Sugar-Salem High School
Conference: 3A Mountain Rivers Conference
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Head Coach: Tyler Richins
Years as Head Coach: 4th Season
Previous Experience: Assistant Coach at Hillcrest – 2 years
Assistant Coach at Shelley – 3 years
Record Last Year: 6-3
State Titles: None
Dylan Pope, RB/DB, 12
Jacob Christensen, WR/DB, 12
Chandler Pincock, TE/DL, 12
Wolfgang Bennion, OL/DL, 12
Mason Balzen, OL/DL, 12
Kyle Ostermiller, RB/LB, 11
Brady Blaser, OL/LB, 11
Hayden Crapo, QB/LB/DB, 11
Returning Players with Honors:
Dylan Pope – First Team All-Conference DB, Second Team All-State DB
Brady Blaser – Second Team All-Conference LB
Jacob Christensen – Second Team All-Conference DB
Chandler Pincock – Honorable Mention All-Conference TE
Key Players lost from last year:
Jaron Rose – First Team All-State RB
Austin Williams – Second Team All-State OL
Kyle Terry – First Team All-State K
Incoming impact players:
Kyle Ostermiller, RB/LB, 11
Curtis Drake, RB/LB, 11
Ethan Warner, WR/DB, 11
Wyatt Crapo, DL, 11
Cole Mace, LB, 11
Ethan Williams, OL/LB, 11
Kael Wasden, OL/DL, 12
Blake Neria, OL/DL, 12
Written by: Matt Harris
Injuries aren’t something you can really plan for. You just have to deal with them as they come.
For the 2016 edition of the Sugar-Salem Diggers, untimely injuries robbed them of what may have been a deep playoff run. All-State running back Jaron Rose, among others, went down with a season ending injury in Week 7. After starting the season 6-0, the blue-and-white dropped three straight games including a state play-in contest against eventual runner up Shelley. It was not how they wanted to end their promising season.
But with heartbreak comes the opportunity to learn and grow, which is exactly what the Diggers have done during the offseason. They know of their strengths and weaknesses and are working to improve on them.
“Our offseason has been busy,” said head coach Tyler Richins, now in his fourth season leading the Diggers program. “Our players have been dedicated. Our team is more cohesive and they enjoy playing together.”
That’s a good sign for Sugar-Salem, as this is their youngest team at the school since Richins took over the program in 2014. It will mean that this group of young athletes will have plenty of opportunities to excel on the field – not only this season, but beyond.
“We are excited to watch their growth over the course of the season,” Richins said. “This team is also the hardest working and most dedicated team we have seen overall. We are excited to watch their hard work pay off.” He added that he felt this year’s team has some similarities to his 2015 squad, in that they were very young but worked hard and ended up with a 9-2 record and a state third place trophy.
“We believe in some ways our youth can be an advantage.”
Don’t be mistaken, there is some senior experience on the team. They are led by senior running back Dylan Pope, who will be joined in the backfield by juniors Kyle Ostermiller and Curtis Drake. The wide receivers will be led by senior Jake Christensen with junior Ethan Warner helping to fortify the position and senior tight end Chandler Pincock also giving the Diggers another target. Junior Hayden Crapo will take over under center in the Diggers Wing-T based offense.
Up front, the line will be anchored by seniors Wolfgang Bennion and Mason Balzen along with junior Brady Blaser. Expect seniors Kael Wasden and Blake Neira and junior Ethan Williams to have an impact on the line as well.
With a good amount of returning players with experience on the line, Sugar-Salem should be able to maximize their best strength: their speed.
“When you can have State 100-meter Final runners Dylan Pope and Jake Christensen both on the field at the same time, how could that not excite you?” said Richins. “Then you add in the power running of Kyle Ostermiller and speed on the edge from Curtis Drake, that really makes us excited. We feel that we have more depth this year than we have had in the past at our skill positions. Being able to keep our backs and receivers fresh could be a benefit as the season progresses.”
One noticeable area that Richins said his team has worked on feverishly to improve is the passing game.
“We believe the pass game is what is going to take us to the next level,” he said. “It’s an area that we haven’t had a lot of confidence in. Offseason workouts and camp have helped us gain some confidence going into the season.” Richins added that his team lost the time-of-possession battle last season as well and needs to be better about keeping their defense off of the field.
Defensively, the Diggers bring back a good mix of experience with young, youthful talent. Pope, who was an All-State selection at defensive back, will lead the secondary along with Christensen, Crapo, and Warner. In the linebacking corps, expect to see Ostermiller and Blaser leading the charge with help from Drake, Williams, and junior Cole Mace. On the line, the familiar names of Pincock, Bennion, and Balzen will look to disrupt opposing offenses, with Wasden, Neria, and junior Wyatt Crapo seeing time at the position.
Richins says that Pope will be looked upon as the leader of the entire defense.
“Dylan is now a senior and has started for us at safety since his sophomore year. He is critical to our success on defense,” he said. “He is very comfortable in pass coverage and also as a run stopper. He has averaged over 70 tackles his last two seasons.”
The coach added that the team speed which is present on offense will certainly translate over to their defense too.
“Team speed is also improved from last year on defense. Brady Blaser started for us last year as a sophomore at middle linebacker. His year of experience and leadership will be important to our young players,” he said.
The Diggers team speed could certainly aid them in the turnover battle from week to week.
“We want to see our turnover margin increase from last year,” said Richins. “We ended up plus-2 overall and would like to see that much higher this year. We need to give our offense more opportunities to score. Big plays on defense really do influence the game.”
The team will have the opportunity to test their offseason improvements right off the bat against perennial 2A contender Declo at home on Aug. 25. Sugar-Salem will then host Jackson, Wyoming the following week on Sept. 1. The Diggers will then hit the road for three consecutive games when they play at Snake River on Sept. 8 and at Marsh Valley on Sept. 15. After a bye week on Sept. 22, they travel to the Magic Valley to take on the 4A Jerome Tigers on Sept. 29.
Mountain Rivers Conference play then opens on Oct. 6 with the Diggers hosting the annual ‘Cold War’ rivalry game against South Fremont. The team then heads eastward to take on the Teton Redskins in Driggs on Oct. 13 before wrapping up the regular season at home against Shelley on Oct. 19.
Richins echoed the comments of other league coaches when talking about the caliber of teams they play in the Mountain Rivers Conference.
“Any conference game we would consider must-see,” he said. “We believe we play in the toughest 3A conference in the state.”
The Diggers understand that they aren’t necessarily the most experienced team in their conference. But, that doesn’t matter to them. They know that hard work, repetition, and dedication is what will drive them to success.
“We talk about being part of the process and embracing it,” said Richins. “We will be an extremely young team with not a lot of varsity experience, but we have high expectations and know we need to attack the season one game at a time.”
Can the Diggers overcome their overall youth and snag a playoff berth out of the competitive Mountain Rivers Conference? Richins believes anything is possible.
“If our young players can mature quickly and be counted on in their respective positions, we could have a great year.”