Photo By Debra Sorenson - #10 Corwin Belnap
Written By: Will Hoenike
Coming off a six-win season and a berth in the 3A state playoffs, the Marsh Valley Eagles lost their quarterback. Lost the district’s player of the year and defensive player of the year. Lost two key offensive linemen, lost both starters at outside linebacker. There will be some changes.
But head coach Doug Armstrong cautions … not THAT many changes.
“Nothing much is changing,” the fourth-year coach said. “We still expect three yards and a cloud of dust on every play.”
Ah yes, so the power running game and stout defense remains in place. The Eagles allowed just 67 total points during the regular season before running into a buzz saw in the opening round of the 3A state tournament, falling to eventual state champion Sugar Salem. And key pieces of that defense remain in place this fall.
All-Conference linebackers Tate Barker and Corwin Belnap will be back. As is defensive back Dane Wissenbach and defensive lineman Jayce Freeman. That’s a solid core. The group will be augmented with players like senior Kaden Morrison and sophomore Michael Belnap at linebacker, Kameron Massey along the defensive front, and Damon Kelly in the secondary.
Juniors Andrew Anderson and Kellen Belnap will also compete for roles at linebacker on the Marsh Valley defense, while juniors Skyler Benson and Kole Morrison could see time along the defensive line.
“We have some excellent athletes who are ready to flow to the ball and make the necessary plays to keep our defense stout,” Armstrong continued. “We are a little thin in our defensive secondary, but we are working hard to develop the players who we have.”
Along with Wissenbach and Kelly, that includes Caden Goodworth, a junior, as new faces populate the team’s two-deep roster headed into the season.
“I am most excited about the potential for so many young men to step up and be leaders this year,” Armstrong said. “The boys are hungry and the competition level is high in everything. Every drill and competition in practice has been at game speed.”
Then he concluded, jokingly, “If the boys don’t kill each other first, we should be aggressive as the season opens.”
Which means fans should be ready for a steady diet of power football on offense. Kelly and sophomore Hunter Roche are competing to replace All-Conference quarterback Riley Lloyd. And, though the team has to replace conference Player of the Year Payton Campbell at running back, Armstrong and his staff have plenty of options when it is time to hand the ball off. Barker slots in as the team’s fullback with the Belnaps, senior Corwin and sophomore Michael, in line for opportunities at tailback. The team is also replacing key offensive linemen but will turn to Freeman, Massey, Braxton Silcock, Benson, Kole Morrison, and Hunter McQuivey to fill roles and open holes.
“This year is a rebuild year with talented players who are waiting in the wings to accept the starting assignments,” Armstrong said of Marsh Valley’s offense. “And, in most of the positions including quarterback, we will make the decisions for the starting spots during our final week before the home opener against Malad.”
The Eagles start with three of their first four games at home. After Malad, the team heads to the Magic Valley to face Filer before returning home for two tough contests, hosting 2A West Side, who won ten games last season, and Sugar-Salem, who knocked Marsh Valley out of the playoffs last November en route to a 3A state title. When it comes to conference play, the Eagles will host Snake River before a bye week, then will head to American Falls to face the Beavers to close the regular season on October 25.
As long as the team is able to stay healthy, Armstrong and his staff should have a squad that can play postseason football. How deep the team goes once the postseason kicks off depends on a number of factors, but it’s fair to assume they’ll be a team to keep tabs on as the season progresses.