Ben Brewer, Deseret News
BLANDING — Some programs rebuild. Some programs reload.
Down in Blanding, there hasn’t been a rebuilding year in more than a decade.
With three state titles in the past eight years — not to mention two runner-up finishes during that same stretch — year after year San Juan reloads to make a run at a 2A state championship.
In the watered-down 2A classification — because of the departure of Manti, Richfield and Emery to 3A — don’t expect that to change, even though on paper San Juan might be a bit more vulnerable than it has been in recent memory.
San Juan will be young and inexperienced with only three returning starters from last year’s runner-up team, and only seven total seniors as well.
Veteran coach Monty Lee doesn’t see the inexperience as a problem, though. In fact, quite the contrary.
“They’re wanting their turn. They’ve waited for a chance to show what they can do. It’s kind of fun to coach these kids who are really excited, and who really wanted to work,” said Lee.
This year’s team also isn’t as athletic as past San Juan teams, but not surprisingly that doesn’t concern Lee either.
“A lot of times athleticism is a disadvantage because you don’t have to work as hard to get the same result,” said Lee. “The kids have to work a little harder to get out what they got.”
With more uncertainty than in recent years, Lee is the first to admit it’s going to take awhile for San Juan to settle in. Will it be a dominant defensive team like the past several years, or will the offense carry the load in 2013? Lee said it might take half a season for that identity to emerge.
Some of those questions will be answered in the opening week of the season, when San Juan travels to Snow Canyon. Last season the Broncos beat Snow Canyon 19-11 in the season opener, the first of 11 straight victories for the Broncos. They didn’t taste defeat until Manti booted a 50-yard field in overtime of the 2A championship game last November.
Lee said he doesn’t talk about that loss much with his players.
“I think each year we downplay the year before. We try to emphasize and help these kids realize that this is their year. They get to create their own identity. This is their year and their team,” said Lee.
If there’s one area that isn’t a concern for San Juan, it’s on the offensive line. Chase Richmond, Ben Brewer and Braydon Giddings are all returning starters, a solid foundation any coach would be happy with.
“You don’t win big games without good lineman and we’re real fortunate that we have three returners, and a fourth that’s played a lot. We’re really good across the front line,” said Lee.
That fourth is Lee’s nephew, Easton Lee.
The quartet will be blocking for senior QB Terrance Tate, who has big shoes to fill in replacing Barkley Christensen. The departed Christensen accounted for 2,587 yards of total offense and 33 touchdowns last season, but Coach Lee doesn’t expect Tate to replace that production on his own.
Jens Grover, Max Morley and Bronze Eldredge are all talented skill-position players who will need to step up offensively if San Juan is going to challenge South Summit and Millard for the state title.
San Juan Broncos at a glance
Coach: Monty Lee is entering his 11th season as San Juan’s head coach. He’s amassed a 96-19 record along the way, including state titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010. He’s a graduate of San Juan High School.