Broncs — offensively and defensively? Your guess is as good as mine — and maybe Mowry’s, at this point.
While the uncertainty can create a bit of uneasiness at the moment, especially for the three-time defending state champs and their new head coach, Mowry took a glass-half-full approach and seemed genuinely excited when talking about it.
“It’s been exciting to see what kids have stepped up,” Mowry said. “As coach (Don) Julian preached for 11 years, ‘You’ll find kids that step up.’ Looking on paper, we don’t have much returning. But we’re going to find some kids that will step up, and they’re good workers and good kids, so they’ll get it done.”
Mowry noted that Jacob Boint and Lowden Askins are splitting QB duties and battling for that No. 1 spot — which could also work in the team’s favor having two guys ready to get under center at any moment.
While the rest of the spots are also up for grabs, the biggest focus will be on the Broncs’ line on both sides of the ball. Not one familiar face returns on either line, lines that were the bread and butter for Sheridan’s success across the field last fall.
The one returning lineman, Wesley Ndago, was poised for a monstrous year, but he’ll have to achieve that in Texas after his dad accepted a new job and the family moved a few weeks ago — a huge blow to Mowry’s squad.
But the Broncs are the Broncs. They’ve won three 4A titles in a row. They lost their head coach but kept all their assistants. New kids have shuffled in and out each year, and the team still finds a way to keep the train barreling down the tracks.
“This is a storied program in the state of Wyoming, especially in the last recent run of coach Julian,” Mowry said. “Whether these kids like it or not, they’ve got a huge target on their back.”
The Broncs have embraced that target since I’ve been here. “Next man up” is more than just a saying in Sheridan; it’s a mindset. I’m not too worried about the new-look Broncs this year.
Now, if I can just figure out who they are.