SHERIDAN — The broken record continues to spin across the state of Wyoming, the same vinyl that’s danced below the needle for the past few years and spews out lyrics asking, “Who’s going to dethrone the Sheridan Broncs?”
But heading into the 2018 season, a little more hesitancy creeps into the throats of the vocalists. With a new head coach and very few returning varsity players, some believe the throne is a little wobblier than in years past.
The three-time defending state champions open their 2018 title defense Friday with a long road trip to Rock Springs, and despite the questions from outside voices, the new-look Broncs would argue they’re not new-look at all. It’s been business as usual during fall camp.
That includes practice plans, game planning, scheming and the travel itinerary — which will be extra important this week.
A trip to Rock Springs always poses unique challenges. It’s the longest trip of the season for the Broncs and the longest road trip for any 4A team in Wyoming. Sheridan will travel close to 750 miles and 11 hours round trip.
New head coach Jeff Mowry will rely heavily on his senior class to help the team get through the trip. Although many of them are new to the varsity ranks, most of them took the same road trip with the team as sophomores.
So Mowry, who was a Sheridan assistant for a decade before being bumped to head man when Don Julian retired last year, dug back into his coaching archives to make sure things ran smoothly Friday.
“I pulled up Don Julian’s itinerary from two years ago and we’re following the exact same itinerary,” Mowry said. “They started at 7 (p.m.) two years ago and we’re starting at 6, but it’s basically the same itinerary — we’ll have the same stops; we’ll eat the same meals. We’re going to try to keep those things as routine as possible knowing that we do have a lot of new players on the field Friday night.”
The added assurance of keeping the trip as simple and turn-key as possible allows Mowry and his coaching staff to focus on other unknowns heading into the matchup with the Tigers. The season opener creates its own set of challenges.
With no film —and a 400-mile barrier — Mowry and his assistants must put together a game plan based on past teams and hunches. And with the way Rock Springs has kind of shifted its style over the past couple years, the planning becomes much more extensive.
Two years ago, the Broncs had little concern with defending the pass. Rock Springs led the state in rushing at a massive 366.5 yards per game. They ran the ball 608 times compared to just 48 passing attempts all season.
But last year’s Tigers met more in the middle. They were seventh in rushing at a much-more-modest 160 yards per game, and they passed the ball for almost 150 yards as well.
Rock Springs’ quarterback, Graedyn Buell, is now competing for the starting gig at Cheyenne East, so Mowry expects the Tigers to drift closer to the 2016 squad that pounded it at the line of scrimmage. Still, they’re less than a year removed from spacing things out, so Sheridan is forced to prepare for both.
“Rock Springs runs a little bit different offense than we see across the state,” Mowry said. “So we’ve got to prep a little bit differently.”
Mowry said the defensive strategies will shift once they get on the field and can observe the Rock Springs offense firsthand. And offensively, even with one of the top running backs in the state — Parker Christensen — and a somewhat experienced backfield, the Broncs will also take things in stride and gradually build as the game — and season — progresses.
Fans, opponents and even the Broncs themselves will find out a lot about the 2018 Sheridan High School football team Friday. Travel, new coaches, new personnel, the unknowns of the first opponent — all those things warp the gold record we’ve come to know as the Sheridan Broncs.
But one thing is certain Friday: the Broncs are ready to hit somebody in a different colored jersey.
“We’ve been beating on our own team for two weeks now,” Mowry said. “They’re really eager to get on the field Friday night.”
Are the warps in the vinyl enough to throw the needle completely off track? Only time will tell.
Until then, though, the record spins, and it blares the tune that championships go through Sheridan.