Tooele football coach Andru Jones is optimistic, and for good reason.
Wait — what?
Yes, I know the Buffaloes went 2-8 this season. It’s their fourth straight losing record, marking their longest stretch of futility since posting seven straight losing seasons from 2007-13, and their worst single-season mark since going 1-9 in 2012. In terms of wins and losses, it doesn’t look good.
However, the truth of the matter is that the Buffs weren’t far off this year. They had a chance to steal Friday’s playoff game against Cedar Valley in the final minutes, only to have a promising drive derailed in the red zone. In September, Tooele drove inside Ogden’s 10-yard line three times, and failed to come away with any points in a game they lost by two scores. The Buffs had opportunities early in their season opener against Green Canyon and didn’t score, enabling the Wolves to build momentum and ultimately pull away for the win. They lost their first meeting with Cedar Valley by just two points.
If the Buffs had just been able to convert on a few more opportunities, they’d be closer to .500. They might even be playing this weekend instead of turning in their equipment. Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out.
But this was an exceedingly young team. Jones said he expects to have nine of the 11 offensive starters back in 2021, along with seven or eight defensive starters. And, rest assured, as competitors, they’re well aware of how close they came to having things be different this year. They’re going to be hungry to come back and right those wrongs next season.
They’ll be one year older. One year bigger. One year stronger. One year smarter. One year more experienced. One year more mature. And, likely, several wins better.
The Buffs are one of those programs that make it impossible not to root for them, even if you’re supposed to be neutral like I am. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy watching Stansbury and Grantsville succeed just as much — it’s just that Tooele has this lovable underdog thing going for it. The Stallions and Cowboys are among the elite programs in their respective classifications at this point, and the Buffaloes are desperate to get back to that level themselves.
They’re not far removed from it, after all. It was just five years ago that Tooele was in the state semifinals, and four years ago that the Buffs went 9-2, with their two losses coming by a combined margin of nine points. They’ve been to the top, and they can get there again.
They might be underdogs now, but they’ve got a bit of snarl to them. They just need to have someone who believes in them — which they have, thanks to Jones’ ever-present optimism — and some self-belief of their own.
After coming so close so many times, they have no reason not to be confident. Next year, they’ll make some of those plays.
Buckle up, Buffs fans. The 2021 season is going to be fun to watch for the kids in purple.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He’s not quite ready for this high school football season to end. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.