Butte County High School
Conference: Sawtooth Conference East Division
Classification: 1A D2
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Head Coach: Sam Thorngren
Years as Head Coach: 10th Season
Record Last Year: 6-3
Landen Gamett, QB/DB, 12
Matt Isham, RB/DB, 12
Aaron Mays, TE/NG, 12
Bryant Webb, RB/LB, 12
Kalib Hawley, OL/LB, 11
Brett Waymire, RB/DB, 11
Returning Players with Honors:
Landen Gamett, 1st Team All-Conference QB
Kalib Hawley, 1st Team All-Conference OL
Bryant Webb, 1st Team All-Conference DE
Key Players lost from last year:
Jeremie Hjelm, RB/DB, (High Desert Conference Player of the Year)
Cougar Coburn, K/P, (1st Team All-State K/P, 1st Team All-Conference K/P)
Keller Lambson, TE/DE, (2nd Team All-State DE, 1st Team All-Conference TE/DE)
Written by: Matt Harris (@IdahoSportsMatt)
The 2015 season for the Butte County Pirates could be remembered as one with much promise but unrealized potential.
The Arco-based team played very well throughout the year, earning a 6-2 record heading into the state play-in round, however late season injuries took their toll and hampered the squad in their win-or-go-home contest against Oakley, a game which they lost 60-20. Despite that, Butte County head coach Sam Thorngren said he and his squad learned lessons that he hopes to be able to apply to the 2016 edition of the Pirates.
“As talented as we were last season, we played lethargic way too often,” he said. “We want to see more passion and pride. Our ‘X-Factor’ to the season is our attitude. We don’t have any egos on the team and these guys are very coachable.”
Butte County will go through somewhat of a transition this season as several key players have graduated and the school drops down to the 1A Division-II classification.
“We lost a big senior class from last season. We have a couple of guys coming back who didn’t play last season and we have some really good younger players that I think can contribute. It will be interesting to see who steps up to lead the team.”
The Pirates will begin their season in search of players capable of producing the amount of yardage that outgoing seniors Jeremie Hjelm and Zac Harrell brought to the table. Hjelm recorded 1,415 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns while Harrell ran for 806 yards and 12 touchdowns – very lofty numbers that are not easy to replace. Hjelm was also the High Desert Conference Player of the Year. Linemen Gerrett Blattner, Zane Danz, and Tyler Techick all graduated, along with First Team All-Conference tight end Keller Lambson and First Team All-State kicker and punter Cougar Coburn.
While Butte County lost a good amount of seniors, they bring back a healthy crop of talent to Glenn Field once again this year. Leading the way is senior quarterback Landen Gamett, a First Team All-Conference selection last season. He is joined in the backfield by senior running backs Matt Isham and Bryant Webb, along with junior tailback Brett Waymire. Senior Aaron Mays will take over the tight end position and junior Kalib Hawley, a First Team All-Conference selection, will look to anchor the line.
“We pride ourselves on running the ball well… we are a true Wing-T team,” said Thorngren, now in his 10th season leading the Pirates. “We have a stable of running backs who are waiting to break out. It will be interesting to see who separates themselves from the pack.” Butte County averaged 34.8 points per game last season.
The Pirates enjoy the power-run game but understand that balance is needed, especially with so much of last year’s offense gone due to graduation.
“We need to improve our play-action passing game, and I think we have the guys to get that done,” Thorngren said. “We will need to rely more on our passing game that we have in past seasons.”
Gamett was the lead man under center last season and, while he didn’t throw the ball much, he passed for 577 yards and four touchdowns. Expect those numbers to jump for his senior campaign.
Defensively, the Pirates will have to replace many of the same players that they did on offense, as most everyone was a two-way player. That includes Second Team All-State defensive end Keller Lambson, who recorded 90 tackles in just nine games last season. Hjelm was also a big factor on defense, contributing 77 tackles last year, while Danz and Harrell added 62 and 56 tackles apiece.
Butte County does bring back First Team All-Conference defensive end Bryant Webb, who recorded 58 tackles last year. Gamett was second on the team with 88 total tackles from his position in the secondary. Along with Gamett, the Pirates defensive backfield will feature Waymire and Isham, giving them a solid presence. Mays will take over at nose guard and Hawley and Webb will operate behind him from the linebacker position.
“We are a disciplined defense. Our guys do a good job of stopping the run and swarming to the ball,” said Thorngren. “However we want to create more turnovers this season.” The Pirates recovered nine fumbles last season and picked off opposing quarterbacks seven times while giving up an average of 25.3 points per game.
Four years ago, Butte County made the transition to the 8-man game after dropping down from the 2A classification to 1A Division-I. This season, shrinking enrollment at the school sees them move down to Idaho’s smallest classification, 1A Division-II. With that comes a new conference, new teams, and new rivals. They join the Sawtooth East Conference and will square off against the likes of North Gem, Rockland, Watersprings, and Clark County.
“We really don’t know a lot about our new conference,” said Thorngren. “We did play Clark County and Watersprings last season… both teams are well coached. I think both of those schools lost a bunch of seniors and we aren’t very familiar with their young guys who are stepping in. From what I understand, North Gem should be a front-runner.” Butte County plays North Gem in Bancroft on September 16th.
While the team will have a learning curve in terms of studying up on their opponents, the Pirates kick off the season in earnest on August 26th on the road against old conference-foe Grace. After a bye week, the Pirates return to Arco for their home opener against Dietrich before travelling to the aforementioned game at North Gem. Butte County then heads eastward across the desert to Idaho Falls to take on private Christian school Watersprings before returning home to face Idaho City on September 30th. Butte County opens up October with a trip to Wells, Nevada before finishing out the regular season schedule at home against Clark County and on the road at Rockland.
“We’ve developed a nice rivalry with Grace,” Thorngren said. “We shared the High Desert Conference title with them last season. The Dietrich and North Gem games should be tough contests as well. Our meeting against Idaho City will be the first of any kind between our two schools to the best of my knowledge.”
It’s been 10 years and a lot of football for Coach Thorngren. But he appreciates the opportunity to not only lead the team, but to help lead and guide young men in what is the most crucial time of their lives.
“I enjoy working with the athletes. It’s rewarding to see them develop as individuals from their freshman to senior years. Football provides them a tool to learn a lot of valuable life lessons that they can apply to the rest of the lives.”
The fans in Arco and surrounding area are ready to flip on the Friday Night Lights once again this season. Butte County, if they can find their footing early enough, could certainly be in contention for a conference championship.