These kids are born bleeding purple. In a lot of communities throughout the state, kids might have some different options on where they want to attend high school. But in this community, it seems like you're born to be a Bee. —Robbie Gunter, Box Elder head football coach
BRIGHAM CITY — Purple Pride isn't something you can pick up at the supermarket or hardware store, and you can't drive it off the showroom floor or order it online, either.
Nope, Purple Pride is a passion that you're either born with, or something you quickly acquire by growing up in this great old farming community in Box Elder County.
And this year, the Box Elder High School football team aims to give the folks up here something to be plenty proud about.
The Bees begin their 2013 season Friday against a strong Syracuse squad that was a 5A finalist last year. The Titans are one of three Region 1 teams Box Elder will face in an ambitious preseason schedule that the Bees hope will help prepare them for a run at the Region 5 title and a strong postseason showing.
And it all starts with an ample helping of Purple Pride, harkening back to the school colors and the way their loyal fans feel about their tradition-rich program.
"These kids are born bleeding purple," said Box Elder coach Robbie Gunter. "In a lot of communities throughout the state, kids might have some different options on where they want to attend high school. But in this community, it seems like you're born to be a Bee.
"These kids up here grow up being friends and neighbors with each other — they really like each other — and that's one of the many great things about this community."
Indeed, that tight-knit unity and camaraderie will help pull the Bees together and get them through some tough times, which inevitably hit every prep program from time to time. This year's team possesses superior experience at several positions, and some promising new faces at other spots.
Leading the way are a couple of four-year starters at linebacker, Shad Watson and Breckin Gunter, who have been through the wars for the last three years and lend tremendous leadership and stability to the program. Watson is also a returning starter at quarterback, and Coach Gunter is impressed with the player and person that Watson's become.
"He's a big, strong kid with a great arm, and he's a good leader for us," the Bees coach said. "He'll get our kids to compete together as a team."
Breckin Gunter not only joins Watson as a four-year starter at linebacker, but he is also a returning starter at fullback and, with his size, strength and speed, is a load to try and bring down for opposing defenders.
Joining them in the backfield is another senior returning starter, Matt Williams, at running back, with junior Riley Burt backing him up. Senior Robbie Gathercole and junior Casey Stevens will back up Gunter at fullback.
On the interior offensive line, junior Zak Kaleikini will start at center after playing the offensive guard and tackle spots last season. Talan Carr, a senior, will back him up.
The starting guards will be senior Luke Daley, another returning starter, and senior Schafer Lange, while senior Cordon Barker will start at one tackle position, with senior Bent Bryan and junior Cooper Parson battling for the other tackle spot.
And promising sophomore Darius McFarland gets the call at tight end, where senior Caleb Thomson is also hankering for some playing time.
Over on defense, Daley is a returning starter at tackle, with senior Tony Gonzalez, Schafer, Barker and Kaleikini also ticketed for duty at D-tackle. Barker, McFarland and Gathercole will see playing time at defensive end.
Hubbard, Pena and senior Skyler Ketsdever will play safety in the secondary, with Brooks, Udy and seniors Hunter Morgan and Peter Gerlach also aiming for some cornerback reps in the defensive backfield.
Gerlach and junior Tyler Burgan will handle the place-kicking chores.
"The kids are working hard together as a team," Coach Gunter said. "They've done a lot of work in the offseason, and now it's time for all that hard work they've done to pay off."
And they'll need that reward if they are to remain competitive in a rugged Region 5 race that features at least five bona fide contenders for the league title, including the Bees.
"I think it's loaded; I think it's a great region this year," Gunter said. "The Cache Valley schools are all tough, and Roy is probably as good as they've been in a long time with great young kids and they're competing at a high level.
"The three Cache Valley schools, who knows which one is the best, but they are all excellent. Mountain Crest has won it the last few years, so you've gotta give it to them going into it; you've gotta knock them off. Just because Mountain Crest has done it so many times, you have to say that they're the favorite. They've got a lot of new faces this year, but they always seem to put it together.
"I don't know that I'd pick a favorite," he said. "I think that they're all pretty good. Sky View is very athletic and has their starting quarterback back; they're always very athletic, they're pretty amazing up there. Logan's always right there, too, and they come up with something each year."
The Bees' schedule certainly doesn't do them any favors. Not only do they begin with three games against bigger 5A schools from Region 1, but they'll finish their regular season with two of three games on the road against Cache Valley rivals Sky View (away), Mountain Crest (home) and Logan (away).
Coach Gunter is well aware that the schedule could be a factor in determining Box Elder's success this season.
"Every week is so important," he said. "We get Mountain Crest and Logan back-to-back at the end of the season, and we'll try to get to that point where that still means something. That's the goal is to make those games mean something at the end."
And if they do, Purple Pride will no doubt be running rampant in the streets of Brigham City and all those surrounding communities that feed into this tradition-rich high school, where the kids are seemingly born to be Bees.
Box Elder Bees at a glance
Coach: Robbie Gunter begins his fifth season as head coach at Box Elder, where he has guided the Bees to a 21-22 overall record. In nine seasons as a high school head coach, Gunter's teams have gone 57-51 overall.
(5 returning starters; wing-T)
With strong-armed senior Shad Watson returning as the starting quarterback, Box Elder can't help but feel might optimistic. Throw running backs Matt Williams and Breckin Gunter into the mix, along with slotback Jayk Brooks and an offensive line led by senior guard Luke Daley, and the Bees appear primed to repeatedly sting their opponents this season.
(4 returning starters; 4-3-4)
Breckin Gunter and Shad Watson lead the way from their linebacker spots, where they're both four-year starters, and Luke Daley holds down the defensive tackle position for a second-straight season. A lack of depth will force the Bees to employ several players as two-way starters, so fatigue could become an issue at times and their success might hinge on how well the backups are able to hold up. But there are quality performers throughout Box Elder's lineup on both sides of the ball.
Coaches preseason Region 5 straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 5 prediction: Third
Bottom line: The Bees begin their season with three of their first four games against Region 1 (5A) opponents Syracuse, Layton and Weber, which will help give them a measuring stick as to how they stack up this season. Box Elder finishes its Region 5 campaign with the Cache Valley trifecta — at Sky View, home against Mountain Crest and at Logan — which will go a long way in determining the region title and final league standings. But the Bees are renowned for their tight team togetherness and competitive spirit, and that should help them prevail in tough times.
Box Elder coaching history
2009-Current — Robbie Gunter (21-22)
1991-2008 — Wes Roesler (128-71)
1988-1990 — Larry Findley (18-10)
1981-1987 — Michale Madeo (39-29)
1979-1980 — Larry Findley (10-10)
1974-1978 — Gordon Peterson (21-25)
1964-1973 — Unknown (56-40)
1963 — Gerald Simmons (2-6)
1960-1962 — Les Dunn (22-9)
1921-1959 — Earl Ferguson (213-78)
1917-1920 — Alvin Twitchell (7-7)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Breckin Gunter, LB
2011 — Britton Gunter, DB
2006 — Riggin Holmgren, OL
2006 — Curtis Cosgrove, DL
2006 — Broc Lindauer, LB
2006 — Alex Nelson, DB
2004 — Nate Brown, DL
2004 — Jordan Brown, DB
2003 — Beau Herbert, RB
2003 — Matt Putnam, DL
2003 — Dan Sumko, SP
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.