In 2013, the Hagerman High School football team went 13-0 and won the 1A Division I state title. Head coach Mark Kress was in his second season.
That same year, Castleford went 3-6 under seventh year head coach Tracy Vulgamore, and lost to Hagerman 54-8. Despite the losing season, the Wolves reached the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Quite a bit has changed since then.
Hagerman crashed down to earth in 2014 with a 3-7 record. One of those losses was to Castloford, which went 6-4 and earned another 1A Division II playoff berth. Neither the Pirates nor the Wolves have enjoyed a winning season since.
The recently strong 1A programs meet again Friday night in Castleford for the Times-News’ Game of the Week. Every team carries high hopes into its season-opener, but these two programs understand that success might take a year to resurface.
On this week’s Magic Valley Sports Podcast, Kress said 2017 could very well be Hagerman’s final year at the 1A-DI level. The lowest enrollment for a school to qualify for the 1A-DI classification is 100 students, and Hagerman is narrowly above that threshold.
“Our enrollment’s just shrinking,” Kress said. “We’ve been pretty much the lowest Division I school in the state the last couple years. Our numbers are hovering right at that 100 mark year in and year out. Next year, we’ll definitely go below 100.”
In a year, the Pirates might be playing in the same conference as Friday’s opponent.
Castleford’s most recent winning season (2014) coincided with Vulgamore’s eighth and final season at the helm. The Wolves have since shuffled through three head coaches in the three seasons — Troy Easterday, Russel Burnum and now, Brian Lowry.
Lowry comes from Greenfield, Missouri, where he turned a 1-7 Greenfield High School team into a winner by his second, and final, season. He inherits another 1-7 team this year, and he aims to instill some energy and stability into a rudderless program.
“I had so much fun taking a team that was down,” Lowry said. “It was very satisfying, satisfying enough that that’s what I wanted to do again when I came out here to Idaho.”
Hagerman hosted Castleford to open last season, and it rumbled to a 50-0 win. The Pirates rushed for 430 yards in that game, and then-junior Caleb Owsley accounted for about 300 of them.
“If you’ve got 300 yards rushing as a team, you’re elated. If one player can come up with that, that’s a game-winner,” Kress said. “Caleb, you just don’t find kids like that.”
Kress isn’t about to predict another blowout this time. A new head coach always provides an element of uncertainty, especially in the season’s first game.
“The one thing I do have going for me, being from Missouri and a first-year coach in Idaho, is the element of surprise,” Lowry said on the podcast. “Nobody knows exactly what we’re gonna do, so I’m gonna keep that in my back pocket.”
Hagerman’s low enrollment left the football team with about 18 players, a number half as large as conference opponent Raft River. Castleford has 20 players this year, according to Lowry.
In a year, Friday’s opponents might be playing for Sawtooth West Conference seeding. This week, they’ll use the opener as a tuneup for their crossroads of a season.