Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Capital (ID) football: Denis Popudnik feature

On Monday, Feb. 27, I interviewed Capital (Idaho) RB/DB Denis Popudnik. The article below will go in the 2011 Capital football yearbook, which is almost completed. Popudnik is a special talent but is unlikely to play at the college level unless Boise State notices him walking around its campus next fall.


Hard-hitting back led by example
and gave Eagles a two-way player

By Bruce Smith

Denis Popudnik wasn’t your average running back. He wasn’t your basic defensive back either. In fact, little about Popudnik was normal.

His family from the Ukraine to the United States when Popudnik was 7 years old. They settled in Boise because they had friends here. Popudnik arrived as a soccer player, but it didn’t take long for him to get involved in America’s brand of football.

As a senior at Capital, he was one of just two returning defensive starters. However, his hard-hitting abilities also proved useful as a running back. He ended being up being a leader on both sides of the ball. He was Capital’s second-leading rusher and easily led the team in scoring with 17 touchdowns. On defense, he made the all-state team.

“He was the heart-and-soul of our team,” said coach Todd Simis. He stayed healthy on both sides of the ball.

Popudnik also earned Capital’s team MVP award. Simis said he was a good choice.

“Where would we have been without him?” he said.

On the other hand, where would Popudnik be without Capital?

Football made Popudnik a star. After moving from the Hillside area to Lake Hazel in junior high, he figured he would go to Borah, but transferred to Capital as a sophomore.

“I went to Capital because I knew they had a good football program,” he said. “It ended up being a good move.”

As a junior, Popudnik was part of a special group of four players who were originally from Eastern Europe. They were called “The Foreigners,” and helped the Eagles to the 5A state semifinals. The other three – Ali Sabetian, Timofey Rezanovich and Muamer Hasanovic – graduated last year.

Popudnik kept going, and Capital used his talents on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

“I was on the field a lot,” he said. “My mother couldn’t stand to watch me play because she thought I might get hurt. She would come early, take pictures and then leave. But I stayed pretty healthy.”

Instead, it was the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Ukrainian who was dealing the punishment.

He carried the ball just 91 times as a senior, but averaged 6.5 yards per carry. What made him special was not was he fast enough to run by people, but also run through them.

On defense, he was the second-leading tackler and dished out big hits. He also had two interceptions, one which he returned for a touchdown (against Boise).

Popudnik said he was almost always one of the smaller guys on the football field. He praised Capital’s weight-training program for getting him into shape.

“Our weight program at our school is amazing,” he said. “No other school, I guarantee, works out as much as the Capital football team. I remember last year, as soon as we lost (the final game) to Coeur d’Alene, the next Monday were all in the weight room. I got my max pretty high. That gave me the power to run over people.”

Popudnik said his favorite games came against Eagle and Timberline. He carried the ball 10 times for 56 yards against Eagle, but scored three touchdowns, including an 11-yarder late in the game to give Capital the lead.

He had 183 yards and three scores against Timberline. His final touchdown was a 35-yarder that clinched the 38-27 victory. While he had several long runs, Popudnik said he knew he would get the ball when Capital needed a few yards.

“I really loved our ‘jumbo’ package,” he said. “That was smash-mouth football and my job was to get the ball and not stop until I got into the end zone. Short yardage was our specialty. If we had a short-yardage play, they would put in the ‘jumbo’ package and it was always a first down from there.”

Popudnik’s big plays always resulted in a big cheer from the crowd. He was obviously a fan favorite and was named the school’s “homecoming king.” Unlike most normal kings, however, Popudnik didn’t attend the dance.

When football ended, Popudnik decided to play another physical sport – rugby. After graduation, his family wants him to stay close so he intends to enroll at Boise State.

As for football? We’ll see if BSU’s coaches recognize him walking around its campus and ask him to try out.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Capital (ID) football: Kellen Buhr feature

On Sunday, Feb. 26, I interviewed Capital (Idaho) lineman Kellen Buhr. This article will appear in the 2011 Capital football yearbook. Below is the article:


O-line anchor led the team’s success
and was promptly rewarded for it

By Bruce Smith

Even though the Capital Eagles didn’t win the 2011 Idaho high school football championship, Kellen Buhr felt it was part of a great dream.

Rallying with his teammates from a 0-2 start, a homecoming win, beating arch-rival Borah, making the playoffs, making the all-SIC and all-state teams, being given the “Eagle Pride” award at the team banquet …

It’s an impressive list of accomplishments. But perhaps the best part was it didn’t stop there.

After the season ended, Buhr welcomed a “preferred walk-on” status with the Boise State football team. With a little more effort, Buhr could be playing on one of the best college football teams in the nation.

“I’ve grown up a Boise State fan and it’s been my dream (to play there) for a long time,” he said. “They offered me a couple of weeks after the season ended. I knew I couldn’t turn it down.”

Buhr would like to take his Capital teammates with him, especially offensive line mates Hunter Nettles, Paden Munson, Steven Matlock, Brody Leatham and even tight end Paul Blakely. Together, that group made up the biggest – and perhaps most feared – high school offensive line in Idaho.

“It was a great season, but my best memories are bonding with all of my teammates,” Buhr said. “You know, getting to know people I didn’t know before the season started. The O-line had the strongest bond of any group on the field. We were all friends and had a blast at every practice.”

Besides having fun, they also knew when to get serious. After Capital lost to Eagle 42-39 on Sept. 9 at Bronco Stadium, every player had two days to realize it had started the season 0-2. The next Monday, there was a different feeling around the school.

“Everybody in that building is used to super-dominant football,” Buhr said. “We heard jokes and we heard that we weren’t as good as past years. We needed to live up to reputations of past years.

“We had seen Capital go undefeated and go to the semifinals the year before and I think we just kind of expected it to happen (again),” he added. “We didn’t know what it took to make that happen. We had to teach the younger guys that you just don’t show up to win games. You have to prepare every week.

Practice started at 3:15 p.m. and Buhr couldn’t wait. There was a new feeling and everyone got involved. Coach Todd Simis told the players that they needed to start over, but there was also a sense of urgency that lasted for the rest of the season.

“Coach Simis recognized the difference (in the team),” Buhr said. “We were more focused and more motivated. We can have the biggest and fastest guys and best players, but if you don’t have the will to win, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

Capital came out and defeated then-unbeaten Mountain View the next week.

“That was our biggest game of the season,” Buhr said. “We wanted it more than they did. Afterward, I think they were scratching their heads and wondering what had happened.”

Buhr knows what it’s like to have to rally. As a junior, he was moved from guard to center just before the matchup with Eagle, which had defeated Capital in the state title game the previous season. He welcomed the change, but was nervous, too.

“It was super scary,” he recalled. “It was our biggest game of the season and there was so much resting on my snap. Eagle had a noseguard who was really good. I knew I had to rise to the challenge. I ended up playing great and we rolled them.”

Buhr also recalled another difficult night – Capital’s final game at Coeur d’Alene in the 5A semifinals. It was cold, windy and rain and snow was falling sideways. The worst conditions he had ever played in, he said.

“The field was just a mud pit,” he said. “I was barely able to get my fingers on the ball to snap it, and it had mud all over it.

“That was a strange game. I don’t think I had a bad snap the whole game, but the Coeur d’Alene center did and yet they still won. We had a series of really bad events that night and the odds were against us for sure. It made for a long bus ride home, for sure.”

While the season ended on a sour note, there were plenty of highlights, starting with the team’s summer camp at Gold Beach, Ore. There, Buhr put a hit on a Ponderosa High School (Calif.) player that he’ll remember forever. Buhr said he and Hunter Nettles also combined to lay out a Meridian player later in the season.

Mostly, though, he’ll remember walking on the field with his parents, Karl and Stacey Buhr, on “Senior Night” and then beating Borah in one of the best games he has ever seen.

“We pounded the ball on them,” he said. “I think the O-Line can safely say that was when we were at our best.”

Capital (ID) football: Hunter Nettles feature

On Sunday, Feb. 26, I interviewed Capital lineman Hunter Nettles and wrote an article about him for the 2011 Capital football yearbook. Turns out Hunter is the son of old high-school friend of mine. Below is the article:


Eagles’ big lineman survived series
of changes with football successes

By Bruce Smith

Hunter Nettles was the new kid on the block for the Capital Eagles football team.

At 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, he was also one of the biggest. Even better, he was a talented offensive lineman and joined with Kellen Buhr, Paden Munson, Steven Matlock, Brody Leatham and Paul Blakely up front. Combined, that group was Capital’s selling point and it’s possible they were the best in school history.

The Eagles rushed for 3,100 yards (almost 282 yards per game) and helped take the pressure off junior quarterback Makena Simis, who was rarely sacked.
Capital had no trouble moving the football on most nights and averaged 33.3 points per game.

“We knew we would be good up front,” said Capital coach Todd Simis. “Makena benefited from having a good offensive line and we were able to run.”

Not surprisingly, the Centennial Patriots had said the same thing the year before. They also had Nettles on their line, and he helped his former school to the state championship game, where they lost to Coeur d’Alene. Nettles chose to transfer to Capital for his senior year.

Nettles said he never regretted it. He quickly became a big man at Capital and will always consider himself to be an Eagle. But he has always been referred to in that way. Growing up, he was always bigger than any of his friends, and was active in many sports. He didn’t play Little League football, however, because he was – too big.

High school changed all that. He competed in football and wrestling. Just as he started to generate success, he also had to deal with several emotional events that have made a big difference in his life.

* - First, there was his mother, Margaret, who battled cancer for over a year. She finished successful treatment in Jan. 2010 and the event actually brought the family closer together. Hunter supported his mother and even shaved his head after the chemotherapy affected her the same way.
* - Second, the family celebrated their mother’s victory by attending Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl game against TCU. Hunter spent the game on the sidelines as an official BSU “ball boy.”
* - Third, the move to the new school. For several months, Hunter fielded annoying emails and text messages from his former teammates, who also knew they would play Capital in both teams’ season opener.

“I got a lot of grief … it was mostly Internet stuff,” Nettles said. “But it was a good move for me. We lived near the border of the two schools and I had always admired Capital. They were always so tough and physical. I talked to their coaches and liked it.

“I was kind of concerned about whether I would make the starting lineup because I knew they had some starters back,” he added. “But they made me feel right at home and I started right away.”

The Eagles lost to Centennial 35-28 on the Patriots’ home field. Nettles, however, said it was his best game.

“They were talking a lot and it really fired me up,” he said. “I had about 10 ‘pancake’ blocks. There was a lot of talk before the game via texting. They said stuff like ‘we’re going to make you regret transferring.’ But it was a great game.”

It was also just the start. With that contest out of the way, Nettles started to focus. Sure, Capital then lost to eventual SIC champion Eagle, but the 0-2 start only seemed to force everyone to challenge each other. Nettles said Capital wasn’t used to losing games and the team rejuvenated itself with a 19-7 win over Mountain View.

“I’d say Eagle was the team’s best game,” he said. “We had a really young secondary and we held (Eagle QB Tanner) Mangum in check. We pounded it (the ball) down their throats. We were pluggin’ on all cylinders that night.”

Capital, of course, finished second in the SIC and advanced to the 5A semifinals, where they lost to their nemesis – Coeur d’Alene.

The only midseason drawback for Nettles was a separated shoulder suffered against Mountain View and it forced him to miss a game. When the year ended, Nettles made second team all-SIC, but was particularly proud of being tabbed Capital’s top lineman. He also earned a scholarship to Snow College, a well-known junior college football power in Ephraim, Utah.

He hopes to turn that opportunity into a scholarship to a Division I school.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Olympus football: 2011 season recap

On Feb. 24, I interviewed Olympus (Utah) football coach Aaron Whitehead. I'm currently in the process of putting together the Titans' yearbook, commemorating their 2011 season. Here's the article that will appear on Pages 4-5 on the publication.

There’s no defense against team unity

Titans pull a shocker
and win region crown
against all odds

By Bruce Smith

The Olympus Titans didn’t win the 2011 4A state football championship. But that may have been the only thing they didn’t accomplish. Years from now, the players and coaches from the team will likely only smile when they recall the season.

“It was great,” said coach Aaron Whitehead. “The kids worked hard. The group was an absolute delight. They jelled nicely.

“We weren’t sure what kind of season it would be, but I knew after we beat Northridge that we were for real.”

Olympus finished with season with a 9-2 record and won its first region title in seven years. With their football facility and new school building under construction all year, the Titans were “road warriors.” Until the season finale, they played all of their home games at either Cottonwood or Skyline high schools, and won all of them, including a 42-35 victory over the Eagles that decided the Region 7 crown.

“That was really sweet,” Whitehead recalled. “Skyline was a big win and we had to overcome a lot of adversity. It was a masterful performance to do it there.”

Outside of Olympus, few people thought this kind of season was possible. Sure, the Titans had a productive summer playing in 7-on-7 tournaments in Utah and California and, even though Whitehead had success as a head coach previously at East, this would still be his first year.

In addition, Oly was placed in a difficult new region that featured Herriman, Skyline, Hillcrest and Murray - all whom had dropped from 5A.

There was also that “homeless” factor. At the start of the year, nobody knew when – or if - the Titans’ field would be available. Huge piles of dirt were stacked in open areas on campus, forcing the Titans to ride a bus every day to nearby Evergreen Junior High for practice.

“There was a lot of adversity, but it just made us come together more,” said Whitehead. “It was fun that we were able to play our last home game here against Hillcrest. The kids appreciated it more.”

It showed. Oly rode the talents of senior quarterback Scott Porter, who threw for almost 2,600 yards and 23 touchdowns. Porter was named the team’s MVP at the post-season banquet. He was also crowned Region 7’s top player and joined Nate Watchman on the all-state team.

“As a coach, my experience had always been to run, run and run the ball,” said Whitehead. “With Scott, we changed all that. He had a nice release on the ball and would just pick teams apart. As Scott went, so did our team.”

Porter’s abilities were especially noticeable in the summer 7-on-7 tournaments, and again in region play. He didn’t make mistakes and knew his receivers well. With the exception of a 41-10 win at Murray, all of the Titans’ region games weren’t decided until the final quarter – even their 34-7 win over Hillcrest on “Senior Night.”

Porter had a lot of help, though. Fifteen different Oly receivers caught passes during the season, and the passing game also helped open holes for Brandon McBride, who came on near the end of the year and rushed for 763 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Porter and McBride joined Watchman, Calvin Escobedo, Nate Sorenson, Cole Benson, Chandler Thornton and Jack Thomas on the all-region squad.

There might have been several others had the Titans been injury-free. Those problems started on the season’s first play from scrimmage, a 27-7 victory at Snow Canyon, when running back Connor Johnson was lost for the season. It forced the Oly coaching staff to continuously juggle the lineup – and the Titans still had success.

“Our team unity probably helped out a lot,” said Whitehead. “We had every reason to make excuses and we didn’t.”

When the season finally ended on a warm, windy night at home against Bountiful, the players didn’t want to leave the field. For a long time afterward, Oly fans watched as their players stood on the new artificial surface and relished all that was accomplished.

“Oly has always had the reputation of having hard-working kids,” said Whitehead. “That’s what makes them stand apart.”

Wilson baseball: The team's fine coaches

Wilson (Ore.) coach Mike Clopton asked me to write a couple of articles for his team's 2012 baseball program. I interviewed Clopton, as well as a couple other former Wilson coaches. I discovered this to be one of the main reasons for Wilson's history of baseball success. Here is the article:

By Bruce Smith

Wilson High School opened in 1956. It didn’t take long for the school to become a baseball power. If you have ever met its coaches, you might understand why.

Wilson has had just five baseball coaches in its history. Mike Clopton, the Trojans’ current coach, has been there the longest – since 1983. Clopton, though, is the latest in a short line of mentors with impressive resumes. Wilson won its only state championship in 2006, but has claimed 14 PIL titles and its American Legion history is even better.

The school has helped create more than its share of college and minor-league ballplayers, and boasts major league standouts like Dale Murphy and Wayne Twitchell.

With such talent, it brings about a question: Has Wilson created good coaches? or have good coaches created Wilson?

“Baseball is a character-building sport. It’s a privilege to play and, like all sports at this level, you have to hold your talent up to public scrutiny. That’s really what it’s about,” said Jack Dunn, now a Portland baseball legend who coached here from 1970-74. “If a guy ends being like Dale Murphy, and they’re fortunate to make a good living playing the game, then that’s what high school baseball is meant to do.

“There. I have spoken.”

Based on the evidence – and comments like that from Dunn - it appears the latter is most likely.

Dunn is probably the most famous, and charismatic, of the Wilson baseball coaches. Clopton, however, is probably considered the most successful because of his eight PIL titles and the state title.

At least eight players from Wilson’s 2006 squad went on to play college baseball. Most would say Clopton had a big effect on their success – and they would be right. Here’s a look at him and some of the other Wilson coaches:

Mike Clopton is now retired from teaching, but has led the Wilson baseball squad for 29 years. He grew up in Portland and graduated from Cleveland in 1965, where he played baseball for Jack Dunn. He played baseball at Portland State and later became an assistant coach for three years there under Coach Dunn and Roy Love.

Clopton and his wife, Gayle, have been married for over 40 years and have two children. He has coached baseball from Little League to college and has been nominated so many times as Coach of the Year that it almost goes without saying.

He’s a fundraiser, an innovator (started a Babe Ruth League), and has conducted too many baseball clinics to list. Perhaps most importantly, he has built an impressive reputation and every Wilson player and opponent knows it.

Almost 30 years ago, Clopton coached baseball at Jackson High and took over here for Walt Looney when the schools merged at that time. Looney was a multi-sport athlete at Williamette University and was part of Wilson’s baseball program for many years. Looney recently passed away, but was known not only for his baseball knowledge, but his mathematical abilities.

Looney was Wilson’s baseball coach was 1975-82, but was mostly known for being part of the football program here. He headed the football program for five years. He won a PIL coaching award in 1994 and was later inducted into the Willamette Hall of Fame.

Looney took over the baseball program from Dunn, whose amazing knowledge and effort had turned Wilson back into a baseball power. Dunn transferred from Cleveland back in a time when moving within the school district wasn’t popular.

Dunn, however, was influential. He wanted to coach at Wilson because he lived nearby and his sons, John, Jeff and Jim, were nearing high-school age. His resume included an impressive playing career at Lincoln under legendary coach Wade Williams, 10 years experience playing minor league baseball and a city championship while coaching at Cleveland.

“When I got there, they weren’t doing too well,” he recalled. “We won two league championships in the next five years, and our American Legion team won three state championships and one year we finished 3rd in the U.S.”

Dunn’s success was noticed and left Wilson to become the head coach at Portland State, where he guided the Vikings for 20 years. Dunn lost his wife, Jean, in 1997, but he and his three sons still live in the area. Dunn, in fact, can often be found in the stands watching Wilson games.

Dunn took over for Bob McFarlane, who was here from 1964-69. McFarlane remembers having to rebuild the program and he said the he did the best he could.

“We were pretty good,” he recalled. “We played good baseball. I did my best to teach them, and I was satisfied with that. We didn’t make any playoffs, but only the district champion made the state playoffs at that time.”

McFarlane had a long history of playing baseball, and even made the minor leagues. He said the highlight of his career was being drafted and playing minor-league ball in Salem. When he first arrived, the team put him in at the Marion Hotel there. He immediately went to the hotel restaurant to eat, and met his wife, Marge, who was working there.

“I went down there and there she was,” he said. “In the end, she was the reason I got out of baseball. I wanted to spend more time with her. She was better than baseball.”

Marge McFarlane died in 2009 and a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t miss her. The couple had two daughters, and both were impressive athletes at Wilson.
McFarlane lives in Beaverton and has no regrets. He gave up his coaching position to Dunn to become the school’s athletic director.

“Jack was very well liked and respected,” he said. “He was a good choice.”
Bob Webster was Wilson’s first baseball coach. He spent seven years (1957-63) heading the Trojans’ staff. In only his fourth season, he helped guide the Trojans to their first PIL title and, in fact, Wilson won it for three straight seasons.

Webster also coached basketball at the school.

Wilson baseball: Alpenrose Dairy's support

I was asked by Wilson (Ore.) High School coach Mike Clopton to write a couple of articles for his team's 2012 baseball program. Here is the first article, which is about the support provided by Alpenrose Dairy, a Portland company that has helped promote baseball for years there.

By Bruce Smith

Carl Cadonau, Jr. has always had pride in his name.

Cadonau is well-known in the Portland area. If you research it closely, you’ll see it associated with Alpenrose Dairy, of course, and the associated park. But also Wilson High School and baseball.

It has been that way for as long as he can remember. Cadonau is now 66 years old and – so far – those affiliations are a big part of Portland-area life.

Alpenrose Dairy was started in 1916 by Cadonau’s great-grandfather, Florian, in 1891. Today, it has 160 employees, a beautiful 52-acre site on Shattuck Road that most people consider a park. Cadonau, the co-CEO, said the company is doing well but always faces new challenges.

“There have been other dairies go out of business, but we don’t borrow money,” he said. “That’s something I got from my grandfather. During good times, you put the money away and you get it when times are tough. If you don’t owe anything, you can do a lot more.”

That mantra has supported the company, and assisted the company as it has supported the community.

Alpenrose Park is an example of that. The Cadonau’s have always lived in the area and have made their business part of the Portland scene. Ironically, that grew after a tragic fire at Alpenrose’s original facility in 1943 forced it to move to its current site.

Since then, Alpenrose has created facilities to accommodate a variety of public entertainment. One of them is Alpenrose Stadium, where baseball games have been played since 1956, including the girls Little League Softball World Series.

Not far is Dairyville, a replica of a western frontier town, including a 600-seat opera house. The site also has one of the Northwest’s finest Quarter Midget Racing (car) arenas, where drivers of all ages can refine their skills and the Alpenrose Velodrome, a high-banked, Olympic-style bicycle racing track.

For at least seven months of the year, the park is buzzing with activity. Alpenrose’s sponsorship of Wilson baseball also keeps the team going, too.

“My kids went to Wilson and it’s our alma mater, too,” said Cadonau. “We still live in the district and I have a granddaughter there now.”

Cadonau is from the Class of 1963. He said he has always wanted to support the school, especially baseball. Cadonau said started playing baseball when he was 10 years old and remembers his days at Wilson well.

“My father (Carl, Sr.) had set up a deal with Bob Olson, who was at Jackson High, and sponsored the American Legion team. Jackson then closed down and it became the Wilson legion team. It was already sponsored by Watco Electric.

“When Watco Electric quit sponsoring, I took over,” he said. “(Coach) Mike (Clopton) does a fantastic, wonderful job with the kids. He and his wife, Gayle, sacrifice a lot of time and energy and are really committed. We put our money into that effort and have done it for a long time.”

Clopton said he appreciates Alpenrose’s support for the high school and legion teams. The money helps the team sustain its equipment and occasional travel, but the stadium’s scoreboard – bearing the Alpenrose name – is where it’s most noticeable.

“Mike runs a lot of tournaments and we like being associated with them,” Cadonau said. “It’s good for everyone.”

Mostly, though, Cadonau wants Alpenrose to be associated with local activity. The dairy, park and Wilson baseball have been part of the community for a long time and each continues to grow and extend into something new.

Cadonau and his family already have their legacy. Time and effort will continue to extend it.

Skyview (Idaho) 2011 football recap

On Friday, Feb. 24, I interviewed Skyview coach David Young and wrote an article commemorating his team's 2011 season. The article will be placed near the front of his team's football yearbook, which I'm working on now. Below is the article:

Motivated Hawks reach another goal

Late-season success
gives Skyview SIC title
with hopes for more

By Bruce Smith

Shortly after the 2011 football season, Skyview coach David Young looked at his schedule and compared it to a basketball tournament.

“Our games were not easy,” he said. “We rolled against the easier opponents and, when we went into the meat of our schedule, we were battle ready. I put our remaining schedule on a poster board and made it look like a basketball bracket … to a degree.”

With just three of the league’s nine teams invited to the postseason, it was basically win or go home. And Skyview won.

The Hawks finished the year with a 7-3 overall record and captured the 4A SIC championship with a 7-1 mark. They came back from a midseason loss to rival Nampa with an attitude that made them believe they were still a contender.

“I was extremely happy … extremely proud,” said Young. “We were the preseason favorite (to win the SIC) and we were able to achieve that goal. Sometimes when you’re pegged in the poll, you can only go downward.

“Some of the kids had questions about what kind of season it would be,” he added. “When we were at football camp, every kid had no doubt.”

The league title was the third in Skyview’s 16-year history and seven victories was the most second-most by the school. Afterward, defensive lineman Ryan Rambo was selected to the all-state team and four players (Rambo, Tanner Robison, Walker Ray and Kody Odom) made all-conference.

Young said what made him the most proud was 17 players were tabbed all-academic and had GPAs of 3.5 or higher.

For the Hawks, their road to season full of memories actually started in mid-summer, with a trip to the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. There, the team bonding experience began, and it continued with their own camp on the Skyview campus in early August.

“It sets the tone and gives us confidence going into the season,” Young said. “It was a huge learning experience.”

The Hawks battled through injuries and didn’t let a season-opening loss to 3A power Fruitland take them down. The season will always be remembered for how it ended:

* - On homecoming night, Skyview rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat Middleton in a game that had a championship atmosphere.
* - Going to rival Columbia and doing the same thing to the Wildcats, putting a damper on the best season in their short history.
* - Rallying from a huge deficit to edge Bishop Kelly in front of their home fans to claim the league title.

“It felt like each game was for a championship,” Young recalled. “By the time we played BK, our kids were tired, but it was yet another championship. That’s a lot to push on our guys week after week, and they handled it well. We were down at halftime in three of those last four games and they responded.”

The school celebrated, but the team didn’t – as much. After accepting congratulations for winning the title, the Idaho High School Activities Association’s reward was a matchup against defending state champion Blackfoot.

“We knew we were going to have to play them,” Young said. “We wanted to play them at home instead of on the road or at the Minidome (Holt Arena in Pocatello)."

The Broncos had ended Skyview’s season the previous year, and they did again in 2011 en route to another state title. Young said the loss hurt, but also fueled the fire for next season.

“Middleton (finished second in the SIC) went all the way to the state championship and we were proud of what they did for our conference, but our kids were envious, too,” he said. “Middleton did it and so can we, so I think it’s made the kids more hungry.”

The success of 2011 has allowed Skyview’s seniors to pass the torch to the younger players and continue the team’s progress as it attempts to eventually earn its first state title. Next year’s team should have a lot of returning varsity talent, and the junior varsity and freshmen teams fared well.

“There’s quite a bit of depth and talent in the program,” Young said. “We are set up to be good for a while.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Skyline baseball: Ashton Sponaugle feature

On Feb. 23, I interviewed former Skyline baseball player Ashton Sponaugle. This was the fifth - and final - feature article on seniors who played on the Eagle's baseball team last year. Sponaugle transferred from Bountiful just before his senior year and made a big impact. He's a guy with potential in a lot of different areas. Doesn't know what he wants to do with his life yet, but he certainly is interesting.
Here is the article for the yearbook.


His quick adjustment to his new team
provided a spark at important times

By Bruce Smith

Ashton Sponaugle was the new guy. He started attending Skyline as a senior specifically due to baseball.

Sponaugle commuted from Bountiful, where he had three years experience as a pitcher and would have likely started in the Braves’ outfield. He felt he wasn’t treated well, however, and his friend, Devin Gomez, convinced me it would be fun to play together at Skyline.

“Devin was a really good friend and he had a lot of good things to say about Skyline,” Sponaugle recalled. “His dad and my dad worked together. That’s how we met. Playing at Skyline ended up being my best sports highlight.”

“One of our main goals at Skyline was to win the region championship,” he added. “Early on, we had our doubts, but it was good to feel part of a winning team. At Bountiful, we didn’t have a winning tradition for baseball. I liked the camaraderie we had at Skyline and everyone accepted me from the start.”

It took a little while, however, for Sponaugle to accept himself. He had his doubts early, but became one of the team’s most-important players. He had a strong arm and pitched several games. He also started in right field.

“My best memory of our season was the close games we had against Cottonwood and West,” he said. “Those four games were big. Just adjusting to Skyline was my biggest problem. They had a new way to play. I hit the ball OK. It wasn’t my best season, but I did OK.”

Sponaugle created his role from the beginning. He started in right field in the opening game and was asked to start as pitcher a few days later – against Uintah. He said he took the mound that afternoon with a lot of butterflies in his stomach. He walked the first batter on a 3-2 count, and he came around to score.

“It was just nerves,” he said. “I wanted to come in and show everyone what I could do and just play good for the team. After the first inning, I calmed down and pitched really well.”

He scattered three hits in Skyline’s 15-2 victory. Overall, it was a great day for him. In the game against Logan a few hours prior, he had three hits and stole four bases in the Eagles’ 16-3 win.

Sponaugle also fondly recalled the Eagles’ victories against Cottonwood. The first game (a 3-2 Skyline win), he started off badly.

“I had been playing horrible. I got picked off base and then had a ball go through my legs on defense,” he said.

He made up for it in the final inning, when his RBI single scored Skyline’s first run in its seventh-inning rally. He later scored when the winning run on Bryce Barr’s hit.

“Then, when we played them there, I made a diving catch in the outfield and double-off the runner at first base,” he said. “That was a big play.”

That also led to other victories that gave Skyline its first region championship in seven years. Sponaugle said he was worried about Cottonwood and West the most and, when the Eagles beat West 11-9 late in the year to sweep both opponents, it resulted in a celebration because that’s when the team felt like it had won the title (even though it wasn’t official until beating Murray later).

Sponaugle said having Gomez on the team helped make him more comfortable, and his contribution also made him a well-known figure. He said he also developed friendships with guys like Jordan Hall, who also had moved to Skyline from Bountiful, and Carter Allen.

“I really liked playing baseball for Skyline,” he said. “It was just a really good experience.”

After graduation, Sponaugle’s family moved to Cottonwood Heights. At press time, he said he wasn’t certain what we wanted to do. He had considered going to college at Dixie State and was considering joining the U.S. Marines. He also had some experience as a model.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Skyline baseball: Carter Allen feature

I interviewed Carter Allen the other day for the Skyline baseball 2011 yearbook. He was a senior last season. Although he didn't play much, it was inspiring to hear that the camaraderie on the squad kept him motivated. A lot of people could learn from him. Here is the proposed article for the yearbook.

By Bruce Smith

Carter Allen admitted that his high-school goals didn’t involve playing Major League Baseball. He was, however, proud to be part of the Skyline Eagles.

Carter didn’t earn much time on the field as a senior, but relished the moments anyway.

“It was great every day … just going out and hanging out with my best friends,” he said. “We challenged each other. It was like a competition where we pushed each other to do better.”

Allen only started playing baseball during his sophomore year, mostly due to the urging of his best friend and locker partner, Sam Trout. He said he worked hard to make the team that year. He improved quickly and, by his second year on the team, was playing a lot on the junior varsity.

“I didn’t expect to be the best player,” he said. “I played behind Devin (Gomez) and he was having a great year. I learned a lot from watching him, and the other players. I don’t regret that at all.”

Allen said he played in perhaps five games and got three at-bats during his senior season. Allen said he, Trout, Gomez and Ashton Sponaugle had most of their classes together. The team’s camaraderie and eventual success made it a great way to finish his high-school career.

“The whole school was excited,” Allen said. “People were really into it. We beat Cottonwood twice and people thought we had a real chance to win the championship. It was great to be part of that.”

Allen said he was better at individual sports. Growing up, he played golf and racquetball and was a key member of both of those Skyline teams. Racquetball, of course, was not sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association. Skyline, however, had one of the state’s best golf teams.

* - As a junior, Allen carded a two-round score of 181 at the Valley View Golf Course in Kaysville as Skyline finished eighth behind state champion Syracuse.

* - As a senior, Allen’s two-round score dropped to 172 at Orem’s Sleepy Ridge Golf Course. Skyline again took eighth among the 5A schools and Lone Peak was the team champion.

“I was good, but not like the top (players) in the state,” Allen recalled. “I had a 6 or 7 handicap.”

Golf and racquetball, however, didn’t have the social network of baseball.

Allen said his two fondest moments from being on the team included watching Trout beat Cottonwood twice, which allowed the Eagles to end the Colts’ long reign and give Skyline the region championship.

Another great memory occurred during his junior year:

“At that time, our locker rooms were being rebuilt and people weren’t allowed to go through because it had asbestos,” Allen said. “Garrett Wallace walked through and no one would sit by him and or even get around him. We told him it was contagious and he was totally fooled.

“Coach (Erik) Hansen even went along with it. We told him he needed to go Walgreen’s (drug store) and get some asbestos crème. The people at Walgreen’s had to tell him there was no such thing. ‘You guys toyed with me,’ he said. It was great.”

Allen said he saw Wallace at the University, where he also enrolled shortly after graduation. He said he was majoring in International Business and Political Science and also playing on the school’s racquetball team. He also continued to follow baseball, and hoped Skyline’s success he was part of continued to grow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Riverton peaking at the right time

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, I attended the Riverton-Lehi boys basketball game. I'm publishing yearbooks for both of these teams and, since the contest had post-season implications, I thought it was a good one. Here is my game story.

By Bruce Smith

The Lehi-Riverton game Tuesday night was supposed to have a tournament atmosphere. The winning team made the postseason; the losing team was done.

It didn’t feel that way.

Riverton opened the game on an 8-0 run and never looked back. Richard Worsham and D McCleary scored 18 points each as the Silverwolves celebrated their “Senior Night” with a convincing 64-43 win over the visiting Pioneers in a Region 4 game.

“We have definitely been playing our best ball the last three or four games,” said Riverton coach Steve Galley. “With our kids, it’s come from within.”

Riverton won its third straight and finished the regular season with an 11-10 record. More importantly, the Silverwolves improved to 4-6 in region and grabbed fourth place. They’ll open the 5A state tournament next week against Viewmont, a team they beat early in the season.

That’s still far into the future. On this night, Riverton wanted to celebrate.

On the other side of court, Lehi recognized not only the end of its season, but an important era. The Pioneers were 11-10 and coach Craig Gladwell acknowledged he had coached his last game.

“This is it for me,” said Gladwell, who led the Pioneers for 10 years at the end of his 42-year career. “It has been a good year, but this is a tough region.

There are no days off. You have to be at your best or you’ll get killed.”

Lehi seemed to be dying early, but Colton College, Brad Cleveringa and Tanner helped cut the margin to three points and had a couple of chances to reduce it even more. Colledge led the way with 10 points and six rebounds. However, he picked up his third foul in the third quarter and the threat ended.

“That made a big difference,” said Gladwell. “I thought about keeping him in there, but if he picked up his fourth then we wouldn’t have had him for the fourth quarter.”

Riverton went on a 12-2 run and the outcome was decided. The Pioneers shot just 32.6 percent and finished 1-14 from three-point range.

The Silverwolves, meanwhile, were just getting started.

The 6-foot-7 Worsham had his best night of the year and created most of Lehi’s defensive problems. He made 6-of-7 shots and also helped the Silverwolves to a 31-20 rebound advantage. McCleary had another great floor game, and the Riverton fans gave him a standing ovation when he came off the court with about two minutes left.

The best part of the show, however, came from Stephan Holm. He used his athletic ability to score 12 points and pull down a game-high seven rebounds. Holm had a nice dunk early in the game and then thrilled the crowd midway through the fourth quarter when he caught a perfect alley-oop pass from senior Austin Anderson and threw it down like an NBA player.

“No, that wasn’t planned,” said Galley, smiling. “That was totally improv, but it worked out well.”

Lehi 10 10 10 13 - 43
Riverton 20 7 17 20 - 64

LEHI (43) – Blake Cleveringa 3-9 3-4 9, Brad McGregor 3-11 0-0 6, Tanner Pittard 3-8 2-2 8, Colton Colledge 3-8 4-7 10, Ryan Christofferson 1-8 1-1 3, Braxton Nerdin 2-3 0-0 4, Trevor Christensen 1-2 0-0 3, Jordan Peck 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Macula 0-0 0-0 0, Colin Anderton 0-0 0-0 0, Gavin Rasmussen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-49 10-14 43.
RIVERTON (54) – Stephan Holm 4-8 4-4 12, Bryce Stone 4-6 0-0 9, Richard Worsham 6-7 6-6 18, Austin Anderson 0-2 0-0 0, D McCleary 5-8 8-8 18, Tevita Loamanu 1-3 2-4 5, Weston Rindlisbacher 0-0 2-2 2, Nathan Erickson 0-0 0-0 0, Jameson Kroll 0-1 0-0 0, Connor Hendersen 0-0 0-0 0, Brady Holt 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Sly 0-0 0-0 0, Skyler Lewis 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Neilson 0-0 0-0 0, J.P. Reagh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-35 22-24 64.
Total fouls: Lehi 14, Riverton 14. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None.
Three-point shooting: Lehi 1-14 (Christensen). Riverton 2-8 (Stone, Loamanu).
Rebounds: Lehi 20 (College 6), Riverton 31 (Holm 7).
Turnovers: Lehi 9, Riverton 13.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Capital (ID) football season recap

I'm now working on the Capital Eagles (Idaho) 2011 football yearbook. Here's the story I wrote commemorating the team's season.

Eagles rise up once again

Talented line and newcomers team up
to lead Capital to 5A semifinals

By Bruce Smith

The deck was stacked against the Capital Eagles for the 2011 season.

Sure, the Eagles lost a lot of good players to graduation, but it was much more than that. Capital also had a new quarterback and its schedule started with perennial powers Centennial and Eagle.

“If you would have told me at the start of the season that we would have been 48 minutes from the championship game, I would have taken it,” said coach Todd Simis. “We were real concerned about replacing a lot of key guys, but it was enjoyable.

“(After) the first two weeks, we were 0-2 and we hadn’t done that in many, many years. But I was proud of the way the kids hung together.”

Capital rebounded in a big way. The Eagles won eight straight games and advanced to the 5A state semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Coeur d’Alene. Capital finished 8-3. That may not rank was one of the finest in school history, but the whole team should feel proud.

“It was a real positive season,” Simis said. “We knew we would be good up front (on the line), but everything else was a question mark. That adversity was good. We beat a good Mountain View team and I look back upon it fondly.”

Mountain View was Capital’s third game, and the Mavericks had a fine season. But to the surprise of most people not associated with Capital football, the Eagles dominated. That 19-7 win Sept. 16 changed everything.

“That week (before the game) was pretty stressful,” Simis recalled. “I told them (the team) that the season starts today and the kids bought into that. We ended up finding ways to win close games. We kept getting better. It was a testament to the team.

“In that game, we got the ball first. On that first drive, we hit an 80-yard pass to (freshman) Tariq Littlejohn. That gave us confidence. Once we got that win, the kids started to believe it.”

Junior Makena Simis spent the entire season at quarterback. He threw the pass to Littlejohn and several more good ones as the season progressed. Makena faced all kinds of pressure being the coach’s son, but handled it well.

Simis was helped by one of the best offensive lines in Capital history – led by Kellen Buhr, Steven Matlock, Paden Munson and Paul Blakely – and the Eagles also found talented running backs like T.J. Clarke and Denis Popudnik.

“We averaged (almost) six yards per carry,” Coach Simis said. “We made too many mistakes against Centennial, but we felt we were going to be fine. From that point on, Makena was turnover-free and that helps you win football games. As we went through the year, he got better.”

The Eagles finished second in the Southern Idaho Conference and whipped Skyline in the first round of the playoffs.

The second round was a different story. The Eagles endured a 400-mile bus ride to Coeur d’Alene, but then one of the team buses broke down en route to the stadium. Even worse was the cold, rainy, windy weather that made life miserable for everybody.

Years from now, the team will remember the horrible conditions far more than the final score.

“Coeur d’Alene was awesome, but that was the worst weather conditions I’ve seen my 30 years being involved in football,” Coach Simis said. “They were better equipped to handle it than we were. They had hand-warmers and parkas. Their quarterback (5A MVP Chad Chalich) was a great player and they knew how to win.”

Despite the loss, Capital’s season-long effort was noticed.

Six Eagle players made first-team All-SIC and five were selected to the all-state team. Denis Popudnik, who was known primarily for his defense coming into the season, became a huge offensive threat. He ran for almost 600 yards, but scored an amazing 17 touchdowns and Simis tabbed him Capital’s Most Valuable Player.

T.J. Clarke ran for 300 yards against rival Borah was the Offensive MVP. Jake Walters was the Defensive MVP and Buhr was awarded the “Eagle Pride” award, which Simis said most embodies Capital football.

Marcus Tovar didn’t win any team awards, but his play he was in the opponent’s backfield all year. That made him an all-state pick and he attracted attention from Division I colleges.

“We felt he was the best defensive lineman in Idaho,” Coach Simis said.
Next year, Capital expects to be among the state’s best once again, led by Makena Simis, who will likely set records at quarterback.

“We’ll be as good as we’ve ever been on offense and in the skill positions,” coach Simis said. “We’re deep and talented … we just have to replace 4-5 offensive lineman and our front seven on defense. But, on offense, we’ll be just fine.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Oly bombs rival Skyline

On Friday, Feb. 17, I attended the Skyline at Olympus boys basketball game. This is a neighborhood rivalry and the Skyline gym was packed. It was a pleasure to be there. It was also "one of those nights" for the visiting team. This is the article I wrote that night. I'm doing yearbooks for both teams this year.

By Bruce Smith

For three quarters Friday night, the Olympus Titans played their best basketball of the season. The Titans could have beaten anybody. It was one of those nights when everything went their way.

You could say the stars seemed to align. It just happened that the opponent was their neighborhood rival – Skyline. The newspaper clippings showed that Parker Rawlings scored 17 points and Will Cannon had 15 in a 54-45 Oly victory in a Region 7 game.

Oly’s victory moved the Titans into a first-place tie with Skyline and also helped avenge a 59-52 loss to the Eagles on their court earlier this season.

But it was much more than that.

“We played pretty darn good,” understated Oly coach Matt Barnes. “We had the passion that we had lost for a few games. We had this well in hand.”

Rawlings was a big part of it. The 6-foot-7 senior, who attended Skyline as a sophomore but didn’t make the team, moved to Olympus and came back to haunt the Eagles with a huge performance. He made 4-6 three-pointers, a couple of them during a third-quarter blitz where Oly pushed a 32-17 lead even bigger.

At one point, the margin reached 24 points. As Skyline fans hoped for a second-half comeback, Rawlings, Coulson Hardy, Jake Bengzten and Nick Barney made consecutive shots from long range that prevented that from happening.

The game was well in hand by the fourth quarter and Oly fans enjoyed the time to appreciate it.

“It was a great stretch,” Barnes said. “They were really making it tough for our big guys, but we got the ball to the perimeter and made the shots. Parker Rawlings was on fire. It was just one of those nights.”

Skyline coach Derek Bunting, whose team had a chance to clinch the region title with a victory, wasn’t too disappointed with the loss.

“The way they shot the ball … what could we do?” he said. “We didn’t want to give up any layups, like we did in the fourth quarter last time (we played them). When the ball starts rolling like this, it’s hard to turn off.”

Oly came out the aggressor. The Titans, who fell 59-52 to Skyline on their home court earlier this season, got an early lead and, by early in the second quarter, it became apparent this was a special night. Skyline focused its defense to stop Cannon, but failed.

Cannon was harassed all night. He still got nine points by halftime and was fouled on every one of his baskets. The third time, he was shoved almost into the nearby concrete wall, but somehow the ball went in the basket. As Oly fans roared, Bunting could only grimace.

“We couldn’t get stops,” he said. “I don’t know why, but we’ve not been a good team at home this year.”

The Eagles’ loss on “Senior Night,” where they honored five players, will also be remembered for the huge crowd on hand. Still, they fell to 5-4 in their gym this year (10-1 on the road).

But they but didn’t go quietly.

As Oly tried to hold on to the ball in the fourth quarter, Skyline forced several turnovers and rallied to make the final score appear more respectful. A Barney free throw was the only thing prevented from being blanked in the final eight minutes.

DeSean Miller, despite a poor shooting night, made several driving layups for Skyline and finished with 15 points. Garrett England added 13.


Olympus 16 16 21 1 - 54
Skyline 10 7 12 16 - 45

– Nick Barney 2-4 1-2 6, Jake Bengtzen 3-3 0-2 8, Stuart Pace 0-1 0-0 0, Will Cannon 6-8 3-3 15, Parker Rawlings 6-11 1-2 17, Coulson Hardy 3-8 0-0 8, Jackson Coleman 0-1 0-1 0, Jaren Jones 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 20-38 5-10 54.
SKYLINE (45) – DeSean Miller 5-17 2-2 12, Clint Berhow 4-9 0-1 8, PatrickNielson 1-2 0-2 2, Scott Anderson 0-1 0-0 0, Mike Staes 0-3 2-2 2, Garrett England 4-6 4-5 13, Jacek Hacking 3-5 2-4 8. Totals 17-43 10-16 45.
Total fouls: Olympus 18, Skyline 18. Fouled out: Hardy, Berhow. Technical fouls: None.
Three-point shooting: Olympus 9-19 (Rawlings 4, Hardy 2, Bengtzen 2, Barney). Skyline 1-9 (England).
Rebounds: Olympus 25 (Barney, Cannon 6), Skyline 25 (Nielson 6).
Turnovers: Olympus 16, Skyline 13.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Skyline baseball: Devin Gomez feature

On Feb. 13, I wrote an article about former Skyline High School baseball player Devin Gomez, who is now the College of Eastern Utah. Gomez played for Skyline's 2011 baseball team. This article is to appear in the Eagles' 2011 baseball yearbook.

Devin Gomez:

Lineup change energized the offense
and gave him a big confidence boost

By Bruce Smith

For Devin Gomez, it’s amazing the difference a year can make.

Gomez started playing baseball at age 4, he said. Hrew up in West Jordan, but transferred from Copper Hills High School to Skyline just before his junior year. He always earned good grades, and wanted to take advantage of Skyline’s education emphasis.

It turned out there was another good side to being an Eagle.

“When I came here, I was small,” he said. “I was like 5-foot-2 and skinny and I didn’t start one game my junior year. Some of the older guys (Michael Kaelin, Trey Nielsen, J.D. Peacock and Austin Butler) took me under their wing, though, and I went into the weight room and starting drinking protein shakes.

“Coach (Erik Hansen) told me later that I would start playing varsity my senior year. It was a great season.”

Not surprisingly, the contributions Gomez made coincided with Skyline’s success. At the start of the year, he was the starting second baseman, but ninth in the batting order. In a doubleheader at Salt Lake Community College, Gomez had two of Skyline’s five hits in a 9-1 loss to Brighton.

“Coach said he was making some changes in the lineup and moving someone up, but I didn’t think it would be me,” Gomez recalled. “It was exciting. I was really happy.”

Skyline then beat Pleasant Grove 10-9, its best offensive performance in five games, and the start of a seven-game winning streak. Gomez stayed at No. 2 the rest of the season.

“He was our leading hitter,” Hansen said.

“He worked on the things we were trying to teach him and had a great senior year. He hit in clutch situations and was a great asset to the team.”

Gomez had a unique ability. A right-hander, he was often able to hit to the opposite field. With leadoff hitters like Jordan Hall and Bryce Barr often on base, he helped score runs. That effort was noticed by many people.

For his efforts, Gomez earned the team’s “Hard Hat” award, which was given by Hansen at the team’s post-season banquet. Gomez also attracted the attention of local colleges and, with Hansen’s assistance, earned a baseball scholarship at the College of Eastern Utah.

He was injured during fall baseball at CEU, and redshirted his freshman season, where he played with West’s Chance Abrath. Gomez said he hoped to play the next year and then continue on at a school closer to Salt Lake City.

“I’d like to be closer to home,” he said. “When I was at Skyline, my family came to a lot of my games. My dad (Sergio Gomez) never missed one. It was always nice to have them there.”

Devin said he appreciated his time at Skyline, and left with a lot of great memories, like:

* - Being the Region 2 champions. “When it happened, it wasn’t a big deal because we knew we were going to win. We didn’t want to get caught up in the moment, but it was big to the school. Skyline hadn’t done it in seven years, so I know they were proud.”
* - Sweeping the two games against rival Cottonwood.
* - Playing against his old team, Copper Hills. “Going 3-4 (at the plate) against them was great.”
* - Going to the 5A state tournament. “We went my junior year, but I didn’t play. I had three hits in our first game against Riverton.”

Gomez also relished the camaraderie playing in Skyline’s infield. He said his closest friends were shortstop/pitcher Sam Trout, as well as Ashton Sponaugle, Carter Allen, Lars Lofgren, Michael Staes and Clint Berhow. He continued to stay in touch with them after graduation.

Skyline baseball: Sam Trout feature

On Feb. 13, I wrote an article about Sam Trout, a former Skyline baseball player who earned a scholarship to play at Yakima Valley Community College. This article will appear in the soon-to-be-published Skyline 2011 baseball yearbook.

Sam Trout:

Eagles’ pitcher was also a hitting star
and helped team to region crown

By Bruce Smith

Sam Trout can remember a lot of outstanding plays on the baseball field in his life. But there was one that stood out.

On a sunny late afternoon April 27, Trout walked up to the plate at Cottonwood High School. The Eagles held a one-game lead in the standings, but they trailed 4-2. The bases were loaded and the Colts had just inserted their best pitcher to try to get out of the jam.

His first pitch was outside. Trout didn’t budge. However, the famous story of “Mighty Casey” didn’t hold true on this day.

Trout smacked the next pitch high into the air to deep left-center field. He took off running toward first base as the ball bounced on the warning track and ricocheted off the green-tinted fence. When it was over, Trout was standing on second base and three runs had scored.

“That was a big hit,” Trout said. “It was a pretty cool finish for me.

“When we won that game, it meant we had won region,” he added. “It was the first time (for Skyline) in seven years. I’ve been on good teams before, but we didn’t get it (the region title). But to get it my senior year was a big deal.”

That was just one of many big plays for Trout, who batted .475 and was also Skyline’s best pitcher. He won seven games during the season and was almost always asked to pitch the Eagles’ biggest games. For his efforts, he was named Region 2 Most Valuable Player and was selected first team all-state.

“Sam also played great shortstop. He had really good hands,” said Skyline coach Erik Hansen. “On the mound, he was awesome. That first time through region he looked really good. The second part he pitched good, but there was a time when we had him on short rest. I think there was a fatigue issue more than anything else.”

For Hansen, it made a lot of sense to use him as much as possible. Trout’s combination of an 86 mph fastball, curve and changeup made him one of the state’s best.

But his success actually started years before. Trout said he had played baseball for as long as he could remember. He also played basketball, but focused on baseball when he entered high school. He often worked out with his dad, John, who also arranged for him to begin learning from an area coach, Gary Cleverly.

“When I was younger, I didn’t pitch too much, but when I was 11 or 12 (years old), I started pitching. I had a good arm but some people started to notice it.”
And Skyline benefited.

The Eagles finished 18-8 in Trout’s junior year. Trout said the highlights included a game-winning hit over host Desert Hills in an early season tournament at St. George. Later that year, he came to the plate in Skyline’s 5A state tournament game against American Fork. The bases were loaded with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning in a scoreless game.

He was hit by a pitch, which forced in the winning run and ended the game. Not the outcome he had hoped for, but it was good enough.

“I was really nervous,” he said. “It happened so fast. I just remember I was the hero.”

After his Skyline career ended, the good fortunes continued. Trout was selected to an all-star game with Utah’s top players. He pitched three scoreless innings and struck out five batters at Ogden’s Lindquist Field. He also was 3-for-4 at the plate with a pair of doubles as his team won, 13-4.

His efforts catapulted him to bigger and better things.

He tried to earn a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Utah, but the Utes’ coaches asked him to get in more work, so he went on to Yakima Valley Community College (Wash.). Trout said it was his goal to play there and then return home to the Utes.

“It has been one of the coolest things I’ve had happen in my life up to this point,” he said. “It was a big accomplishment.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Woods Cross solves Highland puzzle

On Friday, Feb. 10, I covered the Highland-Woods Cross boys basketball game. I wrote the following article, which will appear in the Woods Cross 2011-12 basketball yearbook. I'll write a slightly different article for Highland later.

By Bruce Smith

There’s no doubt that Jan. 20 was the worst night of the season for the Woods Cross Wildcats.

For days afterward, coach Todd Street admitted all he saw were Highland shots filling the basket en route to an 81-42 win over the home team.

Three weeks later, the Wildcats turned the tables.

Hayden Grant and Luke Jowers had the best games of their careers Friday as Woods Cross went to Highland and earned a 59-57 overtime decision in a Region 6 game.

It was the same Ram team that had dominated them earlier. But these weren’t the same Wildcats, who won their fourth straight and moved into a three-way tie for second place with two games remaining.

“A 40-point turnaround,” said Street, with a big smile on his face. “We changed our defensive scheme from last time. We didn’t play any zone, and this time we played zone 95 percent of the time. We just made plays.”

Grant made the most. He had seven points at halftime, but finished with 23, including a long three-pointer that doused the home crowd’s excitement and sent the game into overtime. He also started the extra session with a three-pointer and his steal led to a pair of free throws that ended up being the deciding points.

Jowers, a sophomore who got more playing time on this night than he had all season, scored 15 points. He was almost automatic from the free-throw line (9-of-10) and likely will remember this game as being his best all season.

“He earned it the way he has played in practice,” Street said. “I put him in and he had the hot hand. I rolled the dice and let him stay in there and he just kept making plays. He had a couple of big buckets for us.”

Grant, Jowers and Mike Jacobson also made a huge effort on defense, hustling along the perimeter to prevent a repeat of the earlier game.

Last time, Highland guard David Divver was on fire. He made four three-point shots and the Rams finished with 14 from beyond the arc. Highland led 33-8 after the first quarter and it only got worse.

On this night, the Rams made just 2-of-14 three-pointers. The Wildcats’ defense blocked attempts out there than the Rams made.

Still, the game could have gone either way. Woods Cross led most of the game, and had a six-point advantage late. But Divver made his only three-pointer of the game and added a couple of free throws with 16 seconds left for a 49-46 lead.

Woods Cross almost lost the ball on the ensuing possession, but was awarded a timeout. Grant quickly took a pass and nailed a trey from well beyond the three-point line to tie the game.

The Wildcats kept the momentum into overtime and Skyler Farnes’ free throw gave them a 59-57 lead with 32 seconds left. Highland looked for a good shot but couldn’t find an open three-pointer, so the Rams fed Todd Connolly for an 18-footer from the top of the key.

The shot looked on target, but was six inches short, and Woods Cross players flooded the court in celebration.

As bad as those memories of Jan. 20 have been for the Wildcats, the night of Feb. 10 was just as good.

Woods Cross 15 9 12 13 10 - 59
Highland 12 11 8 18 8 - 57

WOODS CROSS (59) – Filipo Mokofisi 1-8 0-2 2, Skyler Farnes 3-5 4-5 10, Brady Cowley 0-1 0-0 0, Mike Jacobson 1-3 4-6 6, Hayden Grant 8-14 4-4 23, Luke Jowers 3-6 9-10 15, Luke Hansen 0-0 0-0 0, Nick Elg 1-1 1-2 3, Seth Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-40 22-29 59.
HIGHLAND (57) – Liam Thomas 5-11 6-7 16, Lennon Betonney 3-5 1-2 8, Max Bradshaw 4-6 1-2 9, Todd Connolly 1-5 2-2 4, David Divver 4-16 4-4 13, Riley Tucker 2-2 3-5 7, Matt Barker 0-0 0-0 0, Hayes Hicken 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 18-46 17-23 57.
Total fouls: Woods Cross 23, Highland 19. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None.
Three-point shooting: Woods Cross 3-12 (Grant 3), Highland 2-14 (Divver, Betonney).
Rebounds: Woods Cross 27 (Farnes 7), Highland 30 (Bradshaw 10).
Turnovers: Woods Cross 13, Highland 15.
I'm finishing last year's Skyline baseball yearbook and recently completed a feature article on one of its players - Mike Pell. Take a look.

Mike Pell:
Known for his great athletic ability,
he helped two teams to fine seasons

By Bruce Smith

Growing up, Mike Pell was a standout athlete. Whatever team he was on, he was the guy in the middle.

At Skyline High School, he was the quarterback on the football team. He also was a key member on the Eagles’ baseball squad, where he pitched, played third base and was an outfielder.

That’s how he remembers high school. Wherever he went, success followed … on the field and in the classroom. He was a good student (barely missing the all-academic team his senior year), but athletics was his highlight.

It wasn’t surprising he went out a champion.

“The best part (of baseball) was beating Cottonwood … both times,” he said. “From football, they were a big rival. They beat us in football my senior year, so it was good to beat them twice.”

The two wins, of course, were important and paved the way for the Skyline baseball team to win its first region title since 2004.

Most people, however, will remember Pell for football. At Skyline, football was king in 2010-11 and a lot was expected from its quarterback. Pell earned the starting QB position and ended up guiding the Eagles to a 6-5 record. They finished fourth in Region 2, but accomplished a lot.

One of Pell’s highlights was when the team traveled to Hawaii to play Keleakehe and won 30-16. Afterward, Pell said assistant coach Steve Marlowe said it was the first time any team had come from the Mainland and won at Hawaii. The Eagles also reached the 5A playoffs and defeated Kearns in the first round.

“When we beat Kearns, that was a big deal,” Pell recalled. “I rushed for a season high and threw a touchdown pass and it was an all-around good game. It meant a lot that Skyline had never lost a home playoff game.”

Pell expected a lot from himself when baseball began a few months later. He was a big part of the team the previous year, when the Eagles finished 17-6 overall, but finished second in the region to Cottonwood, which beat them twice.

“My junior year, we actually made it further in the post season (beating Davis and American Fork) and I felt more involved,” Pell said.

Pell played in almost every game as a senior, but was used primarily on defense. Skyline coach Erik Hansen said he liked having Pell in the lineup. However, he had more hitters and needed to find ways to get them in the lineup.

“I really didn’t hit at all my senior year,” Pell recalled. “I had problems with the coach on that subject. When I did hit, it was at the bottom of the lineup.”
Pell was a decent hitter prior to his senior season, and he went on to excel everywhere else. Pell, in fact, was on the mound when Skyline officially clinched the region title with a 15-7 victory at Murray.

“That was my best game,” Pell said. “I don’t remember much of a celebration afterward. I don’t really know why, but it happens.”

That game was actually full of big hits and Skyline had a big lead most of the way. Pell, in fact, smacked a home run, and Mike Staes and Josh Stephens did, too.

After the season ended, Pell stayed in the area and attended the University of Utah, where he majored in Mechanical Engineering. He said he relished his athletic career at Skyline and stayed in touch with friends like Sam Trout, Carter Allen, Devan Gomez and Mike Staes. He planned to follow the football and baseball teams in the future.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Viewmont gains repect in beating Granger

On Friday, Feb. 3, I attended the Viewmont at Granger boys basketball game. The purpose was to write an article for this year's Viewmont basketball yearbook. You can see the story below.

By Bruce Smith

It’s about time someone said it. The Viewmont Vikings are on a roll.

Coming into their game with Granger with a 7-9 overall record, the Vikings were 5-0 but not getting much respect. Friday night, they earned it.

Haden Heath scored 14 points and McKay Butler came off the bench and provided an essential spark as the Vikings whipped Granger 69-39 and remained on top of the Region 2 standings.

The win should turn a few heads. Viewmont may not have the athletic ability of some of 5A’s best, but the Vikings played better as a team than anybody.

“Thanks. It’s good to hear that,” said Viewmont coach Jeff Emery. “We had a good game, but we have to get better defensively. We are starting to stop people. We held them (the Lancers) to 35 percent. I can live with that.”

The Vikings aren’t necessarily tall, and perhaps not as athletic as a top team should be, but they make up for it with exuberance and spirited play. That was noticeable from the start. Viewmont never trailed. Heath scored six of the Vikings’ first eight points, but the real difference occurred when Butler came onto the court.

Butler, 6-foot sophomore, scored all 13 of his points in a short span in the second quarter. In fact, he had a highlight reel starting with about 5:20 left in the second quarter. In a short span, he smothered a shot by Granger’s Nick Wetenkamp, raced after the loose ball, corralled it and dribbled downcourt, where he made a beautiful, twisting layup and was fouled.

Less than 30 seconds later, he scored on another amazing play that even impressed the Granger fans.

“We have a lot of players stepping up,” said Emery nonchalantly. “Butler is starting to come around. He’s starting to learn to play at this level.”

Butler had another great game in Viewmont’s home win over Granger earlier this season. This time, on the Lancers’ home court, the Vikings were more dominant. A sign of improvement?

“We’re playing well right now,” said Emery. “We have a long ways to go if we want to play with the best, and people are expecting us now that we’re on top of our region.”

The Vikings played without junior McKay Richins, who suffered an appendicitis a few days before the game and is likely out at least two weeks. Granger was without seniorguard Mo Valladolid, the team’s second-leading scorer, and sophomore point guard Israel Tademy.

The Lancers’ offense was centered around senior Isaiah Tademy, who scored 19 points but Viewmont harassed him with various zone and box-and one defenses. Taylor Pili added nine points.

What hurt Granger was its 24 turnovers. Most were courtesy of Viewmont’s active defense, which smothered Kearns, Taylorsville and West in previous games.

None of that will matter next Tuesday, when the Vikings play host to Hunter in a game that will likely decide the region title.

“It’s a big one, that’s for sure,” Emery said. “We’ll see what happens.”


Viewmont 15 27 14 13 - 69
Granger 10 14 7 8 - 39

– Travis Tilner 2-5 0-0 5, Tanner Gamble 3-5 0-0 9, Brody Bagshaw 0-6 0-0 0, Jarom Tye 3-6 0-0 7, Haden Heath 7-10 0-0 14, McKay Butler 5-7 1-1 13, Trent Anderson 4-9 2-2 10, Aaron Dalton 2-2 0-0 4, Aaron Hewlett 1-1 0-0 2, Brody Howell 0-0 0-0 0, Spencer Nash 0-1 0-0 0, Michael Steinicke 0-2 0-0 0, Doug Hintze 0-0 0-0 0, David Black 1-1 -0 2, Jordan Alldredge 1-1 1-1 4, Brad Stafford 0-0 0-1 0, McKay Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-56 4-5 69.
GRANGER (39) – Arob Mandang 1-4 0-0 3, Isaiah Tademy 6-20 3-4 19, Taylor Pili 3-3 3-3 9, Nick Wetenkamp 1-6 0-0 2, Zack Ashman 1-2 0-2 2, Makol Mawien 1-1 0-1 2, Alonso Delatorre 0-0 1-2 1, Davion Jones 0-0 1-2 1, Gabe Reyes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-36 8-14 39.
Total fouls: Viewmont 19, Granger 12. Fouled out: Pili. Technical fouls: None.
Three-point shooting: Viewmont 7-15 (Gamble 3, Butler 2, Tiner, Tye). Granger 5-16 (Tademy 4, Mandang).
Rebounds: Viewmont 30 (Anderson 5), Granger 26 (Tademy 6).
Turnovers: Viewmont 13, Granger 24.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Orem whips rival Provo in mock title game

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, I went to Orem to cover the Orem-Provo boys basketball game. Normally, I try to avoid games that the local media covers, but they were all there on this night - with photographers, too. My story - for Orem's yearbook - appears below.

To read the other articles, click on these links: Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, Provo Herald.

By Bruce Smith

Coming into the season, the Orem Tigers felt they might have a special team. But if the Tigers were going to have the success they hoped, one thing had to happen.

Step aside, Provo.

On Tuesday night, the Tigers took another step toward that goal.

Josh Pollard scored 21 points, Dalton Nixon added 18 and Cooper Holt game off the bench to ignite a first-quarter flurry as the Orem downed Provo for the second time this season, 82-65. The win improved the Tigers to 14-1 overall and 8-0 in Region 8.

It was the fourth straight win over the Bulldogs, meaning second-year coach Golden Holt has never lost to his main rival - which has 18 state titles in its history (the most of any Utah school) and has been a constant thorn to the Tigers.

“My speech before the game was this was for the (region) championship,” Holt said. “Provo hadn’t lost since the last time we played them and the game had a championship feel to it.

“I said let’s go play for a championship and see if we’re ready for state.”

Only time will tell, of course. But unlike most of Orem’s previous region games, Provo didn’t try to dictate the tempo. So, Orem did. The Tigers never trailed. They shot nearly 70 percent from the field in the first half and took a 48-26 lead.

“We just told the kids to go out there and ‘man up,’” Coach Holt said. “We got ahead and there wasn’t anything they could do about the tempo.”

Cooper Holt entered only a few minutes into the game and scored 10 points in a span of just a couple of minutes. In fact, just as Provo’s fans started singing, “Daddy’s boy,” Holt nailed four baskets, including a couple of treys.

Provo coach Craig Drury noted the difference in the game immediately.

“Holt just killed us,” he said. “He came in there and hit those shots from everywhere. I thought we were a good defensive team, but we didn’t show it.”

Holt’s play got the Tigers on a roll and, for long stretches, Orem could do no wrong. They shot 63 percent through the third quarter before Coach Holt started substituting. The Tigers’ largest lead was 75-50 with 4:50 remaining in the game.

Drury said the Bulldogs’ 52-50 win over another rival – Timpview – just four days earlier might have affected his team. Playing on Orem’s home floor without Christopher Moore, who was out with a sprained ankle, also didn’t help.

Regardless, the real difference seemed to be the usual factors – Orem’s length, depth, shooting ability, rebounding, etc…

Provo didn’t go down without a fight. Dallin Bosco, the son of the legendary BYU quarterback, had 25 points and nailed four three-pointers to keep the Bulldogs close until he grew tired near the end. Center Jonny Flake was a thorn inside and finished with 12 points and six rebounds. Adam Finch added 11 points.

Provo, however, couldn’t stay with Orem at that pace. They came closer – 60-49 – three weeks ago and other Region opponents followed Drury’s idea to slow the pace. On team – Springville - even stalled profusely to get Orem out of its element.

Drury, who has won more state titles than any other Utah coach, didn’t have any coaching magic tonight.

“There are still six games left and they (the Tigers) still have to perform, but we’re going to have a tough time getting that No. 1 seed (in the 4A state tournament).”

The 82 points Provo gave up was a season high (to date). The Bulldogs narrowed the gap in the third quarter, but Pollard. Nixon and Zach Hunsaker kept them from getting too close.


Provo 11 15 20 19 - 65
Orem 23 25 15 19 - 82

PROVO (65) – Adam Finch 5-10 0-0 11, Dallin Bosco 10-18 1-2 25, Wesley Bosco 2-7 3-3 7, Cole Gordon 0-1 0-0 0, Jonny Flake 3-6 6-7 12, Russell Isom 0-1 2-2 2, Kameron Hamilton 0-0 2-2 2, Jordan Tanner 0-0 0-0 0, Brian Carter 0-0 2-2 2, Bryson Hunter 0-1 0-0 0, Robert Dean 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 21-45 18-20 65;
OREM (82) – Zach Hunsaker 6-9 2-4 16, Quinn Peters 0-3 4-4 4, Jordan Darger 1-4 2-3 4, Josh Pollard 8-9 5-8 21, Dalton Nixon 7-10 2-2 18, Cooper Holt 5-8 0-0 12, Christian Clark 1-3 0-0 2, Cole Payne 0-1 0-0 0, David Runyan 1-1 0-0 2, Jago De Piano 1-2 0-0 3, Ethen Chatterly 0-0 0-0 0, Parker Overly 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-50 15-21 82.
Total fouls: Orem 20, Provo 19. Fouled out: Darger. Technical fouls: None.
Three-point shooting: Provo 5-18 (D. Bosco 4, Finch). Orem 3-14 (Hunsaker 2, Nixon 2, Holt 2, De Piano).
Rebounds: Provo 17 (Finch, Flake 5). Orem 28 (Darger 6).
Turnovers: Provo 16, Orem 15.

About Me

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I am the author of Matchup, which provides yearbooks to high school sports teams, commemorating their seasons.