The same four football teams have ruled the 5A Southern Idaho Conference for years.
The “Big Four” — Capital, Eagle, Mountain View and Rocky Mountain — battled each other for position atop the league standings each season with the rest of the league serving as appetizers. But the SIC’s coaches predict a new team will upset the pecking order: Borah.
The Lions made waves last season, knocking off Rocky Mountain to force a three-way tie atop their SIC pod. With the pods gone and the Lions returning a boatload of talent, the experts on the sideline see the Lions crashing the Big Four’s party for real this time.
After all, Borah is the only other team to beat any of the Big Four the past six years. Since a loss to Borah, Eagle has won 31 games in a row against non-Big Four teams from the SIC and Mountain View 19 straight. Capital has won 39 of 40 and Rocky Mountain 26 of 27, with Borah playing the spoiler.
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The Big Four still remain formidable and will contend for the league title and deep playoff runs. But the race is no longer a foregone conclusion.
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MOUNTAIN VIEW MAVERICKS
Last season: 10-1, 5-0 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Lost to Coeur d’Alene 39-13 in semifinals
Coach: Judd Benedick, 12th season
Career record: 86-31
Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Brian Compton)
Base defense (coordinator): 4-3 (Benedick)
After reaching three state championship games in a row and the semifinals last season, the Mavericks have established themselves as the class of the SIC. With six returning starters from an offense that put up a league-high 34.1 points per game, the Mavericks start as the preseason favorite.
Senior quarterback Noah Bryant, a second-team all-conference pick, leads an explosive offense. He returns three of his top targets from last season: receivers Blake Jablonski and K.J. Lynch, and tight end Joey Elwell. The Mavericks move Elwell, who enters the season with offers from 10 FCS programs, all around the field to find mismatches.
“They have seen lots of live bullets and played in some big games,” Benedick said of the group.
The defense is light on experience, with just two returning starters: linebacker Dylan Martinez and defensive lineman Riley Stark. Martinez, another second-team all-conference pick, ranked second on the team with 87 tackles and four sacks, and Benedick said that young group features loads of athleticism.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN GRIZZLIES
Last season: 9-3, 4-1 5A SIC Pod B
Playoffs: Lost to Highland 26-3 in semifinals
Coach: Chris Culig, second season
Career record: 9-3
Base offense (coordinator): Single back (Scott Criner)
Base defense (coordinator): 3-3-5 (Tim Stanley)
Rocky Mountain had so many athletes last season that it ran separate option and spread offenses. The Grizzlies remained loaded with talent with seven returning offensive starters, but they’ll return to a single offense with former head coach Scott Criner returning to the sideline after a year as the Eagle athletic director.
Criner’s first challenge is naming a starting quarterback. Senior Trae Page and junior Colby Jackson enter camp battling for the job. Page is the more mobile and athletic option, capable of starting at quarterback and corner, while Jackson remains the more traditional pocket passer.
Whoever wins the job will have plenty of weapons with receivers Brayden Hamilton, Conner Croft and Payton Lamm returning. But expect the Grizzlies to lean on senior running back Nick Romano, a reigning first-team all-conference selection.
“We are excited to see how explosive Nick Romano can be as the featured running back,” Culig said.
The league’s top defense a year also brings back its top two tacklers, linebackers Joe Strickland and Garrett Beck. And returning safety Kamiana Nawahine will lead an explosive secondary.
Last season: 7-3, 4-1 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Lost to Highland 42-7 in quarterfinals
Coach: Todd Simis, 15th season
Career record: 117-91
Base offense (coordinator): No-huddle spread (Simis)
Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (Matt Jacobsen)
A young Eagles squad won a first-round playoff game last year. Now it’s looking to do more damage as Capital returns six starters on offense and seven on defense.
Put senior quarterback Ryan Hibbs at the top of that experienced group. The heady signal caller with a grayshirt offer from Idaho spearheaded the SIC’s second-highest-scoring offense last season. He knows all the ins and outs of the Capital playbook, allowing the Eagles to ramp up their no-huddle offense another notch.
The offensive line breaks in four new starters, but Hibbs can rely on one of the state’s top lineman in Jack Vering to keep him clean. The 6-6, 240-pound senior enters the season with offers from Montana and Montana State.
Senior Alec Bindner remains a weapon on both sides of the ball. A state track qualifier in four events, he’ll serve as one of Hibbs’ top targets on offense, a playmaker in the secondary and will return kicks. Simis said he’s a candidate for SIC player of the year.
“Any time you return your QB, it gives you a boost offensively,” Simis said. “I love this team’s leadership and commitment to the process.”
Last season: 6-4, 4-1 5A SIC Pod B
Playoffs: Lost to Rigby 35-21 in first round
Coach: Jason Burton, third season
Career record: 11-9
Base offense (coordinator): Air raid (Kevin McCarthy)
Base defense (coordinator): 4-4 (JQ Kenyon)
The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1995. But with three straight playoff appearances under their belt and six starters back on offense and nine on defense, Borah enters the season with a rare commodity — expectations.
“We’ve just talked about the focus is on us and how good we can be, how high our standards are,” Burton said. “There’s a lot of buzz around the program, and that’s great because it’s a testament to all of the work they have put in. But 2018 is a new season.”
Opposing defensive coordinators have to contend with the duo of quarterback Jake Standlee and Ellis Magnuson, who are entering their third season as starters. Standlee earned first-team all-conference honors last season after leading the league in passing yards, and Magnuson is a reigning first-team All-Idaho selection in football and basketball.
Standlee will have plenty of other receivers to turn to if defenses double Magnuson, including junior Austin Bolt and senior speedster Chase Nett, another three-year starter. The Lions need to find a running back in camp, but points shouldn’t be hard to come by.
Borah also remains stacked on defense, led by Magnuson in the secondary and linebacker Jacob Batubenga. He earned first-team all-conference honors last year and will have familiar faces in Innocent Ndayiragijem and Joey Whiting starting alongside him.
Last season: 7-3, 4-1 5A SIC Pod B
Playoffs: Lost to Rocky Mountain 13-7 in quarterfinals
Coach: Paul Peterson, 14th season
Career record: 126-50
Base offense (coordinator): Spread (James Clumphf)
Base defense (coordinator): 3-4, Rob Rathbun
The Devan Bridgewater era is over as the three-year starter at quarterback capped his career as the SIC’s player of the year. But the Mustangs have another potential three-year starter to turn to in sophomore quarterback Ben Ford.
“He’s an exceptional athlete,” Peterson said. “He’s as good of an athlete as there is in this league. He’s explosive, fast and has got a strong arm. … Somebody that fast and explosive, it’s in our best interest to have the ball in his hands a lot.”
Ford has big shoes to fill and no one expects him to match Bridgewater’s production out of the gate. Eagle has a bounty of speedy athletes to take the pressure off, namely running back Nelson Russell and receivers Kaden Baskett, Cam Churchill and Dalton Mashore. Peterson said the Mustangs will stretch opponents horizontally and look to use all that speed to exploit the open field.
The Mustangs can count on their defense to carry the team as Ford adjusts to the varsity level. Eagle’s front seven returns five starters, including 6-5, 240-pound defensive end Sam Witte. He’s a returning second-team All-Idaho selection who can blow up opposing game plans.
Last season: 10-1, 7-0 4A SIC
Playoffs: Lost to Minico 29-28 in 4A semifinals
Coach: David Young, 16th season
Career record: 87-67
Base offense (coordinator): Pistol spread (David Robinson)
Base defense (coordinator): 3-3-5 (Eric Bonds)
Skyview started preparing to move up to the 5A classification four years ago. So you won’t find any Hawks panicked about the move to Idaho’s top level.
“We know there’s going to be more battles, but our mindset is the same: make the playoffs, make a run at the SIC championship and make a run at the state championship,” said Skyview coach David Young, whose team has made eight straight 4A playoff appearances.
Skyview has plenty of reasons for confidence. The Hawks bring back quarterback Wyatt Storer, a three-year starter, a first-team 4A All-Idaho quarterback and the program’s record holder in every passing category. Storer will have plenty of protection with four returning offensive lineman, a key in the transition to 5A, Young said.
The defense has big bodies up front as well in three returning starters. It also has its own three-year starter and first-team All-Idaho selection in Tyler Crowe. When he’s not making plays as a running back, he’ll be one of the league’s top stoppers.
Last season: 4-6, 3-2 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Lost to Madison 50-12 in first round
Coach: Mike Virden, fifth season (first since 2006)
Career record: 62-33
Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Roman Keefe and Travis Stuart)
Base defense (coordinator): 4-3 (Brandon Harris)
Virden’s return to Meridian has brought excitement. The former Boise State quarterback led Meridian to a 28-14 record from 2003 to ‘06, including the 2005 state championship, before coaching in the college ranks.
Graduation hit the Warriors hard. They have just two returning offensive starters (running back Javon Woodall and lineman Tyler Barron) and three on defense (linemen Colby Oskokloff and Kenny Taufoou, and defensive back Jojo Seward). While Meridian is young and light on experience, Virden said the Warriors still have plenty of weapons to make waves in the SIC.
“(I’m) very surprised at the amount of talent we have on offense,” Virden said. “(I’m) excited to see these guys play under the lights. We are faster, bigger and taller than I could have hoped for.”
Woodall and junior Devon Fox will take the bulk of the carries, and junior receiver Micah Franklin is set for a breakout season. But the Warriors will have to find a replacement for quarterback Nate Weddle, a three-year starter that has graduated, in their spread offense.
Last season: 4-6, 2-3 5A SIC Pod B
Playoffs: Lost to Capital 35-7 in first round
Coach: Ian Smart, second season
Career record: 21-20
Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Matt White)
Base defense (coordinator): 3-4 (Smart)
Smart’s second season begins with the Wolves reloading as they return just four starters on both sides of the ball. But one weapon they can rely on all season is senior running back Ed Osterberger.
The SIC’s co-offensive player of the year broke out for 1,679 rushing yards last season, averaging 10.3 yards per carry. The three-sport star remains the focal point of the offense, but Smart said Timberline also wants to take advantage of defenses packing the box to slow him down. The Wolves finished last in the 5A SIC with 107 passing yards per game last fall.
“This should open things up for our passing game to grow a bit,” Smart said. “... We still want to feature him, but we want to become more balanced in the process.”
Senior Layton Wagner and junior Andy Peters enter camp battling for the starting quarterback spot after splitting the duties last season. Wagner remains one of the Wolves’ unquestioned leaders and carries the intangibles of a winner, while Peters has the height, build and big arm of a prototypical quarterback.
Whoever wins the job will have to break in an entirely new group of starting receivers.
Last season: 2-7, 0-5 5A SIC
Playoffs: Missed playoffs
Coach: David Koch, fifth season
Career record: 6-30
Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Joel Clark)
Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (Afa Faraimo)
The Patriots have taken their lumps since turning to quarterback Dayne Koch as a sophomore in 2016. But all that experience should pay off as the signal caller enters his third season as a varsity starter and as a two-time all-conference honorable mention selection.
Koch returns one of his top receivers from last season, Damon Trafford, another three-year starter. And he’ll add another weapon in Caden Clark, a move-in from Meridian. Clark was a second-team all-conference receiver and hauled in 58 catches for 559 yards last season, sixth in the SIC.
“We expect them to be better,” David Koch said. “They can’t have the young mistakes they’ve had in the past just because they were underclassmen. They’ve got to pick up the slack of being more alert, catching the ball and being where they’re supposed to be so our timing can help out up front.”
But outside of Dayne Koch and returning safeties Charlie Faraimo and Brian Buirrell, Centennial is looking for new players to step up. The Patriots have just three returning starters on both sides of the ball, including senior Mason Denton, who started on both the offensive and defensive lines a year ago.
Last season: 0-9, 0-5 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Missed playoffs
Coach: Jerry O’Mahony, second season
Career record: 24-57
Base offense (coordinator): Spread (O’Mahony)
Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (Andrew Bothke)
Boise enters the season with renewed optimism for its long-struggling defense. The Braves have allowed 30 or more points per game nine seasons in a row. But with five returning starters, including three who were second-team all-conference picks, that streak could come to an end.
Senior Jack Molesworth ranked fourth in the league with 10.7 tackles per game and headlines the group. He’ll pair with senior linebacker Andrew Bergey and senior defensive end Alex Ojukwu, the younger brother of Boise State offensive lineman John Ojukwu, to prove the Braves are no longer a pushover.
The offense remains a work in progress with just three returning starters, including Molesworth, the team’s leading rusher a year ago (549 yards, four TDs). Carson Bohning takes over the starting quarterback job after impressing in limited action last season.
“Last year, we put people in positions they had to play, not necessarily where they could be most effective. That was very difficult,” O’Mahony said. “I think we have kids pretty well positioned going into the season. Now it’s just getting the experience.”