Photo By Patty Theurer - #1 Scotty Martinez
Written By: Sven Alskog
The first two years at Melba for Juan Colunga were building years. After a 4-5 mark in 2018, it appears that the new season has the potential to bring more wins to the table and potentially a long run in the state playoffs.
“It’s basically the same team other than our two senior leaders that graduated. The work ethic of core players has been there all summer and has eliminated bad habits and players who were not bought in or who thought they’d get a starting position given to them,” said Colunga. “This team is hungry and ready to take the next step from last year’s painful finish where we lost to conference runner up McCall-Donnelly on a tipped two-point conversion, but then went on to beat eventual champion New Plymouth on their senior night. That’s how close this team is [to] being good to elite.”
While the Mustangs will have to replace starting quarterback Dallin Forsgren and one of his go-to targets in Zayne Dayley, the core group of players that does return around new quarterback Henry Clark, who appears to be one of the favorites to start, should help lessen the load on the new signal caller.
“Finding a quarterback to replace Dallin Forsgren will be a challenge, as well as replacing Zayne Dayley at wide receiver, but we return plenty of skill players to ease the load off the new quarterback. Scotty Martinez and Easton Bunnell return as the two leading rushers. Tight end Brock Lueddeke and offensive lineman Hank Svedin will be three-year starters and anchor the offensive line. Tyler Roberts and Tristan Jones are also returning seniors who have started for at least two years on both sides of the ball and will be leaders in 2019,” said Colunga.
A strong group of juniors also has the coach excited on the offensive side of the ball.
“Some promising juniors are also looking to step in and help with what should be the best offensive output in three years at Melba. Juniors like Joey Bradshaw and Henry Clark have spent all spring and summer going to practices, camps and 7-on-7’s competing for starting positions and playing time. Cameron Wood has taken major strides in trying to replace team leader Zayne Dayley at receiver. We will have upperclassmen, which is a huge change from the really young teams we have put on the field the last two years. These seniors and juniors are excited about the season and it’s easy to see why during camp and lifting sessions. They feel a special season coming. The first in a long time.”
Another big reason behind the rising optimism in Melba is the return of the same coaching staff for the third straight season. That seems to be a growing rarity at the high school ranks, so expect the payoff to be noticeable for the Mustangs this year.
For the defensive side of the ball to be successful, experiencing good health will be a critical factor.
“Staying healthy and eligible will lead to defensive success this year, along with improving pass coverage. We return three starters on the defensive line, including two Second Team All-Conference selections in Brock Lueddeke and Tristan Jones, as well as some young depth behind them with William Vail and David Cossel,” stated Colunga.
He likes the middle and back ends of the defense as well.
“Linebackers should be a team strength, as First Team All-Conference selection Easton Bunnell returns for his third year as a varsity starter. Hank Svedin started every game at middle linebacker last year and provides toughness and leadership. Scotty Martinez and Joey Bradshaw spent the season alternating at the other outside linebacker spot and this year will be the same, as both are very athletically gifted. Senior corner Tyler Roberts and junior Honorable Mention All-Conference safety Zane Helm return for their second year as varsity starters and will help mentor replacements for First Team All-Conference performers Dallin Forsgren and Zayne Dayley.”
The coach wanted to highlight newcomers such as Clark, Cossel, Kyler Oakes, William Vail, Cody Dickard, Teagan Hill and Trace Stimpson as talent that has shown significant growth from a year ago. Hank Svedin, Brock Lueddeke, Tyler Roberts and Tristan Jones have also seen major improvement as they enter their senior seasons.
“They are all due to receive our Men of Summer award. This is given to players that attend spring ball, summer camp and 80 percent of summer weights sessions. All have improved significantly as far as strength, size and speed, but most importantly, learned to work hard, work together and to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. They will be better players, students-athletes and community leaders because of it. Not everybody can or wants to get up early and work hard, so these Men of Summer deserve to be praised and rewarded because of it. Our motto at Melba since I’ve been here has been, ‘Those who stay will be Champions’.”
With so much returning from last year and consistency among the coaching staff, the expectations are higher than in recent memory for the varsity program to experience success on the field.
“The most exciting par about this year’s team is that we have core players who are entering their third year running the wing-t and our base defense. They have experienced some hard times as freshman and sophomores and now they get to take the next step forward and make a deep postseason run,” said Colunga.
Melba takes the field for the first time on August 31 against the West Jefferson Panthers at home.