Editor’s note: This is the first of a seven-part series previewing local high school football teams.
There’s no denying the past two high school football seasons have been challenging ones for Mountain Crest in an always competitive region.
The Mustangs are hoping a Cache Valley native can help them get back on track. Former Preston High standout Ryan Visser enters his first season at the Mustang helm after three years of experience as the head coach at Big Piney (Wyoming). Visser has put together a staff featuring a handful of former Mountain Crest all-state players, plus he has a former veteran collegiate offensive line coach in new Mustang athletic director Mark Weber.
“We’re really excited about the staff we’ve put together,” Visser said. “I feel like it’s a great staff. It’s a new staff, for the most part, almost all new faces, but we’ve got a lot of former MC Mustangs that are here that want to help and make Mountain Crest great. ... We have a great staff and we’ve had a really fun summer, and I think that’s big. We’ve had a lot of team building experiences and the boys have really bought it, and it’s become that family unit that we want it to be.”
Visser is hopeful a new offensive scheme will help energize the program in 2022. The Mustangs have implemented a spread offense this season — a big change from a more run-first, ball control emphasis over the previous few years.
“They’ve loved it and honestly it’s been a great group of kids in general, and they’ve had a great attitude,” Visser said. “You know, it’s tough. Third (head) coach in three years (for these guys). It’s a lot of mentally adversity to go through, but they’ve had a great attitude. And honestly, I could have come in with any kind of offense and defense, and they would have been great with it. But I’m not one of those guys that really (comes in and says) ‘this is my scheme, this is my identity.’ I really try to base it on the athletes I have. I feel like that’s the way you have to do it in high school.
“We’ve got a lot of athletes, we’ve got a lot of team speed, so the spread was kind of the obvious offense to go to. We’ve got a good quarterback that can make throws, so we’re excited about (the spread).”
The signal caller Visser is referring to is junior Casey Crofts, who saw a fair amount of playing time as a sophomore. Crofts will be backed up by senior Porter Budge, who will be a key performer on the defensive side of the ball.
Mountain Crest has two experienced running backs in standout linebacker Carson Olsen and fellow senior Dontay McMurtey. Olsen rushed for 403 yards a year ago, while McMurtey chipped in with 290. Juniors Cole Jones and Karston Buttars will also figure into the team’s rotation at tailback.
Visser is confident about the depth he has at the wide receiver spot, which is highlighted by senior Kolton Kirby. Kirby, who is “a master at his craft,” Visser asserted, ranked first on the team in receiving yards a year ago.
Seniors Cooper Gardner and Zander Ryan are other wideouts Visser is counting on, as is junior Thatcher Phelps. Juniors Will DeKorver and Jaky Bitton and senior Trevis Leiser will also figure into the mix at wide receiver, while Mountain Crest’s primary tight ends will be senior Cooper Gardner and junior Porter Kennington.
The Mustangs return four starters on the offensive line in guards Taysen Anderson and Nik Tolbert, center Hunter Hammer and right tackle Jorgen Miller. Miller has received a handful of scholarship offers, including from FBS program New Mexico State. Zander Miller will be Mountain Crest’s other starting tackle, while Jud Wells will see a lot of playing time in the offensive trenches.
“We’ve got some big boys with some good drive, so we’re excited to have our line kind of lead us,” Visser said.
Several of these aforementioned athletes will be featured prominently in Mountain Crest’s 4-2-5 base defense. Visser is excited about the potential his team has on this side of the ball.
“The biggest thing is we are an attacking defense,” he said. “You know, the word passive does not exist in our system. We’re not going to sit back and just try and match whatever the offense does, and try and prevent. We’re going to make them be worried about what we’re up to, too. ... We’re going to be sound in our approach and try to be as confusing as possible for the opposing offense, but as simple as we can for our boys so we can play fast and, again, be aggressive out there.”
The Mustangs have one of the top linebackers in 4A in Olsen — “obviously, we’re expecting a lot out of him,” Visser proclaimed — who racked up 125 tackles and chipped in with 4.0 sacks as a junior. Buttars and Budge, who contributed with 66 tackles last season, will be Mountain Crest’s other two primary inside linebackers.
The hard-hitting Dax Benson, who saw a lot of playing time as the 2021 season progressed, will start at the hybrid outside linebacker/safety spot for the Mustangs. Mountain Crest will also count on Jones at the hybrid position.
Senior Brayden Tannahill and Kennington will start at defensive end for the Mustangs, while Wells and junior Sam Schroeder will man the defensive tackle positions. Senior Mason Jones, Leiser and Gardner add valuable depth in the defensive trenches, plus all of the aforementioned offensive linemen will figure into the mix as the Mustangs “will rotate like crazy,” Visser said.
Visser has been impressed with the speed and ball skills of his secondary, and he referred to Kirby as “a lockdown corner.” Seniors Nick Nielson and Carter Nelson, plus Thatcher, will be Mountain Crest’s other primary cornerbacks.
Bitton and DeKorver will start at safety for Mountain Crest, with senior Adam Keller also a key part of that rotation. Seniors Landon Beus, Ian Allen and Josh Gordon add valuable depth in the secondary and at wide receiver for the Mustangs.
Wells was Mountain Crest’s starting kicker a year ago and he is being pushed at that position by Phelps. Nielson will likely handle the punting duties for the Mustangs, who have several capable kickoff and punt returners, Visser said, in Bitton, Ryan, Phelps and DeKorver.
Mountain Crest will kick off its season next Friday on the road against Hurricane. The Mustangs will host Payson and Maple Mountain in non-region action, with other non-region road games against Box Elder and Bonneville.
Mountain Crest has finished fifth or sixth in the region in each of the past two seasons, but has much higher expectations in 2022.
“I’ve always been an advocate of letting the boys kind of decide, ‘what do you want to get out of this?’ And this is a good group of players that want to aim high,” Visser said. “They talk about wanting to win Homecoming. It’s been a while since we won Homecoming here at Mountain Crest. They want to contend for the region title, which is obviously a very, very good region. The last three state champs have come from here and, yeah, they want to make a run at state. That’s their goal and I’ve told them based on what I’ve watched and seen from the valley and from our boys that, that is an obtainable goal.”
Visser graduated from Preston in 2011 and was prominently featured on the program’s last district championship team. He played running back, receiver and strong safety, plus even returned some kickoffs and punts, for the Indians, who went 8-3 his senior season.
Visser spent six years as an assistant coach for Preston — he was the defensive coordinator his final season — before taking over at Big Piney. The Punchers went 16-12 during his three seasons at the helm.
Visser will teach social studies and weights at Mountain Crest.