NOTE: Bear River finished with a 5-5 overall record in 2010 and tied for second in Region 11 with a 3-2 record. It lost to Desert Hills, 15-14, in the first round of the 3A playoffs.
GARLAND — It's hard to believe that in the four years since Bear River's last football state championship, the team has enjoyed just one winning season. After all, this was a program that not that long ago won three titles in a span of four years.
Bear River coach Chris Wise believes this particular collection of players has the intangibles to become relevant in 3A again and build on the positive things they accomplised last year.
"I hope we can build on that. That's been what's been the problem the past few years. You get them to a certain point, and then the senior leaders are gone and then you have to start over," said Wise. "I think this group for maybe the first time in two or three years has the ability to build on what the teams before have done."
That's impressive considering that there aren't that many returning starters — two on offense and three on defense.
What Bear River lacks in experience it makes up for in mentality.
"We have a lot of hard-nosed farm kids, so I think you're going to see Bear River of old as far as running the ball," said Wise.
That attitude should translate over to the defensive side of the ball as well as the Bears look to rediscover the smash-mouth brand of football that made them so tough to beat not that long ago.
Wise said he'll miss being in the same region as the Catholic schools — Juan Diego and Judge Memorial — but he's excited about what programs like Tooele, Stansbury and Ogden will add to Region 11 as they move down from 4A to 3A.
Offensively, quarterback Tayton Rose will be counted on for big things. He has a very good understanding of the zone-running offense and is a capable passer as well. One of the few returning starters, he brings a level of continuity back that Bear River should be able to build on.
With very little in the way of experience on the offensive line, Bear River spent a good chunk of the summer trying to simplify the offense.
"With the young group of kids, it's going to be important to do a few things really well, and that's what we've been focusing on," said Wise. "Find out what the parts are going to be and then finding how to use them the best we can within what we already do. That's still kind of up in the air."
Even though Wise isn't sure how it will all come together, he believes those parts are in the mold of past Bear River teams who relished the challenge of playing smash-mouth football.
Bear River Bears at a glance
Coach: Chris Wise is entering his 10th season as Bear River's head coach, and he's one of the longest-tenured coaches in school history. He's amassed a 58-45 record along the way, including state titles in 2003, 2004 and 2006. He's a graduate of Bear River High School.
(2 returning starters; zone-running offense)
When it mattered most last year, the offense disappeared. In a pair of losses to Juan Diego and Grantsville to end the regular season, Bear River only scored one TD in each game. Those struggles continued into the first round of the playoffs as visiting Deseret Hills, another low-scoring team, edged the Bears in overtime, 15-14. Some fresh faces could make a big difference this year. Senior Wes Fukui and junior Kyle Zundel will see the bulk of the carries at running back and could evolve into a great 1-2 punch. Defenses won't be able to just key on the run, though. Wide receiver Wade Miller has great hands, while Hazen Wood is a "workhorse" according to his coach. Rose had a decent completion percentage and TD-interception ratio last year, and that should only improve this year.
(3 returning starters)
The presence of Clark Jeppesen and Jeremie Selman at defensive end could be the strength of the entire team. "They're rangy and can get up field and get after a passer, but also have a great explosive first step that can stop the run," said Wise. Jeppesen is a senior, while Selman is just a sophomore. Selman wears a size 16 shoe, and is someone who should make a big name for himself over the next three years. Bear River will be breaking in a new collection of linebackers, but there's some talent in the secondary. Wade Miller will start at safety, while Lane Miller and Taylor Day will patrol the cornerback slots.
Coaches preseason Region 11 straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 11 prediction: First
Bottom line: The first three games, particularly preseason games against Logan and Box Elder, will reveal a lot about this team. The coaching staff wants to get back to the days of old by becoming a power rushing team and playing smash-mouth defense. That might be easier said than done for a program that's struggled with that aspect in the past four years. If things come together as Wise expects though, a region championship is a very real possibility.
Aug. 19 — at Logan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — PRESTON, IDAHO, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — at Box Elder, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — STANSBURY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Ogden, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — BEN LOMOND, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — MORGAN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Grantsville, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — BYE
Oct. 19 — at Tooele, 7 p.m.