Burns, Pine Bluffs: A look back

We have an excellent resource at our disposal. It’s the ultimate clearinghouse for information on Wyoming high school football, and it’s wyoming-football.com. I can’t recommend it enough, but I suggest you leave yourself an afternoon off to check it out, otherwise you could bury some serious hours down a rabbit hole there.

It has the scores of every high school football game in the state’s history of the sport, even for now-defunct schools like Seton, Albin and Carpenter (yes, Carpenter had a high school; I’m just as surprised as you are). It also has some other information, such as a school’s all-time win-loss record, and information on streaks.

I point you to this resource because I discovered some interesting things about Burns and Pine Bluffs as I assembled pregame capsules throughout the fall. Sports fans have long since accepted the cyclical nature of high school sports. One class can make or break a program, regardless of sport and regardless of school size. The one that can make a program gives the classes coming after it something to shoot for, but it can also set the bar so high that classes throw their hands up and don’t bother to strive for those standards.

So why the mention of the website? In going through scores for these schools, I couldn’t help but notice how many schools had their longest losing streaks and worst seasons within five years or so of longest winning streaks and best seasons. And in a lot of cases, the same coach worked the sidelines through it all.

For example, Burns won the state championship in 1983, then went winless in 1984, both seasons under coach Rich Steege. Later, the Broncs endured winless seasons in 2003 and 2004 before winning the state championship in 2008 under coach Bill Fullmer.

Burns had two-thirds of its 8-1 team of 2013 graduate. A class of 12 seniors, including Chadron State College signee Travis Romsa, left behind a strong legacy of accomplishment in all sports, but especially football. Coach Marv Mirich said that dozen showed the value of year-round commitment and desire, as all showed up in the weight room before school and on weekends – anything to get better.

Klayton Clark

Klayton Clark

With that class gone, the Broncs experienced a “building year,” going 2-6 and missing the playoffs. In a couple of games, thanks to injuries and other issues the Broncs dressed 17 players, with some freshman playing football for the first time at the varsity level. The step up from freshman ball to junior varsity takes some adjustments, but how about from junior high straight to varsity? Or from never playing football right into the varsity? In last week’s season finale, a 34-8 win over Wright, the Broncs dressed 20 players, and welcomed senior quarterback Paden Wilson back to the lineup after missing time with a rib injury. Otherwise the Broncs initiated a lot of new players, and the experience will help them get better in the coming years. Sophomore Klayton Clark, who started at quarterback with Wilson out, led the state in punting with a 40.8 average, though I imagine Mirich would have preferred Clark not get so much practice.

Mirich also questioned the commitment of some of his players, noting a nearly empty weight room in the offseason. He also pointed out the players who lifted regularly stayed healthy throughout the season, a point he will drive home going forward.

Kyle Jeffres

Kyle Jeffres

Pine Bluffs could be in a down cycle as well, needing just one strong class to bring the program back. For the time being, though, the Hornets are mired in a school-record 18-game losing streak. They started a freshman at quarterback in Haize Fornstrom, and the Hornets finished third in the state in Class 1A in passing, averaging 113 yards a game. Running back Preston Thurin rushed for 536 yards, 205 of them in the season-opening loss to Burns. Linebacker Kyle Jeffres finished first in defensive points per game and tackles a game with 10.8, while senior linebacker Scott Gross was sixth in the state in defensive points. Coach Will Gray said Jeffres could start at any level of high school ball.

But Gross and Jeffres couldn’t do it all. The Hornets’ defense ranked near the bottom of Class 1A in most categories, and while their offense moved the ball consistently, it just couldn’t finish drives. Hunter Thompson, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who made the all-state team as a freshman, never played a down for the Hornets after an ankle injury during summer basketball; Gray planned to use him at wide receiver and a little bit of quarterback.

So have patience with our Eastern Laramie County teams. As quickly as they sunk, they could turn it around just as quickly.

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