GARLAND How does a team go from winning a state title one year to winning one game the following year?
There are probably several ways to not get the job done, but injuries are what ultimately derailed the Bear River Bears last year. A year after claiming the 3A state title in 2006 with a 10-4 record, the program endured 33 injuries from top to bottom in 2007 and finishing with a 1-10 mark.
"If you have a group who play together and you lose a star athlete, I think you can still be OK, but you can't lose 33 kids," said Bear River coach Chris Wise, who led the Bears to three state titles in his five seasons as head coach.
With so much success recently, clearly 2007 was an aberration. But how will the kids respond a year later?
"I've noticed that the kids who've played for the state championships, they cared about each other, they loved each other, and I can see that with this group. That's encouraging," Wise said. "The talent level isn't as high, but they know that, so they try and compensate with hard work."
In reality, with the number of juniors expected to start, the Bears might be a year away from competing for another state title. Wise expects his entire starting offense to be full of juniors and sophomores, led by junior quarterback James Taylor.
The younger brother of Caldwell Taylor, a defensive end at Weber State, James Taylor ranks first in his class academically and an intense leader who started all but three games as a sophomore last year.
"He's a real leader. He knows where he wants people and he isn't afraid to tell a player what he thinks, and as a result his teammates really respect him," Wise said.
As a sophomore, Taylor rushed for five touchdowns and passed for five. More of a running quarterback last year, Taylor attended summer camps at BYU and Weber State to work on his throwing mechanics to be more of a threat in the air.
Like the rest of his offensive teammates, they'll all be underclassmen. In the backfield, junior Hayden Haddock and sophomore Peyton Wells are expected to be the primary ball carriers.
Haddock, along with 290-pound defensive lineman Richard Peterson, are expected to anchor the defense. Haddock will start at middle linebacker while senior returning starter Colton Wood will start at defensive back.
"Our strength has always been our defense, so in the past our offensive philosophy has been don't put the defense in a bad situations," said Wise. "Our defense looks pretty good this year."Bear River should obviously be better than last year, but the coaching staff has seen enough in the past two years to know anything can happen.
Bear River Bears preview
COACH: In five years as Bear River's head coach, Chris Wise a former Bear River all-stater has three state titles to his credit in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
KEY PLAYERS: Whenever the Bears have been successful under Wise, it's because they've had a solid defense but excellent ball carriers as well going back to Jason Zundel in 2003 and 2004. This year, the three primary runners are all underclassmen. Quarterback James Taylor, along with running backs Hayden Haddock and Peyton Wells will need to find a way to get the job running behind a junior-dominated offensive line if the Bears are to be successful.
QUESTION MARK: It's probably good that only three starters return from last year's one-win team from a mentality standpoint. At the same time it means Bear River is going to be young and inexperienced. The team's entire offense will be underclassmen while a good chunk of defensive starters will be young as well. There will most definitely be a learning curve in the preseason.
LAST YEAR: 1-10, missed the playoffs.
PREDICTED REGION 11 FINISH: Third.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Don't expect 33 injuries this year, therefore don't expect Bear River to miss the playoffs again either. In a region with 3A favorite Logan, a second-place finish in Region 11 seems like an attainable goal and in the playoffs anything beyond a semifinal appearance would be considered exceeding expectations.
Aug. 22 at Cedar, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 at ALA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 BOX ELDER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 RAYMOND, CANADA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 BYE
Sept. 26 at Ben Lomond, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Grantsville, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 OGDEN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Morgan, 7 p.m.Oct. 24 LOGAN, 7 p.m.