Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cyprus football: Scott Wooldridge profile

In July, I interviewed new Cyprus (Utah) football coach Scott Wooldridge, who begins his first season after a successful stint at his alma mater - Nampa (Idaho). I've become friends with Coach Wooldridge and he asked me to publish his team's 2012 game program. This is the article about Wooldridge that will appear in the program.

Scott Wooldridge:

Pirates coach welcomes changes
in his career, marriage and family

By Bruce Smith

            When you see Scott Wooldridge standing on the football field, you’re looking at an eclectic combination that Cyprus High School officials hope will lead to a resurgence in their team.
            Wooldridge is a mix of old and new. He’s 48 years old now – comfortably middle-aged – and is appreciating the changes that have recently occurred.
            He is a graduate of Nampa High School. He played there in the early 1980s, when Nampa was much smaller and known mostly for sugar beets and used cars. Years later, after the area had grown exponentially, the administration invited him to challenge all the glittering new schools that had risen from what had been fertile farmland.
            “It’s grown; no doubt about it,” Wooldridge said. “It made the competition much better. But football is football. Every team has talent. The kids just need to have a goal and be motivated.”
            The Bulldogs quickly rose to the challenge. They won two league titles and even made the 4A state championship game once. Wooldridge had many good references, even from competing coaches.
            Wooldridge said he easily could have stayed longer. He may not have reached all of his goals at his alma mater, but that’s probably because a more important one appeared. He moved to Utah to get married and now he and his wife, Jennifer, are starting their lives together.
            A lot had to happen to make the change occur. Wooldridge, however, believes that most everything has fallen into place.
            Last winter, he drove back-and-forth to Salt Lake City several times to look for work. Despite the questionable economy, there were plenty of high-school football jobs available and, with his experience, Wooldridge was a valuable commodity.
            “Cyprus was in one of the communities I drove through around here, and I thought it was nice," Wooldridge said. "When the job opened up, I put my name in, and I'm definitely happy to get the job."
            Cyprus Principal Stephen Hess said Wooldridge stood out with a vision for the program and a track record of success. He wasn't too concerned about how he would fare in Magna, a traditionally tight community.
            "He was from a small town, and I think he'll be great here," Hess told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We already have a lot of community members calling in to offer their support to the program. People are excited, and the kids are excited."
            Wooldridge couldn’t wait to get started. Only a few weeks after the announcement was made, he began meeting with players, parents and potential assistant coaches. In return, they started learning about him.
            "You just got to get in there and start working, and get them to believe," Wooldridge said. "We've got some big strong kids here, and I think we can be successful."
            Motivation leads to success and that’s always been one of his trademarks. In high school, he wrestled, and was also an undersized lineman that became an all-state selection. He went on to play at Western Montana (Dillon) and Western Oregon State (Monmouth).
            He earned his degree in secondary education, began coaching and has moved up the ranks to where he is today. At Cyprus, he teaches world history, U.S. history and psychology.
            Like most people in his position, he’s also a coach and a leader.
            And now – he’s a husband again. Wooldridge has two grown sons – Scott (24) and Chad (21) – from a previous marriage and now helps with Jennifer’s two children – Erik (9) and Taylor (6).
            They’re all part of the puzzle in his new life, which also has Cyprus High School blended into the mix. It’s a welcomed addition.


Monday, August 27, 2012

A night of 'Brighton football'

On Aug. 24, the Deseret News sent me to cover the Brighton-Fremont high school football game. Brighton played well and put the clamps on the Silverwolves, who seem to be rebuilding after reaching the 5A state championship game the last two years. Here is the article that appeared in the paper the next day.

By Bruce Smith
For the Deseret News

             COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS – As senior running back Uaea Masina ran off the field after scoring his second touchdown of the night, he was greeted by an assistant coach with the comment of the night.
            “Now, that’s Brighton football,” he said.
            The Bengals surprised Fremont, and possibly even themselves, with a convincing 27-0 victory Friday night, improving to 2-0 on the season with both wins coming against Region 1 foes.
            “We wanted to build on last week,” said Brighton coach Ryan Bullett. “That team (Fremont) beat us twice last year, and I thought we were pretty good. Tonight, the kids up front did a very nice job.”
            Noseguard J.J. Mahe and his defensive cohorts dominated. The Bengals limited Fremont to 150 total yards. The Silverwolves’ only scoring threat came in the second quarter and it ended with a pass interception in the end zone.  Another key point occurred when Fremont’s first four possessions of the second half were three-and outs.
            “I just did what I was told and that was to bring a hard hat,” said Mahe. “In the first half, we were just trying to get to know our opponent … kind of like boxing. Then we just started playing our game.”
            Brighton’s “game” is smash-mouth football.             Offensively, Masina rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries, and his little brother, Oso, had 103 more. When the Bengals avoided penalties, they moved the football and kept hold of the ball.
            The win was probably one of Brighton’s most dominant in a while. Fremont felt it, too. Coach Kory Bosgieter was unavailable for comment. He and the Silverwolves boarded their buses as quickly as possible.
            The Silverwolves, who reached the 5A championship game the last two seasons, dropped to 0-2. Garrett Gallegos spent most of the night at quarterback. He threw for 125 yards, including a couple of long completions to Kade Criswell and Cole Bingham. About the only other highlight came when Parker Preator blocked an extra-point attempt.
            Fremont, however, had no running attack. They were held to minus-4 yards on the ground. The longest run was an 8-yard scamper by Karson Garcia.
            Uaea Masina eclipsed that the first time he carried the ball. He and Oso Masina shared the ball on the Bengals’ opening drive, which ended with Oso’s 6-yard touchdown run.
            Several minutes later, Brighton stopped Fremont on its own 1-yard line and got great field position. That led to 3-play, 32-yard drive that ended on an 11-yard scoring run by Uaea Masina. It was 14-0 at halftime.
            With Fremont unable to move the ball, the Bengals kept the momentum. Bullett wants it to continue. He isn’t ready to call his team a contender yet, especially with a road trip to Sky View next week.
            “I remember a couple of years ago, we started with some big wins and were 3-0 and it went downhill after that,” he said. “We’re in a tough region. We’ll keep playing them one at a time and see what happens.”

Bountiful wins battle of contenders

On Aug. 17, the Utah high school football season began, and the Deseret News sent me to Bountiful to cover an important game between 4A power (Bountiful) and defending 5A champion Lone Peak. It was one of the best games of the night. Here is the article I submitted to the paper that night.

By Bruce Smith
For the Deseret News

             It might have felt like a hot August night, but Friday’s Bountiful-Lone Peak football game had the emotion of a championship contest.
            The two teams could easily end up playing for it all in their respective divisions in a few months. But in the season opener, however, it was the Braves who outlasted the Knights 31-21.
            “We showed we could play with anybody. We weren’t intimidated,” said Bountiful coach Larry Wall.
            Lone Peak coach Tony McGeary, on the other hand, felt like this one got away.
            “In the first half, we gave up too many points,” he said. “And then we made a bonehead play at the end. We’ll learn from it, and come back.”
            It was a team effort for the home team.
            * - Quarterback Trevor Lloyd passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns;
            * - Ryan Curtis returned a punt 45 yards for a score;
            * - Sam Merrill and Tanner Redding had several big catches.;
            However, the game wasn’t decided until the final minutes. Lone Peak’s defense smothered Bountiful for much of the second half and Talon Shumway’s acrobatic 22-yard touchdown catch cut the Braves’ lead to 24-21 with 10:19 left.
            Bountiful took over and Lloyd engineered a drive that seemed to fall short when he was wrestled out-of-bounds on a fourth-down play at the Lone Peak 39. The officials, however, ruled he was hit late and handed the Knights a 15-yard penalty.
            Lloyd injured his knee on the play, and never returned. Wall said his status probably won’t be known until next week. Junior Jordan Hayes came into the game and, on his second play, connected with Redding on a 20-yard pass.
            That led to a 4-yard run by Jakob Hunt that put the game away.
            “That was a big play,” said Wall. “That kept our drive going and gave us momentum.”
            It should be noted that even the Lone Peak bench didn’t object to the foul. The Knights’ loss ended a streak of 14 consecutive wins, which included last season’s 5A crown.
            Lone Peak didn’t waste any time trying to recapture last season’s magic. Senior quarterback Braden Miles connected on five straight passes on the opening drive and the Knights scored just 1:17 into the game.
            Miles ended up throwing for 282 yards and was not intercepted. He played for most of the time, except for a time in the third quarter when the Knights’ offense seemed to bog down. Baron Gajkowski, a former Jordan High player, led the offense for three drives. Gajkowski was a much bigger running threat, but Bountiful kept him from any big gains.
            Junior Hamilton was the Braves’ big playmaker on defense. He and Merrill anchored the defense. Merrill had a pass interception and averaged almost 40 yards as the team’s punter.
            “It was a good game for us,” said Wall. “We’ve played Lone Peak almost every year for quite a while now and they’re always tough. This was a good indicator for what kind of team we are.”

Taylorsville football: 2012 season preview

In July, I interviewed Taylorville (Utah) football coach Rodny Wells about his new job and the Warriors football team. Here is the preview on the team that I wrote, which appeared in its game program.

Big changes are here for Warriors

New field, new coach have players smiling
and believing in the team’s future

By Bruce Smith
            It’s easy to recognize the different attitude within the Taylorsville football team this fall.
            A new coach will do that. Rodny Wells comes from a successful program at Bear River and has hopes of building a little small-town pride to a big-city football program.
            But a new field might do more.
            That mixture of green, blue and gold in the center of the Salt Lake Valley has gained a lot of attention. Wells said player turnout is higher, the team is working harder and, while it’s unknown if it will lead to wins, the new field is bringing a lot of smiles.
            “It’s pretty cool,” said Wells, whose team opens on the turf Aug. 24 against Hillcrest. “It will give us a new identity and the kids have been looking forward to this for a long time.”
            The Warriors will have at least five home games this season, including an important homecoming contest Sept. 14 against 3A power Delta. Region 2 opponents may give Taylorsville trouble, too, but Wells said the team is focusing more on itself than the team across the field.
            The new field is also strengthening Warrior pride in the local community. Wells said one of the first things he did after accepting the job was to get more involved in the city’s little league program.
            "With our new field going in, I went to the administration and said, 'I want the little league to play on our field. I want to build that excitement in the little league program to where they're saying, 'This is where I want to play.' "
            Since Field Turf can’t get worn, the administration couldn’t say yes fast enough. So, this fall, eighth- and ninth-grade teams will have a home on the Warriors' field. Additionally, those same youngsters will form a tunnel that greets players as they enter the field, and those who wear their jerseys to games get in for free.
            "I want those kids to feel a part of the program too," said Wells. "I want them to grow up saying, 'I want to wear that uniform and represent that school.'"
            Wells said the greatest challenge he has fought has been apathy and, it’s too bad, too. The Warriors haven’t won much recently. Last year, there were some great athletic plays by Dylan Wilson, but little else.
            This year, Wells plans to rebuild. He said he needs to stay focused and plan for the long term.
            "To get people on board and wanting to move in a better direction has been a little bit of a struggle," he said. "They keep saying, 'In the past, this is what the football team has done.' And I say, 'The past didn't work.' We have to change that mentality. We basically have to change the culture."
            The most encouraging aspect of taking over is the reception he received from the players.
            "The kids are buying into it, and that's been awesome," he said. "It makes it a lot easier."
            Wells said he also believes he has some talented players.
            "We have the kids who can compete," he said. "There is enough talent in this school, enough kids coming out that we can platoon our defense and our offense and not miss a beat."
            The players said they've enjoyed working with their new coach over the summer.
            "We're not the same Taylorsville," said senior lineman Derek Rice. "We're working to win, and that has a lot to do with Coach Wells coming here and putting that in our heads. We can't wish to win; we have to want to win."
            The players said Wells runs a tight ship and asks a lot more from the players.
            "It's definitely old-school football," said senior fullback Taige Taylor. "It's been more disciplined; it's been more hard-nosed football."
            Tristinn Martinez is expected to start at quarterback. In the past, Wilson’s success forced Martinez to play another position. This year, he will get his shot.
            "We can definitely compete," said Martinez. "This is not the same Taylorsville team as in years past. We have a positive attitude going into this season. Change is good."

Bingham football: Ron Thorne Stadium

In early August, I interviewed Ron Thorne, who donated money to Bingham High School to help fund major improvements to the football stadium. I wrote an article about Thorne, and the facility, for Bingham's first program a few years ago. This year, I thought it needed to be updated. Here is the article that will appear in Bingham's 2012 football program.

Bingham’s crowning glory

By Bruce Smith
            Ron Thorne Stadium is more than just the football field for Bingham High School. These days, it’s a center point for the South Jordan community.
            The success of Bingham football helped create it. The facility, however, helped ensure it.
            “It really solidified the community,” said Thorne. “People have been coming here for years. I’ll go to games now and see people who used to play here, and now their kids are playing here.”
            Thorne said that – initially – Bingham had a “typical high school field.” However, in 1988, the football team’s booster organization followed a strong local trend that helped the school raise funds to add outdoor lights.
            “That allowed us to play our home games at night,” Thorne said. “More people could come to the games, too. Football became an event for much of the community.”
            In the mid-2000s, coach Dave Peck approached Thorne with a more ambitious upgrade. Bingham had just won its first state championship in 60 years and wanted to set itself apart from virtually every other school.
            They could also solve a multiple-use problem at the same time.
            “At first, I thought I would just be a minor sponsor,” Thorne said. “But I saw the need for what they were trying to do.”
            In 2008, Bingham became one of the first Utah high schools to install an artificial-playing surface, similar to the carpet at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The track was also new, but the crowning achievement was the scoreboard, still considered the best of any high school in Utah.
            Thorne, who had recently retired after owning a prominent construction company, was proud to donate most of the funds necessary for the project. He and his wife, Susan, continue to be big believers of Bingham. They have lived less than a mile from here since 1974. Their children attended the school and, when the boys played football, the Thornes were active in the booster club.
            These days, even after the kids have left, Thorne often dresses in Bingham colors – blue jeans and a blue shirt – and is seen at countless Bingham events.
            The 3,500-seat football facility now graces his name, and seeing that in big letters doesn’t bother him as much as it used to. The stadium was re-inaugurated Sept. 12, 2008 at halftime of Bingham’s 27-7 win over Jordan. It was the proud achievement as the school also celebrated its 100th anniversary.
            “It was a little humbling … really,” he said. “All that notoriety is not my style. Now I can say I’m part of the program.”
            Success follows it, too, and so do the crowds. The people in South Jordan recognize it – and the Miners - as one of their crowning glories.

Bingham football: 2012 season preview

In early August, I interviewed Bingham (Utah) football coach Dave Peck and we talked about the upcoming 2012 season. Here is the article that appears in his team's football program, which I also put together and will be sold at all of Bingham's home games this season.

Prime time Miners hope for more

Another talented squad
as Bingham aiming to be
Utah’s best in 5A

By Bruce Smith
            This is the “golden era” of Bingham High School football.
            It’s the second one … really. From 1939-46, the Miners won four state championships during that eight-year span.
            These days, coach Dave Peck’s team has won three titles in in the last six seasons. In 2011, Bingham finished with a 9-3 mark, took second place in Region 4 and reached the quarterfinals of the 5A state playoffs.
            A good year for most teams, but disappointing by Bingham standards. Are the Miners using it as a motivational tool?
            “You could say that fact has been mentioned a few times,” Peck said.
            In reality, the team had nowhere to go but down after winning state in 2010 with a roster that could at least rival a good junior college team. Peck said that club was probably an anomaly and, these days, there is too much parity among Utah high schools for one team to become too dominant.
            Still, he figures this year’s Bingham team should again challenge for the title.
            “It’s hard to say how we’ll do,” he said. “But, so far, I like what I’m seeing.”
            This year’s team has a lot of strengths – on the offensive and defensive lines, wide receiver, running backs, linebackers, kicking, etc … What it doesn’t have is a returning quarterback. In early August, senior Coleman Stout had an early edge over Jordan Evans and Jantzen Bowles.
            It has been a while since Bingham has lost a varsity QB to injury. Stout suffered a knee injury in a junior varsity game last season but recovered in time to play baseball last spring and is 100 percent again.
            If the QB situation settles, Bingham will be hard to beat, even though the Miners again have another difficult schedule. The good news is there are five home games, including a late-season homecoming contest against American Fork Oct. 5.
            The non-region season begins with rivals West Jordan and Alta (the “Black and Blue” Classic again at Rice-Eccles Stadium), and then something new called the “Beehive Classic.”
            “That third week, we always like to do something special, and this year we got a chance to host a big event,” said Peck.
            That event is a home game Labor Day weekend against Valor Christian, a private Denver-area school that has won three consecutive state championships and enters this year with a 24-game winning streak. The matchup will be the finale of a three-game set played that day (Sept. 1) at Bingham’s field, and includes East and Jordan playing out-of-state powers.
            “It’s a big game for us,” said Peck. “Valor Christian has a lot of Denver Broncos connections. It’s going to be a big day of football and might become an annual thing.”
            Bingham will certainly be tested early, and could be threatened again in Region 4 play. The Miners have Cottonwood and defending champion Lone Peak on the road.
            Bingham will also be featured prominently on TV. The Alta game will be televised on Channel 2, KJZZ is set to broadcast all three Beehive Classic contests and KJZZ will have the Miners rematch at Lone Peak, too.
            What viewers will likely see is another talented squad anchored by its line. Led by guys like 285-pound Keegan Hicks on offense and 300-pounder Lowell Lotulelei on defense, each group averages about 270 pounds per man and should be among the state’s best.
            Behind them will be the quarterback, as well as Tonga Manu, who rushed for 445 yards and averaged almost six yards per carry last year. He will be helped by fullback Leki Finefeuiaki, an athletic former lineman who moved from Kearns and has been retooled to help the Miners at a new position.
            Hayden Weichers is a threat to score every time he catches the ball, and Kalan Cantwell will be on the other side of the field capable of doing the same thing. Dalton Schultz, a 6-foot-6 tight end, is also a nice target.
            On defense, Durrant Miles will help Lotulelei on the line. Drake Miller will anchor the linebackers and Koa Wilson and Sky Manu make the backfield a strength.
            Kicking chores will be handled by Jaron Maxfield, who will double as the team’s punter. He already has the confidence of the coaching staff.
            Will it be enough to win another title?
            “I hear that question all the time … where is Bingham right now?” said Peck. “If we want this season to be something special, it’s going to have to be more.”

Highland football: 2012 season preview

In early August, I interviewed Highland (Utah) coach Brody Benson and wrote this article for his team's 2012 football program, which I also put together. The 40-page program is for sale at all Highland home football games.

Unheralded Rams hope to get it done

 By Bruce Smith

             In the last six years, the Highland Rams have made the 4A playoffs each time. They have reached the championship game twice and – in 2010 – were state champs.
            Anything less is considered a disappointment. Last year, the Rams were sent home after losing to eventual champion Logan in the quarterfinals. That has been gnawing on coach Brody Benson since it happened. Sure, they gave the Grizzlies a tough game but, by Highland standards, that’s not good enough.
            This year, the preseason polls have the Rams no higher than third in a tough Region 6.
            Benson says (slyly) that’s fine.
            “East and Bountiful may be the best teams coming in,” he said. “But football is about chemistry. We’re dealing with that, too, and have the makings to be a pretty good team.”
            The Rams weren’t picked to win it all in 2010, but managed to get it done. Last year, they had a talented group of players, but injuries hurt their chances for a repeat title. This year, they are a much-different team with plenty of good linemen, but few experienced players at the skill positions.
            “Our expectations are to be the meanest, nastiest team in the state,” said Highland running back Adam Webber. “We focus a lot on that — just being the toughest team. No one is going to outwork us. We might not have the most guys and the most talent, but we’ll definitely be the toughest team.”
            Benson echoed similar sentiments.
            “We try and pride ourselves on being the toughest team in the state,” he said. “If we can achieve that, we have the chance on Friday nights to win some ballgames.”
            It won’t be easy. The Rams have another tough schedule. It includes rival West in the opener, a game at Region 7 power Herriman, and then a Thursday night (KJZZ-TV) contest at defending 5A champion Lone Peak. The Region 6 schedule will also be difficult. Bountiful, which whipped the Rams 27-3 last  year, is the homecoming opponent.
            “Playing tough games early in the season makes you tougher,” Benson said. “All I want, and all I expect, is for the kids to come out and give it all they’ve got. They can’t talk about last year, or two years ago. It’s about now.”
            The players to watch will be in the trenches. Senior Luti Nonu  and junior Bryan Mone, now at over 300 pounds, will anchor the offensive and defensive lines that will probably attract the attention of every opponent.
            On offense, they’ll try to open holes for Webber, a talented player who has started on defense the past two years. Austin Peterson will be the Rams’ quarterback. He didn’t get much varsity playing time last season, but was a key figure on the junior varsity squad.
            “He’s been in the program four years and he’s worked his guts out,” Benson said. “Basically, January hit and he decided this is what he wanted to do — he wanted to be the guy — and it was evident when he came to me and said he wanted to lift with the offensive line."
            Peterson will likely need some time to adjust, but he’s coming in after Anthony “Fish” Smithson ended his amazing career. Peterson’s success may rely on how well he can get the ball to others – Webber and returning receivers Malcolm Card-Turner and Jerry Padilla, who proved last year they can score at any time.
            The defense should also be tough, anchored by the line and several other players already mentioned who will be going both ways. Kicking will be junior Michael Kerr, a standout on the soccer team who is trying to adjust and show off his talents on the football field.
            On paper, it may be a third-place team, but Benson has done more with less. This is Highland football and, regardless of the talent level, the standards are high. The Rams know it and are anxious to reach the potential like some of the great teams before them.

About Me

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