Photo By Randy Jones - #4 Jace Neville
Written By: Will Hoenike
The 3A Mountain Rivers Conference is shaping up to be quite a battle in 2019. Defending state champion Sugar Salem returns a host of talented players. Teton is expected to be improved. And there’s also South Fremont.
The Cougars return ten players who were selected to the All-Mountain Rivers Conference team in 2018, which is why most expect the team to be a strong factor in the 3A race this fall. But before they can make a dent in November, they have to survive the regular season and a tough conference.
“We are going to be smaller than last season, especially on the offensive line, but this means that we are going to be more athletic,” said eighth-year head coach Chad Hill. “We have a lot of our ‘skill’ guys back from last season, so they are one year older and wiser. I am excited to see us spread the ball around to different guys and let them make plays.”
Hill and his staff will need to replace Mountain Rivers Player of the Year Kyler Yancey, but they believe they have the right pieces in place. Senior Tristan Olson, who actually led the team in rushing as a junior with over 800 yards, returns for his senior season and is primed for a big season.
“Tristan Olson has worked extremely hard this off-season and is going to be a load for guys trying to tackle him,” Hill said. “He is getting stronger and faster.”
Also back for his senior season is quarterback Jace Neville. As a junior, Neville completed 57 percent of his throws and added over 500 yards rushing. He’s another one that Hill says has shown great improvement over the summer. South Fremont alum Junior Gonzalez is on Hill’s staff now, something that should bear fruit for all of the program’s signal-callers because of Gonzalez’s experience at the position from his playing days.
Seniors Sawyer Hobbs and Bryan Popocatl return along the offensive front while junior Quincey Jacobson will look to step into a starting role along the line. When Neville drops back to throw behind that line, he has all-conference receiver Talon Maupin to target, along with juniors Cooper Crapo, Carson Miller, and Bridger Poulson.
The Cougar defense was pretty good in 2018, though Hill and defensive coordinator Rod Coverley have a solid core back to be even better in 2019. Olson and Hobbs will lead the way up front from the defensive end position with River Eddins returning at linebacker. Jackson Coverley, Dallin Orme, and Carson Draper return to their roles in the Cougar secondary. Sophomore Rylan Miller could earn playing time at linebacker alongside Eddins, as could Crapo.
With a strong running game in position and a solid defensive front, Hill says a lot of focus this summer has been on the team’s passing game, both on offense and defense.
“We also are trying to make sure that we simplify our schemes,” Hill noted. “We have so many kids that play both sides of the ball that we have to make sure that we are simple enough to let them get aligned and just play football and not have to think too much.”
Last fall, South Fremont was one point away from advancing to the 3A semifinals. After opening the 2019 campaign at home against perennial 3A powerhouse Fruitland in St. Anthony, the Cougars will wrap up the regular season with their two Mountain Rivers Conference games – playing at Sugar-Salem before hosting Teton on October 25 to conclude the regular season.
Each of the conference’s three teams played postseason football in 2018, with Sugar-Salem winning the title and Teton receiving an at-large berth into the first round. It’s been a tough conference in the past and it has all the makings of a tough conference again this fall. Many eyes around the state are squarely on Sugar-Salem, but 3A fans shouldn’t overlook South Fremont. The Cougars have enough to be a big factor before it is all said and done in 2019.