Drew Severn had spent four seasons as an assistant football coach in Burns before being hired as Cheyenne Central’s head coach this season. There also was time spent as a sub-varsity coach in his native Arizona before he returned to the Cowboy State, where he lettered football for the University of Wyoming from 2002-05.
Severn knew this season would be a learning experience as he got used to the responsibilities that come with being the head coach.
It was just that.
“I made the final call on everything we were doing,” Severn said. “I had always given my opinion but I had never been the person that made the final decision before this year. That was uncharted territory, but I got more comfortable with that as the year progressed and I was making decent enough calls to get us in the right spot.
“We got better towards the end of the year and I got better towards the end too.”
Central started its 2014 campaign 0-3, including its first loss to cross-town rival Cheyenne South. However, the Indians finished the regular season 4-5 and as the No. 5 seed for the Class 4A playoffs. Their season ended with a 28-7 playoff loss at fourth-seeded Sheridan.
“We got a good feel of where the teams we are facing are at and what they’re doing scheme-wise,” Severn said. “That was a big takeaway from this season. The further we get away from this season, the more I’m going to really look at what things we need to do to be more effective in certain areas, what things we did well, what things we need to build on, what were our weaker areas and focus on improving those.”
WHAT WENT WELL?
The Indians bought into what Severn and his staff were selling. They closed the season by winning four of their final seven outings and were playing better and better on both sides of the ball when the season ended.
The defense was vastly improved, holding Casper Kelly Walsh and Evanston to a combined 458 yards in their final two regular season games. That total included 85 combined rushing yards.
Not to shabby for a ballclub that gave up more than 400 yards in its first three games.
Senior Cooper Mirich started the season at defensive end, but moved back to linebacker early in the season and ended up leading Class 4A in defensive points per game (18.9) and earned his second all-state nod.
Junior quarterback Brock Anderson started the year splitting time with senior Rhett Muchmore. But Muchmore suffered an injury that put him on the shelf for a game and Anderson never gave up the starting spot after that.
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-hander completed 118 of 238 passes for 1,363 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
It was clear that Anderson was as confident as could be toward the end of the season. He kept plays alive and gained yards with his feet. There were at least four times between the Kelly Walsh and Evanston games that Anderson bootlegged one direction before rolling back across the field under pressure. He kept his eyes up on those plays and still found open receivers for gains.
It would have been understandable if Anderson threw balls away under pressure, but he didn’t. He showed poise and turned negatives into positives.
Unfortunately, that increased comfort and confidence kept him out of Central’s playoff loss.
Late in Central’s 28-21 win over Evanston in the regular season finale, Anderson scrambled to his right and gained eight yards on 3rd-and-9. He lunged forward trying to gain the final yards to keep the drive alive and took a hard hit from two Red Devils defenders.
It was one of several hard hits he took while scrambling. He initiated contact on a few of those hits, but that one shook Anderson up.
He didn’t feel the effects of the hit until after the next play. Anderson dropped back, looked to his left and swung a pass to Muchmore, who tossed the ball back across the field and hit senior receiver Kyle Alexander streaking down the right sideline for a 76-yard game-winning touchdown.
Muchmore and Alexander connected on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt and a 28-21 win while Anderson was being attended to on the sideline.
Anderson missed the playoff game with a concussion.
Severn expects Anderson to be one of Wyoming’s top signal-callers in 2015.
“He’s a competitor and we’ve talked about what he needs to do and he’s bought in,” Severn said. “He came a long way this season, but he’ll also tell you that he has more to do. If you thought he was decent this year and improved greatly as the season went on, you’re really going to like what you see out of him next year.”
And what things must Anderson improve upon? Interceptions mostly.
“He’s got to get those down,” Severn said. “They weren’t all on him and he got better the more he played, but he’s got to keep that number down.”
Sophomore defensive end Eric Lundgren also was a revelation late in the year.
Lundgren finished with 49 total tackles, including 22 solo stops and five tackles for loss. he also had two sacks. He posted eight tackles and a sack in Central’s 35-0 win over Kelly Walsh.
Those efforts earned him all-conference honors from the Wyoming Coaches Association. Lundgren could end up being a starter on both lines next fall.
WHAT NEEDED WORK?
As good as Anderson was by the end of the year, the Indians running game never really found its footing.
Starter Mitchell Bell suffered an injury early in the year and never returned. Seven different players got 20 or more carries for the Indians. The Indians used senior receiver Tayton Montgomery in the backfield and on fly sweeps in the middle of the season, but he gained just 205 yards on 35 carries.
Junior T.J. Wiltanger was Central’s leading rusher, gaining 569 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 116 carries. Wiltanger missed the Kelly Walsh win with a concussion, but returned against Evanston and rushed for a career-best 102 yards.
Fixing the running game is a priority for the Indians, Severn said.
“That’s the biggest area that we have to improve upon, hands down,” Severn said. “Right now, we’re looking at anywhere from six to eight backs who are either going to play fullback or tailback. We’ll have six to eight guys competing for that spot and that competition is going to be great for the team.”
As a former offensive lineman, Severn has an idea where the running game fix starts.
“I know some people are going to say I’m biased because I played the line, but it truly is the most important position on the team,” he said. “Everything starts up front. The area that I want to see the biggest improvement from this year to next — and I’m going to take that responsibility on my shoulders — is getting our linemen to the second level.
“We got to the first level fine, but we didn’t get to that second level very well. And, when we did get to that second level, we didn’t do a very good job of sustaining it. We have to strive for that next season.”
Sustaining blocks at the second level is the key to breaking big plays. And Severn knows that the fix isn’t going to happen overnight, especially with the running scheme the Indians use.
“When you’re in a zone offense, it takes time,” he said. “I’ve seen it take as many as three years for a group to trust the guys next to them. In zone, you’re not really blocking a specific guy, you’re blocking space and you have to think on the run.”
Severn spent two-plus weeks doing individual exit interviews with his players. Those talks included a handout grading the players and explaining where they currently fit at their position group, what the coaching staff thought of their potential and what the coaches thought the player needed to do to unlock that potential.
The goal was to give the players an honest assessment that provided them with motivation and a blueprint for self-improvement. The more the individuals improve, the better the team gets.
“I liked looking into the kids’ eyes and saying, ‘This is where you’re at and this is what we think you can do to get better,'” Severn said. “I’d say that 99 percent of them were ready to get right to work.”
The Indians have gone 23-27 over the past five seasons. Their last winning mark was in 2009 when they went 9-3 and finished second in Class 4A. They have been 4-6 the past two falls.
That must change, Severn said.
“We have to win two more games,” he said. “I don’t want to be 5-4 or 4-5 going into the playoffs. We have to be two games better to be a top four seed.
“We also have to get out of the first round (of the playoffs). Those are my two big goals. After that, anything can happen. If we can win two more regular season games and get out of the first round, we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”