Photo By Steve Conner - #11 Tristan Wert
Written By: Will Hoenike
It’s not surprising to hear a story that begins with, “so, the head coach came to us with an idea …”
What could be surprising, though, is when that idea is for the head coach to step down and take an assistant role within the program.
But that’s what happened at Wendell, coming off a three-win season in the 2A Canyon Conference. The Trojans broke a 21-game losing streak last fall with a season-opening win at home against Marsing and continued to show improvement over the course of the campaign. That’s when Howerton, who works outside of the school, stepped down to become an assistant and one of his assistants, Michael Konrad, ascended to the top role.
“Cody Howerton did a great job,” Konrad said. “It was his idea to become an assistant coach and let someone who was in the school building be the head coach.”
In steps Konrad, who has coached football and golf at both Wendell and Minico before becoming the top Trojan this fall. He brings with him a Ph.D. in performance psychology, which he expects to help the growth of the program.
“Embedding psychological concepts into my players and into my coaching philosophy is paramount,” Konrad said. “Eventually, this will set us apart from other programs and give us the competitive edge we are looking for.”
The Trojans will lean on returning senior quarterback Tristan Wert and his center, senior Donald Bunn, to get the offense moving in 2019. Despite the coaching change, Konrad says the offensive concepts will remain the same, allowing Wert to take a step forward and gain confidence this fall. Bunn is the only returning starter along the offensive front and will likely be joined by sophomores Kevin Green and Clayton Hester. Green, who weighs in at 260 pounds, finished second in the 2A State Wrestling tournament last winter as a freshman, which gives coaches plenty of optimism about his size, strength, and potential. Hester is in line for a starting job after showing exceptional growth on the field and in the weight room last season on the school’s junior varsity team. Running back Garret Eldridge returns for his senior season, as does receiver Jacob French. Though the offense averaged just 13 points per game overall, it did show flashes during 2018, topping 25 points in all three of its wins and adding 19 more in a road loss at Malad.
Konrad says the team will simplify its defensive approach this fall as well as attempt to limit the workload on some players.
“Basically, it comes down to ‘find ball, hit ball,’” Konrad explained. “Our focus is on fundamentals and trying to rotate our players in and out so they can rest.”
Wendell, like most small schools, is forced to use players on both sides of the ball as well as special teams. Bunn and Green will team up to lead the defensive front, while juniors Joe DeMasters (LB), Joey Ward (DB), and Isaac Slade (DB) look to stake their claim to prominent roles on defense alongside Eldridge (DB) and French (DB).
“Joey (Ward) has a lot of experience as a defensive back,” Konrad pointed out. “I am really looking forward to him being the leader of the secondary and taking a lot of pride in his position.”
The season kicks off for Wendell on August 30 with a road contest at Marsing of the Western Idaho Conference. The team will host its first home game on September 13 against Malad.
“I am excited to find out who we are this year,” Konrad said. “What is our identity? We lost a significant amount of seniors last year and we are very young this year. That is what excites me. I know we have raw talent and it is up to the coaching staff to develop them into football players.”
The Trojans are part of the two-team Canyon Conference, along with perennial 2A power Declo. The Hornets have had the better of the rivalry over the past several years but Wendell is hoping to build off the gains of last season to close that gap moving forward.