High School Football

4A SIC football preview: Preseason rankings and predictions for Idaho’s toughest league

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.

Hillcrest High brought last season’s 4A football state championship back to Idaho Falls. But the Southern Idaho Conference solidified itself as the state’s toughest and deepest league in last year’s playoffs, rolling to a 5-0 record in the first round and taking three of the four spots in the semifinals.

Repeating that remains a tall task. But with all the talent and tradition in the Treasure Valley, the SIC enters the year once again as 4A’s most demanding league.

We took our best shot at predicting who will emerge victorious below.

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Bishop Kelly quarterback Beau Nelson led the Knights to last season’s 4A state championship game as a junior. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

1. BISHOP KELLY KNIGHTS

Last season: 10-2, 7-1 4A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Hillcrest 55-21 in state championship

Coach: Tim Brennan, 24th season

Career record: 208-72

Base offense (coordinator): I-formation (Chris Martineau)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-4 (George Gamber)

Key players: Beau Nelson, sr., QB; Ian Arellano, sr., TB; Nate Johnson, sr., WR/TE/OLB; Jackson Huskey, sr., TB.

The perennial powerhouse reached the state finals for the fifth time in six years last season only to get blown out by 34 points, the Knights’ worst loss since 1996. But Bishop Kelly has moved on and set its sights on hanging another league championship banner and getting back to the finals.

Bishop Kelly will have to do it with a new lineup outside of a few key pieces. Wide receiver Matt Heffner and tight end Cam Morrison blew out their knees this summer, leaving the Knights with just three returning offensive starters and one on defense. Both were likely two-way starters.

But BK has plenty of talent returning in the backfield in quarterback Beau Nelson and tailback Ian Arellano. Arellano broke out for 2,001 all-purpose yards last fall as an explosive runner with the vision to turn short gains into long touchdowns in the blink of an eye. And the 6-3, 200-pound Nelson completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,384 yards with 15 TDs and three interceptions.

Bishop Kelly coach Tim Brennan said the Knights will rely on Nelson a lot this fall.

“He’s an unbelievable student in the classroom, and he’s smart on the football field, too,” Brennan said. “We are going to ask him to do a lot of things, making calls on the field, reading the defense and putting us in the right position.”

The Knights will have to rebuild their trademark defense on the fly with senior inside linebacker Taylor McAlvain as the only returning starter. Brennan said to watch for breakout seasons from linebackers like Jay Horning and Nate Johnson.

2. MIDDLETON VIKINGS

Last season: 8-3, 6-2 4A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Hillcrest 21-17 in quarterfinals

Coach: Bill Brock, 20th season

Career record: 220-107

Base offense (coordinator): Air Raid (Brock)

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

Key players: Gaard Memmelaar, sr., OL; Dallas Hagler, sr., QB; Jace Rodgers, sr., WR; Miki Ah You, sr., DB.

Middleton switched from a double-wing offense to the Air Raid two years ago, producing back-to-back, first-team all-conference quarterbacks. But Hagler is the first Viking to step under center with a year of experience in the system. That will make the second-team All-Idaho quarterback and the rest of the Vikings even more dangerous than last year, when they ranked second in the state at 43.5 points per game.

Left tackle and Washington commit Gaard Memmelaar will keep Hagler’s blind side clean. Hagler needs to find a new go-to weapon after first-team All-Idaho receiver Carson Smith graduated. But he has plenty of options with four more returning offensive starters, including No. 2 receiver and three-year starter Jace Rodgers.

“After two years of experience, we have a good grasp of our offensive scheme,” Middleton coach Bill Brock said.

The Vikings also are loaded on defense with eight starters back from a unit that allowed 22.3 points per game, the sixth fewest in 4A. First-team all-conference linebacker Jake Beitia leads the group as the Vikings return all four starting linebackers in their 3-4 scheme.

Brock said he’ll have to move a few players into new positions, but all the returning talent has him excited for 2019.

3. KUNA KAVEMEN

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

Playoffs: Missed playoffs

Coach: Sherm Blaser, third season

Career record: 24-29

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Blaser)

Base defense (coordinator): 3-5-3 (Zach Randolph)

Key players: Tyler Brown, sr., WR; Ty Cobb, sr., DB; Lance Ray, sr., DB; Gavin Heindel, sr., OL.

Kuna missed the playoffs in its first season back at the 4A level. But with six starters returning on both sides of the ball and a JV program that went 9-0 a year ago, the Kavemen stand as a favorite to make it back to the postseason.

Tyler Brown leads three returning starting receivers after earning second-team all-conference honors and ranking seventh in the state with 701 receiving yards. He’ll break in a new quarterback as Kuna lets senior Luke Henze and junior Sean Austin battle it out for the position. Henze has three years of experience in coach Sherm Blaser’s system, but Austin brings an explosive threat to the position.

“Luke has more game experience, but Sean is pretty athletic and a phenomenal basketball player,” Blaser said. “We’re bringing that over and seeing what he can do on the football field.”

Restocking the defense remains one of Blaser’s top concerns. Kuna has plenty of returning players in the secondary, but all three inside linebackers graduated or left the program. The Kavemen made huge strides last fall, allowing 22.7 points a game after giving up 41.6 the year before. Keeping that average down will go a long way to securing their playoff fate.

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Vallivue running back Carson Child will team with quarterback Lan Larison to give the Falcons a potent run game. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

4. VALLIVUE FALCONS

Last season: 8-4, 5-3 4A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Bishop Kelly 34-27 in semifinals

Coach: Layne Coffin, 14th season

Career record: 99-78

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Coffin)

Base defense (coordinator): 3-4 (Bob Larison)

Key players: Lan Larison, sr., QB/FS; Carson Child, sr., RB/LB; Tye Lehman, sr., NT; Brad Cushman, sr., DE.

Vallivue surprised many last fall, finishing fourth in the SIC before making a run to the state semifinals for the first time since 2000. And they return a lineup loaded with experience to make another deep postseason run.

Reigning 4A All-Idaho Player of the Year Lan Larison has yet to find a defense capable of stopping him, racking up 3,670 total yards (305 per game) and 44 TDs a year ago. The UC Davis commit begins his fourth season under center with plenty of talent around him as one of seven returning starters from the state’s top offense (44.9 points per game).

Carson Child (1,257 rushing yards, 14 TDs, 9.9 yards per carry) teams with Larison to form a potent backfield. Someone will need to step up to fill the shoes of Jayden Moran, a second-team All-Idaho receiver. But points won’t be hard to come by at Vallivue.

The defense has plenty of familiar faces as well with eight returning starters. The entire defensive line returns intact, led by first-team all-conference tackle Brad Cushman (eight sacks). But depth remains a potential stumbling block with many players asked to play both ways.

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Nampa’s Donnie Estrada will step under center full time this fall after playing several positions last year. WILLY HARRIS Special to the Idaho Statesman

5. NAMPA BULLDOGS

Last season: 9-3, 6-2 4A SIC

Playoffs: Lost to Hillcrest 41-20 in semifinals

Coach: Dan Holtry, fourth season

Career record: 11-19

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Danl Richards)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-2-5 (Ralph Angstman)

Key players: Donavon Estrada, sr., QB; Jace Mann, sr., WR/DB; Cade Smith, sr., WR/DB; Braden Draper, sr., WR/LB.

Nampa was another breakout team last fall, going 2-16 the previous two years before snapping an eight-year playoff drought and storming to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.

The Bulldogs’ season ended there. But with five offensive starters and six defensive starters back, Nampa enters the year with unfinished business, Nampa coach Dan Holtry said.

“They feel like they left some stuff out on the field last season,” Holtry said. “They want to come back and show this is a quality team, this is a quality program. It wasn’t a one-time, fluke season.”

Senior Donavon Estrada returns after proving an elusive option all over the field, racking up 2,542 yards of offense and 29 total touchdowns while splitting time at quarterback, running back and receiver. He’ll step under center full time this fall as the unquestioned leader and the bane of defensive coordinators.

The receiving corps remains stacked with Cade Smith, Jace Mann and Braden Draper back. Senior Spencer Kipp and junior Tyson Woolstenhulme are battling for carries, giving Nampa an embarrassment of offensive riches. But the Bulldogs will first have to break in a new offensive line after four starters graduated.

A ball-hawking defense that forced a 4A-leading 37 turnovers fueled much of Nampa’s success last year. And with Mann, a first-team All-Idaho defensive back, returning at safety, opposing quarterbacks still will have to worry about leaving balls hanging in the air.

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Wide receiver Jeremiah Brent is one of eight returning offensive starters for Columbia. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

6. COLUMBIA WILDCATS

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

Playoffs: Lost to Nampa 40-19 in quarterfinals

Coach: Greg Asbury, first season

Career record: 105-48

Base offense (coordinator): Veer option (Asbury)

Base defense (coordinator): 3-5-3 (Mark Haggard)

Key players: Jeremiah Brent, sr., WR/CB; Isaac Martinez, sr., TE/LB; Austin Collett, sr., QB; Nico Rodriguez, so., OL/DL.

After winning the first playoff game in program history, all the offseason talk has focused on what Columbia won’t have this year, including head coach Jon Helmandollar (legal troubles), first-team All-Idaho running back Allamar Alexander (a Boise State walk-on) and defensive end Michael Cox (graduated after 17 sacks).

But the Wildcats still return eight offensive starters and seven on defense from its most successful team ever. And they’ve added a coach, Greg Asbury, with eight league titles and two state championships on his resume.

Alexander’s graduation blows a big hole in Columbia’s offense. But senior quarterback Austin Collett returns as the point man in Asbury’s option offense that once won 26 straight games at Parma. Asbury said he’s impressed by Collett as a dual threat, and he’ll have his top receiver (Jeremiah Brent) back.

The depth on the offensive and defensive lines remains a concern. But if Columbia can put all the offseason drama behind it, it could continue to surprise the league’s traditional powers.

7. RIDGEVUE WARHAWKS

Last season: 2-7, 2-6 4A SIC

Playoffs: Missed playoffs

Coach: Tom DeWitz, fourth season

Career record: 6-21

Base offense (coordinator): Two-back spread (Chris Mahavong)

Base defense (coordinator): 4-4 (Ryan Beason)

Key players: Kolton McKie, jr., OLB; John Bataluna, sr., WR/DE; Emilio Diaz, sr., OLB; Connor Lewis, sr., WR.

After opening in the fall of 2016, Ridgevue’s first four-year class enters its senior year. Thanks to increased depth and experience, that group will try to raise the bar for a program with six wins in its first three seasons.

“Last year we had 11 seniors on the team,” Ridgevue coach Tom DeWitz said. “This year, (we have) between 25 to 30 seniors, and most of them played significant roles last year.”

The Warhawks started fall camp with eight returning offensive starters but need to replace first-team all-conference running back Michael Sondermann. He accounted for 56 percent of Ridgevue’s offense (1,351 total yards) a year ago.

Senior Riggin Reyes steps into the feature back role after playing out of position as Sondermann’s lead blocker. He’ll have four of five starting offensive linemen back to clear the way, and the Warhawks can keep defenses from packing the box with senior quarterback Issas Albor (1,044 yards, 13 TDs, five INTs).

The defense also returns six starters after giving up 34.8 points a game, the fourth most in 4A. Three of the four starting linebackers return, which should help the Warhawks bring that total down and make them a potential sleeper team.

8. EMMETT HUSKIES

Last season: 1-8, 1-7 4A SIC

Playoffs: Missed playoffs

Coach: Rich Hargitt, second season

Career record: 13-33

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Hargitt)

Base defense (coordinator): 3-3-5 (Chris Roeper)

Key players: Axel Sanchez, jr., TE/LB; Westyn Smith, jr., RB.

The Huskies began a youth movement last season, relying on a host of sophomores with small junior and senior classes. That continues into 2019 as Emmett coach Rich Hargitt said he’ll rely on more sophomores and juniors. But the Huskies should start seeing some dividends.

The first order of business starts with shoring up a defense that gave up 49.6 points per game, the most in 4A. Hargitt said an offseason dedicated to the weight room has bulked up the entire roster, which should help stop the run and leave the Huskies less vulnerable to big plays on play action.

“We are going to have to slow some people down because we are not going to score 50 points a game, that’s for sure,” Hargitt said.

Axel Sanchez, a second-team all-conference linebacker, leads the defensive charge. And at 6-3, 215 pounds, he’ll also be a weapon on offense as a tight end and receiver.

The Huskies will feature junior running back Westyn Smith with 20 to 25 touches a game. He led the team with 257 rushing yards and two TDs after getting called up halfway through the season. But quarterback remains an open competition between junior Tanner Brown and sophomores Caden Young and Tanner Wilkerson.

9. CALDWELL COUGARS

Last season: 1-8, 0-8 4A SIC

Playoffs: Missed playoffs

Coach: Steven Fleshman, first season

Career record: 0-0

Base offense (coordinator): Spread (Anthony Marin)

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

Key players: Craig Adams, sr., WR/DB; Matias Pizano, sr., RB/DB; Joe Cameron, sr., OL/DL; Anthony Toledo, sr., OL/DL.

Incoming coach Steven Fleshman knows the history surrounding the Caldwell program. The Cougars are 24-93 (.205) since their last season at or above .500 in 2005, and that 13-year streak is the longest active one in the 5A or 4A SIC. But the former Skyview assistant has told his team to flush the past.

“We said, ‘Let’s bury last year,’ ” Fleshman said. “We don’t want to bring it up. We want to move forward. That’s our motto here: Stop thinking about the past and look to tomorrow.”

The Cougars start with a fresh lineup as they don’t return any all-conference players and have just two returning offensive starters and three on defense. But Fleshman thinks he has the talent to surprise a few teams as he establishes a new tradition.

Senior Roy Zavala won a quarterback battle and will head an offense that brought many facets over from Skyview. Craig Adams will pose a threat on the outside as a playmaker, but Caldwell will first focus on establishing a ground game. Matias Pizano, a Golden Gloves boxer, will carry the heavy load alongside Nate Barber in the backfield.

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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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