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Note: Bear River finished with a 3-6 overall record and was fifth in Region 11 with a 2-4 record in 2011. It did not qualify for the playoffs.
GARLAND — Picked to finish second in Region 11 last season, Bear River woefully underachieved. The Bears won just three games and missed the playoffs entirely.
For a program not that far removed from being the king of 3A, it was no doubt a frustrating season.
Coach Chris Wise is hoping a new offense, a revamped coaching staff and a new attitude can help the Bears get back to competing for region and state championships.
“We need to develop the brotherhood that we had in the years we did well. That seemed to be the difference-maker at Bear River. The thing they need to do is trust each other — for one — but also make sure they’re taking care of each other out there on the field,” said Wise.
Like most 3A programs depth is always a concern for the Bears. Wise has little doubt his first-choice kids can compete with anyone in 3A, but the second-choice guys are where the drop off occurs.
“That’s not a knock on the people behind — it’s just the numbers,” said Wise.
Lately, those numbers have taken a hit with many players at Bear River specializing in one sport. During state championship seasons in 2003, 2004 and 2006, most of the elite athletes at the school played multiple sports. The trend has gone away from that.
In 2009 Bear River’s boys basketball team won the 3A championship with a record of 23-1. Not one of those basketball starters played football, which suffered through a 3-7 season and missed the playoffs.
Extreme specialization is unlikely in the coming years. Wise’s coaching staff got a bit of an overhaul this season, and now includes boys basketball coach Kasey Winters, wrestling coach Jeff Smart and baseball coach Don Hawes. Wise is also the track coach.
“That’s what needs to happen at Bear River High School,” said Wise.
On the field, Wise believes a change from the traditional ground-and-pound days of Bear River is needed.
With a talented group of receivers and a quarterback who’s arguably the best running back on the team, Wise hopes to maximize that potential by switching to a spread offense.
The change isn’t necessarily permanent, as Wise always adjusts his schemes based on personnel.
Offensively, Wise said his offensive linemen won’t need to learn new terminology, but they will be learning new techniques and fundamentals.
If all goes well, Wise is hoping for a similar run-pass ratio to past seasons. The difference is quarterback Kyle Zundel will get a lot of the carries.
“If he wasn’t playing quarterback he’d be battling for the starting halfback,” said Wise. “So we’ve got to do something to involve our quarterbacks in the run game.”
Bear River used three quarterbacks last season, and the trio only attempted 127 passes in nine games — most with the Bears trying to play catch up. As a team, the Bears ran the ball 234 times last season.
In the spread offense, Wise wants a 50-50 run-pass ratio. That means more carries for Zundel, who only rushed for 122 yards last year, and much more productivity out of Wade “Bubba” Miller and Garrett Fronk at receiver.
Miller feels very comfortable with the new offense and believes it’s progressing well.
“I think we can make a run for the state title this year,” said Miller, one of just three returning starters on both sides of the ball this year.
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