BLACKFOOT – The route was a double move, a hitch-and-go from the 30-yard line. West Side wide receiver Bryler Shurtliff ran seven yards, chopped his feet in hopes of selling a comeback route, then flipped his hips and darted towards the pylon.
With pressure closing in on him, Pirates’ quarterback Blaize Brown lofted the ball high for his 6-foot-3, 170-pound receiver. What came next was hard to process in real time. With a Snake River receiver tugging on his shoulder, Shurtliff leapt up. His body was at a 45-degree angle hurling through the air and he landed hard on his back.
From the press box, West Side assistant Peyton Brown hopped up from his chair and started yelling for the pass interference call. Then someone notified him that Shurtliff caught it … and that the ref signaled touchdown.
Turns out, head coach Tyson Moser did the same thing in West Side’s 27-0 win over Snake River on Friday.
“I was screaming for the pass interference and he caught the ball anyway,” Moser said. “He’s a big target and I think the difference this year is our quarterback is trusting him and throwing him the ball and letting him go get it.”
That’s the key with Shurtliff. Put him around the ball and watch magic happen. Following the West Side’s second-straight state championship last season, the then-junior was voted a first-team, all-state selection at three positions (receiver, defensive back and kicker), which is like being named employee of the month at three different companies.
In the midst of its now 23-game winning streak, West Side has ridden its best athletes. Blaize Brown is a 145-pound signal-caller who runs like he’s double that. Running backs Parker Henderson, Owen Nielsen and Cage Brokens – who led all rushers with 22 carries for 100 yards and a pair of scores – are like three hydraulic presses just pushing back anything their path.
“We all definitely heavier-set kids who are all in the weight room every day,” Brokens said,
“eating lots of food, trying to get as big as we can.”
Then there’s Shurtliff, whose athletic ability seems too effortless. Along with his long touchdown on Friday, the lengthy Shurtliff hauled in two more passes and also picked off Snake River quarterback Cole Gilbert twice.
“He’s tall and he can run,” Snake River coach Jeb Harrison said of Shurtliff. “We had good coverage on him but he just made some plays.”
Shurtliff does that a lot.
In the state championship game against Firth last season, Shurtliff caught a 43-yard touchdown pass then provided the game’s exclamation point with a 65-yard pick-six. A few months later, he helped the West Side basketball team complete an unreal comeback against eventual 3A state champion Marsh Valley with a buzzer-beater tip-in over a hoard of bodies.
In big moments, he delivers. Lately, though, his big moments haven’t been in any games. They’ve been at the slew of college camps he’s attended this summer in hopes of picking up scholarship offers to complement his lone bid from Idaho State.
He’s been to camps at Utah State, Weber State and Montana State so far, and all three programs have given Shurtliff a similar message.
“They watch me,” Shurtliff said, “and they’re like, ‘You’re a good player. You’re just raw.’”
That isn’t false. Shurtliff only started playing football his freshman year at West Side. Before that he was a middle-school soccer player, which may explain why his footwork is so good but isn’t always what college coaches want to hear. And, so, Shurtliff’s route-running could get sloppy at times.
“I mean, I ran routes but I didn’t run them precise,” Shurtliff said. “I just ran them and got open sometimes.”
What helped Shurtliff was the type of athleticism that makes scaling a skyscraper not seem impossible.
Against most 2A competition, Shurtliff has been so much more athletic than his opponents that the minute details haven’t mattered much. In other words, Shurtliff could compensate for whatever he didn’t know about the intricacies of football with uncanny athleticism.
“I’ve just had to realize that if I want to be at the next level, I have to work at the next level,” Shurtliff said. “If you don’t keep working, you’re going to get passed up.”
On Friday night, Shurtliff laid out a pretty good case to be at the next level – and helped show why West Side are the favorites to three-peat.
“We have to find the way to get the ball in his hands,” Moser said of Shurtliff.