Photo By Patty Theurer - #32 Cole Martin
Written by Will Hoenike
Many around the White Pine League might joke that Ryan Hasselstrom and the Prairie Pirates don’t need much help on the football field. The team has won three state titles in the past six years at the 1A Division I level, winning 60 of its 67 football games in that span.
But this season’s edition of the Pirates squad returns Cole Martin, the reigning 1A Division 1 State Player of the Year. Martin ran for over 1,600 yards, averaging close to 11 yards per carry, and scored 24 touchdowns. He also intercepted six passes, returning three for touchdowns, as a junior. All of those numbers were accumulated in a season where he rarely played entire games; the Pirates only won one game (the state championship game) by fewer than 28 points and topped 70 points five times en route to a perfect 11-0 season.
The Pirates also return senior Dean Johnson, who was a first-team All-State performer on both offense and defense, along with second-team All-State quarterback Cole Schlader.
Prairie also must replace a number of outstanding performers, including Owen Anderson, who is headed to The College of Idaho to play football and continue his education, along with Derik Shears, Sam Mager, Hayden Uhlenkott and Reid Uptmor. The team got a good head start on replacing so many talented athletes by winning so many games by lopsided scores last fall, as Hasselstrom was able to spread the playing time around.
“We’ve got some new guys in positions but each of those players got minutes on the varsity last year, so it shouldn’t change our philosophy too much,” he said. “We will try to be balanced this year, but we’ll probably be more run-heavy early in the season.”
Which means a heavy dose of Martin, but he won’t be a one-man show. Juniors Tayden Hibbard and Brody Hasselstrom will both fill roles as running backs and linebackers for the Pirates.
Prairie’s offense received much of the attention last season. But its defense more than did its share. The Pirate defense stymied a powerful Lost Rivers (Butte County/Mackay co-operative team) team, holding the Pirates to just six points in the championship game. Only Troy (24 points) and Raft River (26) topped 20 points all season against Prairie. Johnson, Martin, Schlader, and senior Dalton Ross all return to fill roles with Hibbard and Hasselstrom in line to see more playing time on the defensive side of the ball.
“We usually play aggressive, yet disciplined defense,” Hasselstrom said. “Every player has to do their part and be prepared for the competition.”
Historically, the White Pine competition is among the best in the state, which ups the pressure on Prairie despite the strong core of returning players. The 1A Division I classification has changed its state tournament format. Instead of the standard, eight-team format, there will be twelve teams that qualify from the postseason in the classification. Five conference champions will automatically qualify, the top four of which will receive first-round byes. The fifth conference champion will be joined by seven at-large teams in an opening round, seeking spots in the ensuing quarterfinals.
The Pirates last missed the playoffs in 2013, and it seems unlikely that this team would fail to qualify for postseason play. Prairie has an opportunity to make a run for a fifth state championship, fourth since 2014.
Prairie opens the season against Oakley at Middleton High School Aug. 29. Check back with IdahoSports.com for updated scores and schedules throughout the season.