High School Football

5A SIC football preview: An outsider crashed the Big Four last year. Who will this year?

Idaho’s top high school football plays of 2018

The top high school football plays from all around Idaho for the 2018 season. Music: "6.6.05" by BOPD. From the Free Music Archive. CC BY.
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The top high school football plays from all around Idaho for the 2018 season. Music: "6.6.05" by BOPD. From the Free Music Archive. CC BY.

The “Big Four” of Rocky Mountain, Mountain View, Capital and Eagle still rule the 5A Southern Idaho Conference. But their grip on the Treasure Valley showed signs of weakening last fall, giving hope to the rest of the league entering 2019.

Borah knocked off two of the league’s traditional powers, beating Eagle in the regular season and then upsetting Capital in the playoffs. Newcomer Skyview also proved it belongs in the 5A ranks with a road win at Eagle.

But the Big Four still took the top four spots in last year’s conference standings and sit atop the preseason coaches’ poll. So was last year an aberration? Or do the league’s bluebloods need to start looking over their shoulders?

Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of what to expect this fall in the 5A SIC.

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Rocky Mountain’s Kaden Birch returns as one of the top targets for Grizzlies quarterback Colby Jackson. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

1. ROCKY MOUNTAIN GRIZZLIES

Last season: 12-0, 9-0 5A SIC

Playoffs: Beat Highland 24-22 for 5A state title

Coach: Chris Culig, third season

Career record: 21-3

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Scott Criner)

Base defense (coordinator): 3-3-5 (Culig/Tim Stanley)

Key players: Colby Jackson, sr., QB; Kaden Birch, sr., WR; Braden Cureton, sr., DB; Gerrit Tamminga, sr., OL

The undefeated defending state champion remains loaded for another run at a title. Eight starters return from a defense that led the 5A classification in points allowed (13.1 per game), turnovers forced (39) and turnover margin (+31) even with a young lineup. The Grizzlies need to shift a few bodies around to make up for the loss of two key linebackers and a safety, but every team in the state would love to have all the returning talent on Rocky Mountain’s sideline.

“This is probably the fastest defense we have ever had,” Culig said.

On offense, the Grizzlies bring back five starters but must replace running back Nick Romano, the 5A All-Idaho Player of the Year who is fighting for playing time as a true freshman at Idaho. Culig said the duo of junior Jordan Erickson and senior Devon Fox, a transfer from Meridian, will take over in the backfield.

Rocky Mountain also has the luxury of a senior quarterback coming off an undefeated season in Colby Jackson (1,940 yards, 23 TDs, six INTs). He flew under the radar last year behind Romano, but expect a breakout season this fall with plenty of weapons around him.

“We need him to play his game as he makes us go,” Culig said. “His arm is stronger, his decisions quicker, and he will be more dangerous with his feet.”

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Mountain View’s K.J. Lynch leaps for an interception last fall against Eagle. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

2. MOUNTAIN VIEW MAVERICKS

Last season: 8-3, 7-2 5A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Highland 28-18 in semifinals

Coach: Judd Benedick, 13th season

Career record: 94-34

Base offense (coordinator): Shotgun spread (Brian Compton)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-3 (Benedick)

Key players: K.J. Lynch, sr., WR/DB; Kaden Chan, jr., WR; Keaton Horn, sr., DE/LB; Bronx Barrus, sr., RB/DB

After scoring 41 points per game last year, the second most in 5A, Mountain View will remain a threat to light up the scoreboard. Receivers K.J. Lynch and Kaden Chan provide two big-play threats on the outside for whoever wins the quarterback battle between junior Jake Farris and senior Zach Cameron. And Bronx Barrus and sophomore Leyton Smithson remain blurs with the ball in their hands.

Look for a breakout season from Smithson. He joined the varsity team last year as a freshman midway through the season and ran for 272 yards at 7.2 yards per carry with two TDs. That’s a rarity at Mountain View, where not even former state players of the year Josh Buss and TreyTon Bell could earn regular playing time as freshmen.

The Mavericks experimented with different roles for Smithson in the offseason before settling on running back, where they can ensure he gets at least 15 touches a game.

“He kind of reminds me of Josh (Buss),” Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said. “He’s a taller, longer kid. He’s not as tall as Josh. But he reminds me of that style. He’s smooth, has got good feet, is quick and catches the ball well.”

The defense returns six starters, including two at each level. Lynch, a first-team All-Idaho safety, and Barrus will cover the back end. Mountain View also gets Keaton Horn back along the front line. He led the team with 3.5 sacks through four games before a broken ankle ended his season. Benedick called him “a real difference maker.”

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Eagle’s Ben Ford ranked third in the state with 1,386 yards as a sophomore. He’ll return for his junior year. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

3. EAGLE MUSTANGS

Last season: 7-4, 6-3 5A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Highland 41-14 in quarterfinals

Coach: John Hartz, first season

Career record: 0-0

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (James Cluphf)

Base defense (coordinator): 3-4 (Rob Rathbun)

Key players: Ben Ford, jr., QB; Derek Tommasini, sr., LB; Cam Churchill, sr., WR; Charlie Baker, sr., RB; Gannon Matthews, sr., DB

An era ended when Paul Peterson retired after 14 seasons as the Mustangs’ head coach. But Eagle didn’t have to look too far down the coaching tree for his replacement in John Hartz, who previously spent two seasons as Peterson’s offensive coordinator.

Hartz said he’s retained all but two assistant coaches from Peterson’s staff, further aiding the continuity of one of the state’s perennial powers.

Eagle led the 5A classification with 269 rushing yards per game a year ago despite starting three sophomores on its offensive line. The Mustangs ought to remain a potent running threat again with all three back as part of a line that is even stronger than last fall, Hartz said. Running back Charlie Baker, who averaged 9.7 yards per carry while battling injuries, is also finally healthy.

Ben Ford proved a revelation at the head of that attack as a sophomore quarterback. He ranked third in the 5A classification with 1,386 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 9.0 yards per carry as a home-run threat on every snap. But Hartz said he’s also looking at junior Gavin Diffey and sophomore Mason McHugh under center, possibly moving Ford to receiver to get as much talent on the field as possible.

“Ben will be on the field,” Hartz said. “It could be quarterback. We just haven’t come to a conclusion.”

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Capital’s Jonah Blackham returns after earning second-team All-Idaho honors. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

4. CAPITAL EAGLES

Last season: 6-4, 6-3 5A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Borah 42-27 in first round

Coach: Todd Simis, 16th season

Career record: 123-95

Base offense (coordinator): No-huddle spread (Simis)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (Matt Jacobsen)

Key players: Jonah Blackham, sr., WR; Jackson Reed, jr., LB; Isaac Walker, sr., OL; Hayden Picard, sr., WR/DB

An early exit from last fall’s playoffs surprised many. But with nine returning defensive starters and five on offense, Capital has the tools to return to the postseason for the 13th straight year, and to make some noise once it gets there.

Five sophomores started at times last year, including four on defense. That led to lapses and big plays as Capital allowed an uncharacteristic 27.2 points per game. But all those trials by fire should start paying off.

“We expect the defense to be more consistent and much improved,” Capital coach Todd Simis said. “We aren’t big, but we have some guys who can really move.”

Junior linebacker Jackson Reed leads the group. He earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore after ranking fifth in the state with 9.8 tackles per game. He and several other defensive players also will see time on offense, too.

Senior receiver Jonah Blackham, a second-team All-Idaho pick, remains one of the state’s most potent downfield threats. And he’ll have another big-armed quarterback throwing to him in Boise transfer Carson Bohning.

The 6-4, 200-pound senior struggled at times with Boise last year, completing 49 percent of his passes for 1,698 yards, 11 TDs and 13 interceptions. But Simis said he’s impressed during summer workouts and showed grit and toughness last year with Boise. Surrounded by a stronger supporting cast, he’s a candidate for a breakout season.

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John Zamberlin brings extensive experience to the Meridian High football program. The former Idaho State coach, NFL linebacker and CFL coach will lead the Warriors this fall in his first season as a head high school football coach. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

5. MERIDIAN WARRIORS

Last season: 3-7, 3-6 5A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Madison 27-14 in first round

Coach: John Zamberlin, first season

Career record: 0-0

Base offense (coordinator): Single back (Troy Gleave)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-3 (Brandon Harris)

Key players: Tyler Barron, sr., OL; Trey Hessin, sr., OL; Cruz Krofts, jr., WR; Zach Webb, jr., DB

Borah upset the Big Four power structure last season. But this year, Meridian stands as the top candidate to upset the chokehold Rocky Mountain, Mountain View, Eagle and Capital have on the Treasure Valley.

The expectations stem partially from all the talent coming back and partially from a new coach in Mike Zamberlin, the former Idaho State head coach in his first season leading a high school program.

The Warriors bring back eight offensive starters as they search for their first winning season since 2011 and their first playoff win since 2007. That group includes four returning starters on the offensive line and a first-team, all-conference selection up front in Tyler Barron.

“It’s a hard-working group that has a great bond,” Zamberlin said.

Senior quarterback Braden Honn returns for his second season under center, and he’ll have plenty of familiar weapons around him in running back Chase Black and receivers Cole MacDonnell and Davis Thacker.

But any return to prominence starts with fixing a leaky defense. Meridian surrendered 39.1 points per game a year ago and brings back just three starters on that side. Zamberlin knows the Warriors remain young on defense, but he said they are more athletic at every position.

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Despite graduation losses, Borah still fields one of the best players in the state in Austin Bolt. Steve Conner Special to the Idaho Statesman

6. BORAH LIONS

Last season: 6-5, 5-4 5A SIC

Playoffs: Lost 37-34 to Coeur d’Alene in quarterfinals

Coach: Jason Burton, fifth season

Career record: 17-14

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Kevin McCarthy)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (JQ Kenyon)

Key players: Austin Bolt, sr., WR/LB; Cameron Pruitt, sr., RB/WR/LB; Tanner Nett, jr., OL; Joey Whiting, sr., LB

Borah made history last season, winning its first playoff game in 23 years behind three-year starters in quarterback Jake Standlee and receivers Ellis Manguson and Chase Nett. It even knocked off rival and perennial powerhouse Capital for that history-making win.

The Lions hit the reset button after heavy graduation losses leave them with two returning starters on each side of the ball. But Borah coach Jason Burton said that doesn’t lower the expectations on campus.

“We have challenged our team,” Burton said. “Is this because of people that were here, or as a program are we here? … We are confident we can be in the top four or maybe a big five and keep that momentum going.”

Senior Austin Bolt gives the Lions one of the state’s top players to build around. The receiver and linebacker enters the fall with five Division I offers. And the first-team All-Idaho selection in both football and basketball can expect to see more time in the backfield as a Wildcat quarterback capable of both running and throwing.

Senior Alec Gray and junior Hunter Knoll entered camp battling for the starting quarterback role. Gray has the arm capable of running Borah’s Air Raid offense, while Knoll gives the Lions more options in a zone-read scheme with running backs Cameron Pruitt and Tyler Phimmasone.

Whoever ends up starting will have to rely on a young offensive line. Borah returns just one full-time starter on the offensive front, and its defensive line doesn’t have any returning starters.

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Skyview’s Mason Perrine will team with Danny Castledine to give the Hawks two potent wide receivers. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

7. SKYVIEW HAWKS

Last season: 5-5, 5-4 5A SIC

Playoffs: Lost 42-37 to Post Falls in first round

Coach: David Young, 17th season

Career record: 92-72

Base offense (coordinator): Pistol power spread (David Robinson)

Base defense (coordinator): 3-3-5 (Eric Bonds)

Key players: Danny Castledine, sr., WR/DB; Mason Perrine, sr., WR/DE; Josiah Lara, sr., OL/DL; Clayton Franssen, jr., QB

Skyview proved all the doubters wrong in its first season back at the 5A level, qualifying for the playoffs for the ninth straight year. But the Hawks start the season needing to replace two of the best players in program history.

Boise State walk-on Tyler Crowe graduated as the school’s all-time leader in total yards (4,308), rushing yards (3,528), rushing touchdowns (48), points (340) and tackles (205). And quarterback Wyatt Storer left as the all-time leader in every passing category, including yards (9,552) and touchdowns (110).

Skyview returns just two offensive starters and three on defense. But it gets a boost from two players returning to the program in receiver Danny Castledine and lineman Josiah Lara.

Lara, the defending 5A heavyweight state wrestling champ, returns after academics sidelined him last season and will be a force on both sides of the ball. Castledine hasn’t played since his freshman season, but he shook off the rust and broke out over the summer to earn a scholarship offer from Idaho State. He’ll pair with Mason Perrine to give the Hawks a deeper receiving corps, Skyview coach David Young said.

“We are going through a renaissance,” Young said. “We have quite a few new coaches and athletes this season. This has rejuvenated our program and brought out new and more athletes, and brought a new excitement to our team.”

8. TIMBERLINE WOLVES

Last season: 0-9, 0-9 5A SIC

Playoffs: Missed playoffs

Coach: Ian Smart, third season

Career record: 21-29

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Matt White)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (Smart)

Key players: Andy Peters, sr., QB; Kyle Adams, sr., RB/LB; Sam Rodenbaugh, sr., WR/DB; Nicolas Caballero, sr., WR

Timberline hit rock bottom last season, failing to win a single game for the first time in program history and allowing 46.8 points per game, the most in the 5A classification. But Smart said the Wolves’ senior class has stepped in to change the culture and set standards the team lacked in the past.

Any turnaround starts with shoring up Timberline’s shaky defense. Smart said the defensive line, led by Josh Dean, is much improved. But the key remains in the secondary.

“We have done a good job on first and second downs the past two seasons but have struggled in the back end to make plays and get off the field,” Smart said. “We need that group to create turnovers and prevent home runs.”

Andy Peters returns for his third season under center and has Division I programs after him. The 6-3, 200-pound senior enters the year with an offer from Idaho State after completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing for 1,800 yards with 18 TDs and 12 interceptions last year. That came while breaking in an entirely new receiving corps. He’ll have more help this fall with his top receiver, Sam Rodenbaugh, back alongside another returning starter in Nicolas Caballero.

9. CENTENNIAL PATRIOTS

Last season: 3-6, 3-6 5A SIC

Playoffs: Missed playoffs

Coach: David Koch, fifth season

Career record: 9-36

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Joel Clark)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-3 (Zac Farnam)

Key players: Preston Esplin, jr., RB; Lucas Erickson, sr., OL/DE; Luke Schabot, sr., WR; Logan Harris, sr., OL

The Patriots relied on three-year starting quarterback Dayne Koch to make calls on the fly last year. But after he graduated and walked on at Idaho State, Centennial will have to dial back its playbook to break in a new signal caller.

Two sophomore transfers in Jack Benson (Borah) and Keyon Horton (Skyview) are battling with senior Devonta Martin for the starting role. But whoever wins the battle will head a more balanced offense after Caden Clark, 5A’s leader with 93 catches, also graduated and walked on at Idaho State.

“We are real young, so we are going to have to slow things down and keep it basic,” Centennial coach David Koch said. “We’ll have to give them a chance to grow into it, get them in game situations and put them in the best situations to put us in the best situation.”

Junior Preston Esplin returns after leading the team in rushing last year (273 yards, one TD) and will headline a renewed focus on the run. The Patriots are young all over the field with just three returning starters on offense and defense. But Koch expects the defense to improve after allowing 36.2 points per game last year with three starters back on the defensive line.

10. BOISE BRAVE

Last season: 1-8, 1-8 5A SIC

Playoffs: Missed playoffs

Coach: Jerry O’Mahony, third season

Career record: 25-65

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (O’Mahony)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (Claude Tomasini)

Key players: Hudson Hamilton, WR/DB, sr.; Cole McKinley, sr., RB/LB; Joe Fitzgerald, sr., H-back/LB; Ethan Bobst, sr., WR/DB

Boise enters the season with a new mascot and a new cast of players as it aims for its first winning season since 2008.

Quarterback Carson Bohning transferred to Capital for his senior year, leaving the Brave to start over at that position. Seniors Hank Strand and Aeneas Staley, a move-in from New Mexico, will split the quarterback duties. Boise coach Jerry O’Mahony said the two will trade off series with Strand running Boise’s traditional spread offense while Staley will head an option unit.

O’Mahony said Boise has its best receiving corps in years led by Hudson Hamilton and Ethan Bobst. But after giving up 30 or more points per game 10 years in a row, including 46.3 last fall, Boise can’t continue to drop back and throw it every down.

“We have to be more balanced because we have to control the ball better,” O’Mahony said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, so it’s important we possess the ball to a degree. We can’t afford to get into a race.”

O’Mahony said Boise has more team speed and size up front than in years past. But depth remains a concern with only 38 to 40 varsity players. Boise will not have a JV team this fall.

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Michael Lycklama has covered Idaho high school sports since 2007. He’s won national awards for his work uncovering the stories of the Treasure Valley’s best athletes and investigating behind-the-scenes trends.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
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