After some tough seasons in recent years, the Grantsville football team took a major step forward in 2017, nearly knocking off eventual state champion Juan Diego in the Class 3A state quarterfinals after finishing second in Class 3A North.
However, the Cowboys aren’t satisfied with just making it to the postseason this time around. In 2018, they hope to build on what they started a year ago under head coach Kody Byrd, who is entering his second season at the helm. He said this year’s team is already well ahead of last year’s since there isn’t anything new to introduce — it’s more about tweaking what’s already been established.
“Everything’s just about taking the next step,” Byrd said. “We had a chance to beat the eventual state champions, so we’re ready to take it to the next level. We’ve got to take it a step beyond what last year’s team did.”
The Cowboys, who went 5-5 a year ago and surged late in the season after losing four of their first five, will have some important pieces to replace on the offensive side of the ball, but they have a lot of talent coming back. Jackson Sandberg, who saw some playing time in the playoffs last year, will be Grantsville’s starting quarterback, replacing three-year starter Coy Johnson. He’ll have plenty of weapons, including running back Parker Thomas, who rushed for 958 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games last year, wide receiver Ammon Bartley (10 catches, 297 yards, two TDs) and tight end Drake Hall. Other notable returnees include tight end Parker Bird and offensive linemen Gauge Pyne, Austin Gray, Chaz Shafer and Branson Yeager.
“We’re really excited,” said Hall, who also figures to play a big role on defense. “We put in a lot of work this summer and everything. We’ve got a lot of returning starters, so we’re ready to go.”
Bartley, Pyne, Hall and Eathen Brinkerhoff will make up a strong linebacking corps, Byrd said. Other players to watch include Isaac Riding and Gray on the defensive line and Sandberg and Judd Hammond in the secondary.
Hall said the culture at Grantsville High has changed in the past year, thanks to the Cowboys’ athletic success. Not only did the Cowboys advance to the postseason on the football field, but they finished third in 3A basketball and won the Class 3A baseball title in the spring.
“For a lot of us, taking that state title for the baseball team, that really pumped us up,” he said. “We feel like we can do the same. It really built the confidence in us that we can do it too. In the past, we haven’t had that confidence in ourselves, and just knowing that we’re elite athletes, we can compete with anyone else.”
The Cowboys have a tough preseason schedule that features three games against teams from Class 3A South. The opener is Friday at home against North Sanpete, with a Week 2 matchup against Summit Academy to follow. A road game against Manti will be a challenge for the Cowboys in Week 3 before they return home to face county rival Tooele on Sept. 7.
“We wanted to be able to compete, but we also wanted to have something to measure up against,” Byrd said. “We went into last year and hadn’t played any of those other 3A schools, so we didn’t know exactly how good Juan Diego would be because we didn’t have anything to compare it to.”