by nathan oster
Not too many teams in the state of Wyoming can say they’ve had a better three-year run than the Greybull Buffs. All three seasons, they qualified for the playoffs. Twice, they advanced to the semifinals. And once, in 2016, they made it all the way to Laramie and the 2A title game.
Along the way, they notched 22 wins, including an impressive 17 over the past two seasons.
Coach Marty Wrage and the Buffs want to extend that playoff streak this year and, to drive the point home, the coaches and players have hung the number ‘4’ in their locker room and in the gym as a rallying point.
It won’t be easy.
Graduation hit the program like a wrecking ball. Five of the eight seniors last year were starters on both sides of the ball, including Dawson Forcella, Dawson McEwan, Elias Ewen, Gabe Keisel and Cade Dooley.
“Some quality kids and players in that group,” said Wrage.
This year’s team gathered for its first conditioning practice on Aug. 9 and went full pads on Aug. 14, all in preparation for its Week 0 competition, which has been expanded into a triangular of sorts.
Shoshoni was scheduled all along to be the Buffs’ opponent this Friday night.
Within the last week, Tongue River has accepted an invitation to join the two teams.
Three halves of football are planned, with the Buffs facing Tongue River at 7, followed by Tongue River clashing with Shoshoni and then, in the nightcap, the Buffs going toe to toe with Shoshoni.
“Last year, with both teams having a lot of veterans, we treated it like a regular game, but this year we’re doing it a little differently,” said Wrage. “We are all kind of in the same boat in that we are pretty young teams. So we are going to use the scrimmage to evaluate players and get a lot of the younger ones some action.”
Wrage said his roster is hovering around 30 players and that practices have been going well. “Of course, we’ve got a lot of holes to fill, so the focus has just been on developing our new players and getting better each day,” he said.
The team’s top returnees include quarterback/defensive end Riley Hill, wide receiver/cornerback Miguel Gomez, running back/defensive back Brayan Castro, center Dade Greene and tight end/defensive end Brock Hill.
Zack Keisel, a running back and one of the team’s top tacklers the past two seasons, belongs on that list as well, but is still something of a question mark due to the knee injury he sustained in last year’s state championship game. He’s been practicing on a limited basis, but hasn’t been ACL-cleared for full contact as yet. The team is hopeful he’ll be ready to go for week one.
Wrage said the team is working hard in practice and that early on, the focus will be getting players in the right spots for success. He hinted that there would be more positional rotations this year than in recent years, when the more experienced players usually went both ways.
That will especially be true in the trenches, where the Buffs in recent years usually held sway. In 2017, “We probably won’t be a finished product until the end of the year,” said Wrage. He added that at least early in the season, the Buffs may fortify the line with formations that allow the tight end and wing to help the interior linemen.
The same is true on defense, where with so many veteran standouts, the Buffs could be “pretty vanilla” in their approach. “Since we’re a little younger, we may need to mix things up a little more. Maybe run some things to get a little more pressure on the quarterback. It’s going to be a learning curve, but we’ll get there.”
After this week’s triangular, the Buffs will shift their attention to their regular season opener against Glenrock. The first preseason football poll of the season had the two teams ranked one-two in 2A, with Glenrock in the top spot, Greybull closely on its heels. They will square off Sept. 1, right here in Greybull.