BRIGHAM CITY – Box Elder High football coach Robbie Gunter readily admits the individual level of talent on his team might not be what it is for other schools.
To counter that, Gunter emphasizes playing as a team and making sure his 11 guys on the field as a unit are better than the opposing team’s 11 guys.
For the most part in 2013, Gunter and Box Elder saw success with that mindset.
That is, until the first-round playoff game at Woods Cross.
Woods Cross scored three first-quarter touchdowns and built a 34-0 first-half lead on its way to a 42-14 blowout.
The 42 points were the most Box Elder allowed in a game all season.
“The kids were starting to question, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’” Gunter said. “Instead of just settling down, they got wound up. We’re about the 11 guys playing together and when you start playing 11 guys separate, now you’re in trouble, and that’s probably what happened more than anything. It snowballed on us.”
A lot has changed for Box Elder since that playoff debacle – and there will be a lot of different faces comprising those 11-man offensive and defensive units for the Bees in 2014 – but the mindset of 11 guys working together remains the same, as has the expectation to play solid football.
“Our expectation is to compete for the region championship,” Gunter said. “We put that out there every year. That’s our goal. Because when you get to the playoffs, if you get there as a fourth-place team, that’s a pretty steep hill to climb. If you get there (as a) first or second-place team, you’ve got a little bit better chance to get going in the playoffs and get rolling.”
For Box Elder to compete for a region championship, it will have to overcome the loss of one of its most gifted athletes from last season – quarterback Shad Watson. Watson completed 102 of 165 passes (61.8 percent) for 1,318 yards and 11 touchdowns and was also the team’s third-leading rusher with 496 yards on the ground. In addition, Watson led the team with 11 rushing touchdowns.
“He did a good job of studying and understanding what we wanted from him offensively,” Gunter said. “He’s a big, strong kid, and he used his abilities and worked really hard to become, I thought, a very good player for us. He was the key to our offense last year and did a great job.”
Also among last year’s group of seniors on offense were running back Breckin Gunter, who carried the ball 131 times for 755 yards – both team highs – and receivers Teagan Hubbard and Jayk Brooks, who combined to catch 56 passes for 854 yards and six touchdowns. Hubbard led the team with 602 receiving yards.
Defensively, Box Elder will say goodbye to its five leading tacklers (Gunter, Luke Peterson, Brooks, Hunter Morgan and Matt Williams) as well as four of its five team leaders in sacks (Robbie Gathercole, Luke Daley, Brooks and Cordon Barker).
Senior safety Connor Udy and junior defensive end Darius McFarland will be Gunter’s only two returning starters on defense.
Gunter acknowledges the difficulty in replacing so many core contributors, but also likes the way the program has developed and the preparedness of the incoming athletes.
“We feel like we’re at a point now where we’ve got 25-30 kids every year that are competing and that build our program,” Gunter said.
Helping to make the transition smoother will be the return of Brigham Young University commit Riley Burt. Burt, who carried the ball 80 times for 623 yards while rushing for seven touchdowns as a junior last season, figures to take the lion’s share of carries for Box Elder in 2014
“He’s 6-foot-2 and fast,” Gunter said of Burt. “He’s one of the top guys in the 100 in the state, so that makes a big difference when you can run faster than everybody else. And then he’s big. Most of those track guys are smaller guys and he’s a big, almost 200-pound guy. It’s old school football when he runs the ball. He’s a big strong runner, hard to tackle.”
Burt, who will also play cornerback, placed fifth in the boys 100 meter at the 4-A state track and field championships this past spring with a time of 11.12.
Bryant Tingey and Casey Stevens will add depth to the running game, according to Gunter. Tingey, a junior, and Stevens, a senior, combined to carry the ball 21 times for 119 yards and a touchdown last season.
Udy, a member of the school’s baseball team, will replace Watson behind center in addition to continuing his safety responsibilities. Udy took a limited number of snaps last season, but carried the ball 14 times for 157 yards, rushing for one touchdown.
“He’s very athletic, and if you watched the baseball season, he came through in some big games,” Gunter said. “He came through big. It’s not that he does anything extreme, but he does what he does every time. He’s very consistent, a hard worker – and being a good athlete really helps with that.”
McFarland caught 19 passes for 214 yards last year and will give Gunter some returning experience at receiver as well as either defensive end or linebacker, while Box Elder also returns a pair of starters – seniors Zak Kaleikini and Cooper Parson – on the offensive line.
Box Elder opens its season Aug. 22 at Syracuse at 7 p.m.
BOX ELDER 2014 SCHEDULE
Friday, Aug. 22 – at Syracuse – 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 29 – Layton – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 5 – at Bear River – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 12 – Weber – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 19 – at Ogden – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 26 – Roy – 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 3 – at Bonneville – 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 10 – Sky View – 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 15 – at Mountain Crest – 7 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 23 – Logan – 7 p.m.