Head Coach: Kevin Stilling, 9th year
2016 Record: 8-2 (5-0 4A Great Basin Conference)
Playoffs: Lost to Skyview 62-13 in first round of 4A state playoffs
Some high school football coaches are hesitant to declare a specific number of returning starters before the season begins. They want to inspire preseason competition. Starting spots are earned, not given, they insist.
Wood River head coach Kevin Stilling hasn't faced that returning starter conundrum this offseason.
"We return three starters, one of whom tore his ACL and can’t play, and two who are playing new positions," Stilling said. "So in my mind, we return no one."
A year ago, the Wolverines returned the majority of their starters from a 6-4 team. They finished the 2016 season with an 8-2 record and their first conference title in school history.
The historic season ended in a 49-point loss — perhaps an omen for what 2017 has in store.
"We have been, and probably will be again this year, a popular homecoming opponent," Stilling said.
The aforementioned starter who tore his ACL is junior Dalton Brown, who played outside linebacker and punter. Junior Hunter Geissler is moving from guard to center. KC Marcroft and Clayton Douthit, who started about half of Wood River's games last year, are also switching positions on the line.
Senior Taylor Koth is the Wolverines' only true returning starter, and he's a kicker. Of the 22 starting position players last season, 20 were seniors.
"Leadership is key this year," Koth said, "because we lost all of our leaders."
The mass exodus did yield some positive results in the first week of practice this summer.
"It was as energetic as we’ve had in my nine years," Stilling said. "A lot of kids are competing more than ever for playing time."
Wood River loses its most important player last season, quarterback Cade Schott, who was named the Great Basin Conference offensive player of the year. Stilling said senior Wyatt Parish and sophomore Andrew Nelson are the main replacement candidates.
Whoever starts will have ample targets to throw to, namely Jaren Bothwell, Christian Hovey and Ian Thomas.
"Regardless of losing Cade, we still plan to throw the ball," Stilling said.
Wood River's entire program has about 80 players, which is sufficient for Stilling but unremarkable for a 4A school. Pair that with the uncertainty of Wood River's new starters (including two seniors who hadn't played high school football before this season), and Stilling has drastically lowered the expectations from a year ago.
"I can live with a win or a loss on Friday night as long as the effort’s high," Stilling said. "It makes a season of uncertainty, following last year, easy for me."