Editor’s note: This is the seventh of a seven-part series previewing the high school football teams in Cache Valley.
There’s no question the start of the Eric Thorson era has been a very encouraging one for Preston’s football program.
In Thorson’s first two years as the head coach, the Indians went a combined 9-11 and made back-to-back experiences in the 4A state playoffs. It was a welcome change for a Preston program that hadn’t qualified for the postseason since 2011 and won more than three games in a season since 2010.
It’s fair to say Preston is hungry to take that next step as a program and that entails winning its first state tournament game in a decade.
“When (my family) first came here, people were excited to be able to get into the playoffs, but having been there two times now ... yesterday’s luxuries are today’s expectations,” said Thorson, a former assistant coach at Sky View. “And so we’re looking for ways and definitely anxious about trying to take that next step in the playoffs, so not just getting back to the playoffs, but getting a few wins. Getting competitive at that level is something that we’re thinking about all of the time.”
Nevertheless, advancing in the playoffs will be a challenge for the Indians in 2020. After all, Preston only returns two full-time starters on the offensive side of the ball and a handful of defensive starters — three of whom were inserted into the lineup later in the season.
The good news for Preston is it performed well at the JV level a year ago, with only one loss taking place against competition from the Gem State. The Indians did lose to larger Utah programs Box Elder and Mountain Crest. As a result, Thorson is confident it is a “realistic goal” for Preston to extend its postseason streak to three years.
“We have good coaches that are teaching sound technique to the players,” Thorson said. “We have players that right now a lot of them don’t have varsity experience, but several of them are going to get two and even three years of varsity (action) before they’re done. And so if we can be very competitive now, that’s going to be the engine that’s going to propel us up as we move forward in future years.”
Brecker Knapp, who excelled at the JV level in 2019, will be taking over at quarterback for the Indians. The 6-foot-3 junior saw limited varsity action a year ago as he completed 21 of 39 passes for 239 yards. Thorson referred to Knapp as an “agile” signal caller and is anticipating a breakthrough season from No. 10.
Preston will have to replace do-everything running back Andrew Iverson, who rushed for 1,152 yards and was a dangerous kickoff returner last fall. No current Preston player gained more than 85 yards on the ground at the varsity level in ’19.
However, Thorson is excited about the potential of Iverson’s younger brother Charles at the tailback position. Emery Thorson, Hunter Wright and Tait Rawlings will be Preston’s other primary options running the pigskin. Thorson will miss at least the first two games with an injury.
Rawlings, a second-team all-district performer at linebacker last year, has bulked up to 210 pounds, “and he’s a beast,” coach Thorson asserted. The senior will line up at fullback at times this season.
Knapp does have the luxury of throwing to a proven commodity at wide receiver in Cole Harris, who might also run the ball a bit as a senior. The 6-3 Harris led the Indians in receptions (51), receiving yards (772) and touchdowns catches (7) as a junior.
Justin Inglet, Tate Greene, Chevy Nelson and Tyler Lindhardt, another 6-3 target, will be Preston’s other go-to options in the passing game. The Indians will also utilize Rawlings at times at the tight end position.
Rhett Larson returns as Preston’ starting left tackle. The junior will be joined in the stating lineup by center Jesus Ramirez and right tackle Ethan Pearson. The competition to see who will man the guard spots is still ongoing, although Jake Beckstead and Bracken Christensen currently have the upper hand.
Coach Thorson raved about the potential of Ramirez.
“I think Jesus Ramirez at center is going to do a good job of filling in for Dallin Palmer,” he said. “Nobody really watches and notices how important that spot is, but Dallin did an amazing job last year and I think Jesus will do a great job filling in.”
Coach Thorson is optimistic his team will be versatile offensively this fall. Keeping everyone healthy will be crucial, though, as Preston is always one of Idaho’s smallest 4A schools.
“Last year we relied a lot on Scotty (Dunn) and Andrew (Iverson),” coach Thorson said. “This year we probably have four or five athletes that they’re not quite Scott, they’re not quite Andrew, but they’re not very far behind.”
Preston welcomes back Harris and Rawlings as defensive starters. The duo combined for 5.0 sacks a year ago, and coach Thorson is anxious to see what kind of havoc they wreak as defensive ends in his team’s 4-2-5 base defense.
The Indians are counting on Larson, Corbin Winward and Trevor Gregory to anchor the middle of the defensive line. Coach Thorson declared Winward and Gregory, both juniors, “are really going to make a big difference” in the defensive trenches.
Iverson and Inglet will start at linebacker for Preston, while Wright will be the team’s hybrid backer/safety. Wright tallied 17 tackles and intercepted a pass in seven games a year ago.
Emery Thorson finished last season as a starter and the sophomore will be the squad’s starting free safety when he returns from his injury. Nelson, Greene and Stetson Ostler are Preston’s go-to players at the cornerback position. Knapp will also line up in the secondary on occasion, coach Thorson said.
“Definitely the edges with experience at defensive end, and then also pass coverage,” coach Thorson said when asked about his team’s strengths defensively. “We use that speed from those receivers on offense, we just flip them over to defense, and we’ve really had a lot of success at some of the 7-on-7s this year.”
Inglet will handle the punting duties for the Indians, while Emery Thorson and Davon Inglet will be the squad’s main kickers. Davon Inglet, a speedy sophomore, might also figure into the mix in the secondary.
Harris and Nelson will return kickoffs for Preston, while Emery Thorson will bring back punts.
Preston opens its season Friday at home against Shelley. The Indians are tackling a daunting non-conference schedule that features showdowns against a pair of defending state champions — Star Valley (Wyoming) and Sugar-Salem — and reigning 4A runner-up Blackfoot.