Most coaches try to avoid talking too much about the past.
Sure, tradition is important and a winning culture can certainly help a program grow and try to live up to expectations. However, the pressure can become intense, and then there is the problem of being too confident.
West Side head football coach Tyson Moser knows it is a fine line that must be walked to stay hungry and not be over confident. The Pirates will take their first step in 2021 this Friday when they host traditional 2A power Firth.
“My biggest concern is complacency,” Moser said. “Several of these seniors have been part of two championships. You are always worry about complacency. The kids have to realize they need to keep working.”
The Cougars and Pirates are no strangers. They have met on a regular basis during the regular season, in the playoffs and in fact squared off for the 2A state title last November. West Side crushed Firth last fall to make school history, 39-0.
“It should be a good opener,” Moser said. “Firth only lost one senior off that team that played in the championship.”
It was the first time in school history the Pirates won back-to-back state titles, having won in 2019. West Side has seven total state titles and would like nothing more than to make it eight.
“A lot of people want to talk about three-peating,” Moser said. “I try not to talk about it, and I’ve told kids to not even think about it. We’ve got to win one game at a time. We can’t even talk about three-peating until we are in the state tournament.
“Right now, we need to do everything we can to win our preseason games and win our district and try to get into the state tournament. Right now, the focus is to try and beat Firth and start the season off 1-0, because 0-1 is just never a good feeling. We want to start out 1-0.”
The Pirates also enter the 2021 campaign with a 21-game long winning streak, which is a school record. There is plenty of excitement and the largest team since Moser has been involved as there 64 athletes in the program — 10 more than the previous high. The coach said the summer program went well.
There is plenty to be optimistic about at the Dayton high school. West Side returns some key players, many who have been seeing varsity time since they were sophomores. Mr. Everything Bryler Shurtliff is back as well.
“It’s really nice to have a 6-foot-3 kid out there that can jump,” Moser said of Shurtliff. “And it’s nice to have a kid that was all-state on offense, defense and special teams.”
Back for the Pirates are the starting quarterback, three running backs, two tight ends and a pair of receivers. The skill positions are in good hands.
The big question mark is the offensive line.
“That is where we are the youngest,” Moser said. “... There is a lot of youth there. They are improving a lot, but it’s going to take a few games for our offensive line to really get clicking.”
The Pirates do return seniors Easton Henderson and Angel Montano, who are tackles. Senior Fielding Mumford played some last year and will be the center. The guard spots will be held down by sophomores Colten Gunderson and Trae Priestly. Junior Shad Groll has moved from running back to add depth on the line and will be joined by sophomores Brenden Ballif and Aaron McDaniel.
Senior Blaize Brown is back at quarterback. While the Pirates like to run, Brown has proven he can throw the ball as well as use his feet.
“Blaize has a good arm,” Moser said. “We could throw a lot more if we needed to and some games we have. It speeds up the whole offense when you are not trying to teach a quarterback.”
Running back Easton Shurtliff, a junior, is the back up signal caller.
Senior Cage Brokens, Easton Shurtliff and junior Owen Nielsen are all back at running back and have played fullback. Seniors Christian Plancarte and Hayden Robinson are back as wing backs.
Tight ends Jacob Stokes and Parker Henderson — both seniors — both started at that position last season. Bryler Shurtliff and senior Karson Chugg are back at split ends.
In the defensive trenches, there will be Nielsen at nose guard, Montano and Stokes at the tackles and Easton Henderson and Easton Shurtliff at the ends. Gunderson will also play at the nose guard and McDaniel and Ballif will rotate at tackle.
The linebacker corps is anchored by Brokens in the middle. Parker Henderson and Chugg will be outside linebackers. Nielsen and Gunderson will also see time at linebacker.
Bryler Shurtliff and Plancarte are back at cornerback. Robinson is back at safety. Brown played a lot a year ago in the secondary and will also see time.
“Every one of our kids have to know at least two spots,” Moser said.
On special teams, Bryler Shurtliff will handle kickoff duties as well as be the punter. Moser said the extra-point kicking is still a work in progress, but Easton Shurtliff is the top guy. Kick returners will be Bryler Shurtliff, Plancarte, Brokens and Robinson.
Moser said a few wrinkles may be added, but for the most part the Pirates will be run heavy on offense and mostly play a 5-3 base defense.
“Football time is always exciting at West Side,” Moser said. “It’s kind of our sport here, everybody loves it and it’s a community thing. I think everyone is excited and ready to go.”
West Side faces a tough schedule before district action, hosting Firth and then traveling to 3A schools Snake River and Marsh Valley.
When it comes to district play, the Pirates will once again be the team to beat. However, no one can be overlooked.
“Aberdeen and Bear Lake will be tough as they have been for the last few years,” Moser said. “They find a way to give us all we can handle. Soda Springs finished with momentum last year and made a playoff run. Malad has a new coaching staff, so there are question marks there. Our district is never easy. District games are always tough.”