A year after winning the Region 13 title and coming within two points of reaching the state championship game, the Grantsville football team has been picked fourth in its own region in the coaches poll.
That bit of disrespect is only serving to motivate the Cowboys as they prepare for Friday’s season opener against North Sanpete, as coach Kody Byrd and his team believe they can not only reach the same level they did a year ago — they can surpass it.
“Our kids are pumped and ready,” Byrd said. “This is the first set of seniors that’s been with (the coaching staff) all four years, so it’s been easier because they know the expectations. I think scheme-wise, we’re ahead of where we were both offensively and defensively. Now, we’ve just got to go out and execute.”
Byrd enters his fourth season in charge, and he has a 23-10 record, which puts him second all-time among Grantsville coaches in terms of winning percentage — his .697 mark is behind Bill Mikelson (33-10, .767 from 1983-86) and just ahead of Kevin Butler (119-67, .640 from 1987-2002).
Grantsville went 10-3 in 2019 and won its first region title in 21 years, fueled by one of Class 3A’s stingiest defenses. The Cowboys allowed just 14.2 points per game last season, good for fourth in its classification, and they allowed 14 points or fewer eight times. Grantsville returns six starters from that dominant unit, including First Team All-State strong safety Kaden Kelley, who posted six interceptions, four fumble recoveries, four sacks, four quarterback hurries and 68 tackles (57 solo), including five tackles-for-loss.
Grantsville’s dominant secondary also includes Blake Thomas (56 tackles, 44 solo, one tackle-for-loss, three interceptions, three pass breakups in 2019) and Noah Mouritsen (31 tackles, 22 solo, three interceptions, nine pass breakups), along with Logan White (23 tackles, 20 solo, two interceptions, one forced fumble, 10 pass breakups). Josh Staley (21 tackles, 16 solo, one tackle-for-loss, two hurries, one fumble recovery) will also be in the mix.
Hunter Johnson will lead the linebacking corps, recording 19 solo tackles (25 total) and an interception last season, while Branson Yager (16 tackles, 10 solo, three tackles-for-loss, one sack, two hurries) and Karter Bohman (seven tackles, six solo, two tackles-for-loss, one hurry in six games) will play key roles in the trenches along with defensive ends Bridger Edwards and Joey Scorsone.
“Kaden Kelley, Noah Mouritsen and Blake Thomas have really taken control of that defensive secondary and are competing pretty well,” Byrd said. “Up front, we’ve had to replace two linebackers, but the two linebackers we have slated to start have some experience.”
While the defense features a lot of experienced players, the same can not be said on the other side of the ball. Grantsville returns just two starters in offensive tackle Yager and offensive guard Johnson, though at 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, Yager represents a big part of the Cowboys’ success in more ways than one. He has already verbally committed to the University of Nebraska.
“(Committing to Nebraska) has been a relief for him,” Byrd said of Yager. “The added stress of recruiting has been lifted and he’s been able to focus on his leadership and everything. He’s done a really good job of helping coach those younger kids and getting them ready.”
White entered the offseason as the presumed starting quarterback, posting impressive stats as a fill-in last season (26-for-35, 329 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions; 24 carries, 58 yards, one rushing touchdown). However, Byrd said White is currently recovering from injury with an eye on being fully healthy before Region 13 games start, so Caleb Sullivan is likely to get the call under center early on.
Thomas (26 carries, 95 yards, three rushing touchdowns; 11 receptions, 86 yards) and Mouritsen (four receptions, 95 yards, two touchdowns) are the most experienced among the skill players on offense for the Cowboys, meaning Grantsville is going to have to grow up in a hurry to replicate last year’s team that averaged 31.1 points per game.
“Up front, we’re experienced,” Byrd said. “Running back-wise, we had to replace our two running backs, so we don’t have very much experience there, but I think their athleticism will make up for that — we have a lot more speed in the backfield than we had last season. Receiver-wise, we did have to replace a lot of those, and it will be interesting to see how they can adapt quickly. They’ve had a really good camp as well, so it will be interesting to see how that translates for them.”
Grantsville faces a difficult early-season schedule, beginning with back-to-back home games against North Sanpete and Tooele. The Cowboys then hit the road to face Manti and Delta, followed by a home game against San Juan and a road game against defending Class 2A champion Beaver.
Grantsville was able to add Beaver to the schedule when former region foe Judge Memorial decided to play an independent schedule this season.
“We figured in the past, we’ve had some issues with a little lighter region schedule, so we wanted to get some challenging games,” Byrd said. “We always want to schedule people that we can have somebody to compare to once we get in the playoffs. Losing Judge but picking up Beaver makes it that much harder. Again, it’s good to challenge yourselves. You might get a little bit dinged on the RPI (rankings), but in the end, you’re battle-tested and you’ve got to win those games anyway, no matter who you’ve scheduled.”
The Cowboys open Region 13 play at home Sept. 25 against South Summit, with their final home game Oct. 2 against Summit Academy. They wrap up the season with road games at Juan Diego and Morgan.