Note: Gunnison finished with a 3-7 overall record in 2010 and an 1-4 record in the 2A East region. It lost to Kanab, 34-13, in the 2A first round.
Gunnison's last winning season in football was 2005. Prior to that it was 1999.
That reality speaks to the type of rebuilding project coach Yori Ludvigson inherited when he was named head coach just a few months before the start of the 2010 season.
Ludvigson knew it wasn't going to be a quick fix, and it definitely wasn't as Gunnison had the worst scoring defense in 2A last year. As Ludvigson says, "we were very vanilla."
Things are looking up this year though. Gunnison will be a much stronger football team after 6 a.m. offseason workouts were attended religiously by the players. Ludvigson and his staff even cooked breakfast for the players each morning to encouraged participation.
"The kids have bought in. Our numbers are down a little bit from last year, but I knew they would be because it's hard. We had 54 kids to camp last year, and 40 this year. Our numbers are down a bit, but our kids are 10 times tougher," said Ludvigson.
The offseason has been all about closing the gap.
When Ludvigson was hired in May of last year, he said most of his players could barely squat 300 pounds. Now he says five or 6 can squat 400 to 450 pounds.
"I think we'll be a lot better. Last year we didn't start until May, and this year we've been going every since the end of the last season," said Gunnison linebacker Braden Harris.
That strength should translate into being a much more competitive team, but that doesn't' guarantee victories. Gunnison's new region is very, very tough, and most believe the Bulldogs will be fighting for the playoff lives all year.
That's not discouraging in the least for Ludvigson. He's fully invested in the Gunnison football program and committed to see things turned around.
"We're not there by any means, but we'll close the gap," said Ludvigson.
He has a special player to help him along the way. Just a junior, Harris is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound linebacker who just about every in-state college is taking a long hard look at. He'd probably already have a scholarship offer if hadn't broke his hand at the Utah elite camp in June. He should be healthy for Gunnison's first game on Aug. 19.
He led Gunnison with 105 tackles last year, and he'll be the heart of the defense again.
"He's just one of those special kids you don't see very often. He'll make us smart coaches for a few more years," said Ludvigson. "He's just a great kid. Just a good humble, hard-working kid. He's there every single workout, he's picking up other kids."
Jarrett White is another player who's bulked up in the offseason, he's added 25 pounds and the coaching staff is moving him to middle linebacker where he should team with Harris to shore up what was a weakness last year.
Offensively Gunnison will be breaking in a new quarterback, but there will be some stability on the line. White and Tyler Harris are both returning starters on the offensive line, while Matt Mecham and Tyrell Winters both got plenty of reps.
Gunnison had a hard time running the ball last year, but with that quartet of lineman it shouldn't be such a struggle.
Gunnison Bulldogs at a glance
Coach: In his first year back in coaching after a six-year hiatus, Yori Ludvigson finished with a 3-7 record in his first year as head coach. He was a defensive coordinator under Mark Wootton at North Sanpete from 1997 to 2002. He's a graduate of Manti High School.
(5 returning starters; Spread offense)
Gunnison only averaged two touchdowns per game last year, but with five returning starters that production should go up. Rylan Anderson is moving from running back to quarterback, and he should be more of a threat running than passing. Braden Harris will see a big chunk of the carries at running back, and he should benefit from an experienced offensive line.
(5 returning starters)
Gunnison lost Lafe Christenson for the season because of a shoulder injury, and the loss definitely throws a wrinkle in Gunnison's plans. He was a shut down type of corner that could've allowing the defense to blitz a lot. Finding a replacement will be key. Tyler Harris is a returning starter on the defensive line, and he's bulked up a lot in the offseason which should help toughen up the defense.
Coaches preseason 2A North straw poll: Seventh
Deseret News 2A North prediction: Sixth1 comment on this story
Bottom line: Gunnison's players were committed to the weight room all offseason, and there's no doubt that will make a big difference this year. Will it be enough though? The region is very difficult, and unlike years past when every 2A team qualified for the playoffs only six of eight from the 2A North region make it this year. Getting a win in the region opener against North Sevier on Sept. 2 could make or break those playoff aspirations.
Aug. 19 — SOUTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — at Beaver, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — NORTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Manti, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — MILLARD, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — AMERICAN LEADERSHIP, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Emery, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at North Summit, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — SOUTH SUMMIT, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — Playoffs, TBD