by nathan oster
Through the first week of practices, the Greybull Buffs are light years ahead of where they were at a comparable time one year ago, according to head coach Justin Bernhardt.
“It’s been nice being able to hit the ground running from the first practice,” said Bernhardt, who is entering his second season as the team’s head coach. “They know the verbiage, so as a result, we have been able to get by with a lot fewer walk throughs.”
With only one day of two-a-days before the start of school, it’s been a different type of training camp for the Buffs — as well as for other 2A teams around the state. “It helps that it’s their second year in the system and that we have about 90 percent of our starters back.”
The Buffs will open the season with a Week 0 game Friday night against Riverside. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Bernhardt and his assistant this year — Jeff Hunt, Jeremy Brandl and volunteer Chad Keisel — got a glimple of what they have to work with this season during an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday morning.
Bernhardt called it “encouraging,” said, “We saw a lot of improvement. Communication on both sides was good. The kids are learning to talk. On offense they are learning to read coverages. On defense they’re learning to recognize the different offensive sets. They’ve gained in football intelligence. Obviously, we’ve still got a lot to clean up, but the effort has been awesome.”
As of Tuesday, the roster stood at 33 players.
While the starting lineups have yet to be finalized, Bernhardt said Calder Forcella has won the starting quarterback job, citing the strides he’s made “on his football intelligence” as well as the way he’s matured, both physically and as a leader. “He seems more in command this year,” said the coach.
Paul Stewart and Dawson Forcella have the inside track to starting at the two running back positions, but Fabian Davila is expected to get carries as well.
On the outside, Bernhardt feels good about his receiving corps. The starting four is pretty much set, he said, noting the Forcella’s primary pass-catchers figure to be Kyler Flock, Kason Clutter, Wyatt Nielson and Davila.
“But we’ve got some guys who need to step up to those guys some blows,” Bernhardt said, referring to a group that includes Alex Hebb, Marshall Gibbs and, when healthy, Chris Ogg.
The offensive line is “a work in progress,” Bernhardt said. Cody Strauch, Elias Ewen and Gabe Keisel are vying for the starting job at center; the two who don’t earn that spot will likely be part of the rotation at guard along with Oscar Gomez and Bryce Wright. Logan Jensen and Justin Bacus are in line to be the starting tackles.
Jensen, Gomez and Strauch all got starts on the line last season for the Buffs.
Bernhardt said he hopes to “get a good rotation going” on the defensive line, saying it’s important to have “fresh” players at those positions. Stewart, Jensen, Gomez, Keisel and Dylan Getzfreid are among the top players along the line.
At inside linebacker, the Buffs figure to use Strauch, Wright and Matt Brown, while on the outside, “We’re still mixing bodies in,” Bernhardt said, adding that Gibbs, Dawson Forcella and Hebb are now manning those posts.
The strength of the defense may well be in the secondary, where all four starters return.
Payton Gonzalez and Davila will man the cornerback positions, with Calder Forcella and Wyatt Neilson the top two safety.
Everyone will get playing time on Friday night against Riverside.
“We need to treat this like any other game — and not just because it’s a rivalry game,” said Bernhardt. “With a limited number of practices, two weeks between the start of camp and the first game, we’ve got to get in our live reps. We’ve got to get our kids out there. They need experience playing a full game. Some of them are battling for positions to see who is going to play (starting the following week against Big Horn).”
While the length of camp is a concern, Bernhardt said it’s trumped by a sense of optimism.
“I’m excited about having all these returnees and what they’ve done over the summer,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go before Friday, but when the ball kicks off on Friday and on the Fridays that follow, I think it’s going to be a fun year for us coaches and the kids too.”
FRESHMEN — Arlo Averette, Mason Stebner, Dawson McEwan, Gabe Keisel, Dawson Forcella, Dustin Fox, Elias Ewen, Clancy Stoffers, Jake Harrold, Dylan McEwan, Cade Dooley, Austin Paxton.
SOPHOMORES — Jose Carmona, Marshal Gibbs, Luis Burgos, Eric Agular, Eric Viscincio.
JUNIORS — Oscar Gomez, Chris Ogg, Calder Forcella, Justin Bacus, Dylan Getzfried, Jorge Carmona, Fabian Davila, Wyatt Nielson.
SENIORS — Kyler Flock, Paul Stewart, Payton Gonzales, Cody Strauch, Bryce Wright, Alex Hebb, Logan Jensen, Kason Clutter, Jesus Burgos.