Photo By Steve Conner - #32 Ethan Smith
Written By: Will Hoenike
The 2019 Horseshoe Bend Mustangs have several key pieces back this fall, but will also be looking for new players to step forward and fill holes in the ever-tough Long Pin Conference.
“We are a lot less experienced in key positions and will need to develop young players as the season goes on,” said third-year head coach Craig Elliott. “We will be starting a lot of young players with no varsity experience and I am excited to see their development.”
Nowhere is the spotlight brighter than at the quarterback position for the Mustangs. All-Conference standout Quade Renfro has moved on, now playing defensive back in the Big Sky Conference as a member of the Idaho State football program. Elliot has two sophomores who are vying for playing time at the position in Colten Meyer and Decker Larson.
Something that should help the quarterbacks is the strong running back tandem of Austin Fry and Ethan Smith. Smith earned second-team All-Conference honors at running back last fall and Elliott says the ball-carrying tandem will be pivotal in a run-heavy offense this fall. And, if the offense is going to be run-heavy, that puts a little more burden on the offensive line to open up running lanes. Mike Farrar is gone from last year’s team, he’s also playing college football at The College of Idaho, but assistant coach Rick Anderson has senior all-conference honoree Calvin Drake back this fall. Hunter McKee and Keagan Smith will also be given opportunities to earn prominent roles along the offensive front. Senior Ben Howerton, an all-conference selection at tight end, also returns to contribute.
Defensively, the Mustangs allowed about 25 points per game in 2018 and it has the potential to be the backbone of the team again this fall. Smith returns at linebacker after earning first-team all-conference accolades as a junior while McKee was an all-conference performer along the defensive line. Howerton was a second-team all-conference selection at defensive end. The Long Pin is already well aware of Smith’s ability but the latter two, despite the honors last fall, could be breakthrough performers this fall.
“Ben (Howerton) and Hunter (McKee) worked extremely hard in the weight room and have both increased their strength and speed over last season,” Elliott observed. “I look for them both to be very good players.”
Both Colten Meyer, a sophomore, and Blaine Meyer, a freshman, will have an opportunity to earn playing time in the defensive backfield as Elliott and his staff look for younger players to step forward and fill rolls.
There is a lot of tradition in the Long Pin Conference, which boasts two NFL players. Salmon River’s Leighton Vander Esch is now a starting linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys and Council’s Matt Paradis is among the game’s better centers for the Carolina Panthers. At the college ranks, Horseshoe Bend has Renfro and Farrar in on college rosters right now. Council’s JT Mahon is with Farrar and Tri-Valley’s Cody Nixon at The College of Idaho. That’s not bad for a small, 1A Division 2 conference.
The Mustangs open with a tough non-conference contest against Wilder, who has much of its team back that reached the 1A Division 1 semifinals last November, on August 30. Once Long Pin play rolls around the team alternates weeks, home and road. Horseshoe Bend will host Cascade, Tri-Valley, and Council while traveling to league powers Salmon River and Garden Valley.
With the expected growth and development of new players and a potentially-potent ground attack, Elliott’s team will be a factor in the Long Pin race when it is all said and done. The October 25 game on the road against rival Garden Valley could be extremely important in the conference race.