BURLEY — A year ago the Burley football team was competitive in most every game it played in, at least early in games.

Then the second half would come and hit the Bobcats like a freight train.

By the end of the 2015 season, Burley head coach Jed Thomas estimates his varsity team had just 22 players on the roster. That lack of depth led to games getting out of hand in the third and fourth quarters and was a major reason the Bobcats struggled to a 2-7 overall record.

But 2016 has seen a massive leap in numbers within the Burley program. And that has Thomas giddy.

“It’s really exciting for me this year, for the numbers. It’s insurmountable. To have a kid come in fresh,” said Thomas. “When you get tired, you start faltering on the little things … if we can have our No. 2 come in or No. 3 come in and not lose a step, it’s huge.”

Despite enduring a tough season that saw Burley finish winless in Great Basin Conference play, Burley has added 25 more players to its program in the offseason, with the varsity fielding roughly 40 players.

The 75 total players in the Burley program is the largest that Thomas has had in his five years as head coach. The key to the increase? Selling the family aspect of his program and getting kids around campus to give football a shot before deciding it isn’t for them.

“It’s like my kid eating broccoli … You have to try it before you say you don’t like it,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Each boy in here believes in each other. I preach family. It’s a special thing. And the boys that play it can attest to that.”

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The other key factor that led to a less than stellar season in 2015 was an overall lack of experience, according to Thomas. Burley had just seven seniors on the roster a year ago; that number is up to 13 this year.

And while the team returns just seven total starters on both sides of the ball, Thomas is optimistic his team can compete in what has been touted as a wide-open race for the conference crown.

“I would like to say that we can compete for a conference championship game. I do believe that we have the kids to do it,” Thomas said. “That’s why we’re coaching.”

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