GARLAND — It was a loud and busy summer at Bear River High and one could catch a glimpse of it all from the football field.
Just to the northwest, the red lines from fire retardant dropped during July's Radio Hill Fire are still visible.
The air tankers that flew right by the school on that day accompanied the buzz of construction vehicles that have been present the entire summer.
Even over that din of backhoes, one could still hear football head coach Chris Wise give instructions to the offensive line. Pointed instructions with, ahem, colorful language.
Once he made his point he walked toward the fence and did 20 push-ups with another one of the coaches hovering right over him.
It’s one of the many fundamental changes for the Bears’ football program as they emerge from a rocky offseason and prepare for the 2019 campaign.
Cultural changes, such as doing 10 push-ups for swearing — no matter if you’re the head coach or not — are everywhere.
“I think what had to happen and what I’m really excited for is ... I felt like I was improving every year, but I was focused so much on the offensive side of things, X’s and O’s, things like that, that I took for granted a little bit the most important thing and that was the boys,” Wise said.
"The school district does a parent survey and I was the first one, the guinea pig, that got to do that and boy the parents unloaded on me. There were some things that they pointed to that we had to change, they felt like I had forgotten about the boys a little bit and I took a lot of it to heart.”
The other change, an on-the-field one, is earth-shaking and might make people think Wise is being held hostage; that if he blinks three times in a row and wrinkles his nose, it means somebody needs to call the cops.
Bear River is switching from a power offense to a spread offense. There are still elements of the old option offense in there but it is a fundamentally different look, no matter how familiar it might be to some of the players who ran the spread in little league football.
“Last year you’d run to a set point, you had a hole. This year it’s zone and you get to choose where you get to go, it’s a lot more freedom for a guy like me at running back,” junior Chance Udy said.
With four games left last season, the Bears were facing long odds to get into the playoffs. Wise inserted a bunch of younger players into the offense and the seniors all started exclusively playing defense.
They won two of the last three games, including a 34-point road win at playoff-bound Ogden. Udy is the team’s leading returning rusher (386 yards, six touchdowns) and 90% of his carries came in the last four games.
Ren Fonnesbeck came in at quarterback, accumulated an overwhelming majority of his passing yards the final four games and ended as the team’s leading passer. He and a talented junior named Josh Payne have been battling for the starting QB spot all summer.
Wise wishes he’d made the change sooner because by the time they had found the pot of gold, it was too late. A big thing to watch with the switch to the spread offense is how it affects the defense.
One of the biggest reasons the Bears’ defense has been so good over the years is because the offense has always taken tons of time off the clock.
Now that the offense is more of a spread, hurry-up type, will BR still be able to keep its defense fresh? Or will it give up more points in response to the offense likely scoring more points and having the ball less?
The key is for the team to keep its head up if things don’t go well the first half of the season. And that may work in its favor, too.
“I think we have no (outside) expectations, and I think that’s a great thing. Nobody, I feel like, thinks about us and feels like, ‘They’re going to be a tough team.’ And I love that. Let’s go smack ‘em in the mouth and show ‘em,” Fonnesbeck said.
One nice thing will be that the Bears won’t have to play their first three games on the road.
Last year, they were only supposed to play the first two on the road but the new track around the football field wasn’t complete, so BR had to hit the road until September.
So at the very least, the Bears will get to go through their first big highs and lows on their own field.
The switch to the spread offense is new. Wise fired himself as offensive coordinator and brought in Don Hawes to call the offense.
The composition of the region is the same but, instead of being called Region 12, it’s now Region 11.
The football stadium has new bleachers and a new press box to go with the new track that was installed last summer.
BALANCING ACT: Bear River’s switch to a spread offense may mean it scores more points. It may also mean scoring more points in a shorter amount of time. How the offense performs in how much time may play a huge role in how the defense plays.
NORMALLY IN THE PLAYOFFS: Last year’s playoff miss was only the third time since 1980 that the Bears weren’t in the postseason.
BEAR RIVER FACTS
2018 SEASON: 4-6, 1-4 Region 12, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The offense scored more than 30 points just once, in a 55-21 win at Ogden in the regular-season finale.
2019 OPPOSITION RECORD: 62-46 (.574). This includes two non-region teams that are defending region champions: Box Elder and Morgan. Only three of the Bears’ 2019 opponents had a losing record in 2018: Ridgeline, Green Canyon and Clearfield.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Chance Udy (RB), Ren Fonnesbeck (QB), Kace Jones (S), Baxter Wise (OL), Logan Litchford (OL), Logan Fraser (DL), Klayson Roberts (WR)
WEAKNESSES: Adjustment period for the new offense.
RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (10 offense, 3 defense)
BASE OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Spread/50 front (three down linemen and two outside linebackers who look like standup defensive ends).
BY THE NUMBERS
6.61: Points per game allowed by Bear River’s defense in 2003 when BR won the state championship.
49: Years since Bear River faced Clearfield, which happens in the regular-season finale. It’s the first meeting between the two schools since 1970, which was a 34-12 win for the Falcons.
99: Consecutive years Bear River will have faced Box Elder when the two teams meet this season. It’s the longest uninterrupted high school football rivalry in the state of Utah.
Aug 16: Juan Diego, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23: at Box Elder, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30: Bonneville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: at Morgan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: at Ridgeline*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: Logan*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: at Green Canyon*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: Mountain Crest*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: at Sky View*, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 16: Clearfield, 7 p.m.
*Region 11 game