Note: San Juan finished with a 6-5 overall record in 2013 and tied for third in 2A South with a 3-3 record. It lost to South Summit 43-0 in the 2A quarterfinals.
BLANDING — From 2008 to 2012, San Juan’s football team only lost four total games.
Last year the Broncos lost five games and bowed out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007. It wasn’t entirely surprising.
There were rumblings heading into the season that it would be a down year for the traditional 2A power, a fate that was sealed in Week 2 when star linebacker Bronze Eldredge went down with a dislocated shoulder and was lost for the season.
“In 2A, you don’t have the luxury of two or three deep in a spot. In 2A, if you lose a horse like Bronze that can be devastating,” said coach Monty Lee, who’s entering his 12th season with the Broncos. “We’ve lost kids before and we’ve been able to pick up the pieces, but last year was one of those nails that is driven into the coffin. We never recovered.”
San Juan’s coaching staff waited and waited for someone to step up and fill that emotional void, but nobody did as the team finished with a disappointing 6-5 record.
Fast forward to this season, and things are looking much brighter for the Broncos.
Not only is Eldredge back from injury and ready to put San Juan on his back, but Lee said so are a bunch of his teammates too.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that will do that this year,” said Lee.
That collective hunger, particularly defensively, makes San Juan a scary team heading into the 2014 season.
During San Juan’s perfect 12-0 season in 2010, the Broncos only allowed 3.3 ppg. Even though it came short of its ultimate goal in 2011 and 2012, the defense still dominated, only allowing 8.3 ppg and 5.9 ppg, respectively.
Last year that scoring defense ballooned to 18.7 ppg.
Lee believes this year’s defense can be as dominant as those recent teams if it avoids the devastating injuries.
“We’re really going to put a lot of emphasis on defense and giving opportunities to the offense through our defense,” said Lee. “We’re going to try to get the old defensive mentality back.”
After losing to South Summit 43-0 in the quarterfinals last year, it’s easy to see why defense is the priority.
So too is special teams after last year’s disaster, particularly in kick coverage.
“We had way too many punts that ended up on our side of the 50-yard line. That’s going to be our big focus,” said Lee. “We’ve lost too many big games because of special teams. We’ve always used it to give kids a chance to get a feel of varsity, and we’re not going to do that anymore.”
Offensively, San Juan is counting on junior quarterback Payton Palmer to get the team back to respectability after a disappointing 2013 season in which it only averaged 18.9 ppg.
An injury thrust Palmer into the starting role the final six games of the season, and he struggled at times, completing just 41.9 percent of his passes for 574 yards, six TDs and four interceptions.
Much bigger things are expected this year.