Photo By Steve Conner - #35 Carson Simpson
Written By: Sven Alskog
Back-to-back state championships and five total titles since the turn of the century have cemented Carey as one of the top 8-man programs in Idaho.
As he enters his 19th season as the head coach, Lane Kirkland, to the surprise of no one in the small school football circles, again has one of the top teams in the state.
Optimism remains high thanks in large part to the return of the majority of the offense from a year ago and an impressive amount of speed on the defensive side of the ball.
“We have all our skill players back from last year on offense except Porter Mecham. These guys are seasoned, fast and have grown a bunch,” said Kirkland. Carson Simpson will be fun to watch with all that speed and strength. He is such a gifted athlete and natural leader. Hunter Smith will still be running the show from the quarterback spot and Brigham Parke, also the reigning state champion high jumper, is looking strong at the tight end spot and will likely get some running back carries as well this season. Speed and clean execution are the key ingredients that fuel our offense. We do have some work to do with our blocking, but it will come with reps and time.”
Simpson, Smith, center Eli Cutler and Brigham Parke each earned All-Conference accolades last year and are expected to be even better this time around.
“It's never just one kid showing improvement, it's the group as a whole. We have a go-to guy or two, but what makes us deadly has been our ability to never rely too heavily on one individual to get it done. We will have a balanced attack on offense and stay fresh and furious on defense. I believe that this group of young men can and will do incredible things if they will play together, stay humble and focus on each Friday’s task. The only thing we will be paying attention to is practicing hard, having fun and giving our best every Friday night,” added Kirkland.
The sheer size of the roster and the cohesiveness of that large group is what is perhaps most impressive about the program according to the coach.
“Teamwork and brotherhood have carried this team the last two years. We have another great group of seniors this year that I believe have been properly trained by their predecessors to lead and carry on a unified team chemistry concept. Everyone has a role and everyone is important. We will have 40 athletes on our roster - the most in my career. That is exciting. We have a large freshman class of 13 boys playing [as well].”
What is no longer in the program is a major loss however.
Porter Mecham had been arguably the most productive player in 8-man football for each of the past two years. While the average fan will most notice his absence from the Carey roster on the offensive side of the ball, the two-time State Player of the Year will also be greatly missed from the linebacker position.
Fortunately for the Panthers, a good core group returns to help ensure that things keep going on the right track.
“We have some great returners back on defense in Porter Larna at defensive end, Brigham Parke at linebacker and Dallin Parke and Hunter Smith at defensive back. Coach Durtschi does a great job of rotating guys on defense and getting the next crop ready, which keeps us playing fast. We have great team speed and look to improve our tackling,” said Kirkland.
Winning three state titles in a row in football is one of the more challenging tasks across sports. This offseason for Carey has been spent trying to continue to get better every day, something that the coach thinks his team has done.
“We have had better attendance in the weight room, which is already showing results, and a lot of these kids were out for track last spring. Every team is different as each new season approaches, but the goal is always to do better than last season. We have done that by playing one game at a time and remaining humble and hungry.”
Carey gets the new season underway in week one by hosting Dietrich. A pivotal game for conference supremacy then follows two weeks later on September 13, as the Panthers head to Twin Falls to take on Lighthouse Christian in a 1AD2 state championship rematch.