'We've got a lot of kids that were good for us on junior varsity. The only worry I have is that means we have a lot of kids who haven't proven themselves on the varsity level.'
Skyview High School football coach
When fourth-year Skyview football coach Wade Marcuson charged onto the field with 65 players on the first day of practice, up from just 22 players in his first year, many a forest ranger would have been proud.
After all, one of the first rules of bear country is to travel in groups that are as big as possible.
Skyview did get a visit from a sow and a couple of cubs on the first day of practice this year, and the family had no interest in getting close to the pack of Panthers Marcuson thinks will number 80 by the time school rolls around.
But the coach obviously has more in mind for his burgeoning number of gridders than bear protection.
"By far, this is the most overall talent I've had since I've been here," Marcuson said. "A couple of years ago, we had a lot of talent at our skill positions with (Chris) Hodel, (Jerrod) Reynolds and (Dorian) Heatherly. It was a good group of kids, but we didn't have enough on the line.
"This year's team has balance and depth."
Skyview junior vasity football team. Freshmen: Steve Buben, Kenny Dean, Richard Derkevorkian, Daniel England, Jake Eveland, Cory Hatten, Liloa Lavea, Linson Lavea, Duke McGarvey, Logan McKay, Jimmie Miller, Jordan Oleson, Anthony Quelland, Zach Rowell, Aaron Singleton, Jason Smith, Nathan Smith, Matthew Smith, Forrest West, Steven Jicha. Sophomores: Brandon Cleveland, Tim Cole, Adam Cooper, Ryan Geller, Ty Grenier, Billy Honeysett, Dave Kosydar, Travis Mercier, Nick Pyfer, Kaleb Shields, Antonio Silva, Andrew Smith, Cody Williams, Jake Savely, Joel Morse, Kelly Kitchen. Juniors: Matt Bell, Cameron Gardner, Kiel Nichols, Jack Reed.
The Panthers return a handful of players from last year's 3-4 team that finished third in the Northern Lights Conference. Added to those core players will be a group that finished 6-1 at the junior varsity level.
"We've got a lot of kids that were good for us on junior varsity," Marcuson said. "The only worry I have is that means we have a lot of kids who haven't proven themselves at the varsity level."
However, with depth at pretty much every position, Marcuson has the luxury of two or three chances at every slot of finding a varsity-caliber player.
"The whole idea is the more players there are, the more competition there is going to be for positions," Marcuson said. "We're not just going to give away positions this year. They're going to have to be earned.
"And players will know there is always somebody there pushing them for their spot."
And what if Marcuson starts finding more than one player that can adequately fill a position? He'll have depth, which is a rarity in the small-schools football division.
"The only problem is that we have to make decisions quickly as a coaching staff," Marcuson said. "If you have three or four kids splitting time at a position in practice for too long, pretty soon your starters aren't getting enough reps."
One player who should be secure at his position is senior quarterback Ely Evanson, who was all-conference last year in going 31-for-85 with 471 yards and six touchdowns.
After that, the competition begins. Evanson should find a familiar target in senior Mark McGarry, who was second in the conference last year with nine receptions.
Others vying for time at wide receiver are senior David Quelland, junior Lukas Fellman and senior Ryan Singleton, a transfer from Michigan. Evanson also will look for Neil Darling, a senior tight end.
Senior Travis Endsley is the top returning rusher for the Panthers. Endsley ate up 236 yards on 65 carries last year, but he will be pushed this year by junior running backs Adam Kosydar and Shawn Reeve.
Marcuson also has a veritable cornucopia of players to chose from on the offensive line. The list is topped by junior returners Ryan Staab and Trevor Tompkins, but also includes senior Bobby Childers, juniors Mikael Barnes, Dylan Mabe, Christian Rice and Jacob Oliver and sophomore Ross Spruill.
Finally, junior Jamie Beever figures to battle for the kicking spot.
On defense, the Panthers gave up just 79 points in seven games last year. That stat's deceiving, though, because in big games the Panthers gave up points too easily on big plays.
"We're replacing a lot of people on defense this year, but we were susceptible to big plays last year," Marcuson said. "We have to prove that's not going to happen again this year."
The biggest problem was receivers getting behind the secondary. Marcuson has a number of players to fill those four positions this year to make sure that doesn't happen again.
The candidates are juniors Mike Waer, Kevin McGrady and Aaron Dodd, senior Taylor Adams, McGarry, Singleton, Fellman and Reeve.
Tompkins and Kosydar will play at inside linebacker, while Darling and junior Justin Rainwater will play end.
The defensive line will be made up of the same players as the offensive line.
"Things are going good right now," Marcuson said. "We've only had two absences from practice that I didn't know about before practice.
"We've just got to keep things going good."
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