Shelley High School
Conference: 3A Mountain Rivers Conference
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Head Coach: Jake Monahan
Years as Head Coach: 2nd Season
Previous Experience: 6 years at Teton HS, 7 years at Shelley HS
Record Last Year: 5-5
State Titles: 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013
Bryon Leckington, QB/LB, 12
Redgie Smith, WR/DB, 12
Will Durbin, OL/LB, 12
Shad Foster, OL/DL, 12
Justin Jensen, RB/DE, 12
Angel Herrera, K/P/WR/LB, 12
Brady Hollist, OL/DE, 12
Diego Pena, OL/DL, 12
Matt Leal, TE/DB, 12
Returning Players with Honors:
Will Durbin, 1st Team MRC O-Linemen
Angel Herrera, 1st Team MRC Kicker
Key Players lost from last year:
Colt Johnson, OL/DL
John Carranza, RB/LB
Photo By: Willy Harris - #15 Bryon Leckington
Incoming impact players:
Mason Price, WR/LB, 11
Brady Hollist, OL/DL, 12
Gabe Butler, DL, 12
Written by: Matt Harris (@IdahoSportsMatt)
When you talk about 3A football, you know Shelley will be among the first schools to come up in the conversation.
The Shelley Russets have been one of the premiere programs in the state for most of the century. With six state titles to their name since 2003, multiple conference championships, a 14-year consecutive playoff appearance streak, and an overall rich tradition of winning, it’s no wonder that most every team in the state gears up to the play the Russets.
And while they struggled to a 5-win season last year (their first 5-win campaign at the 3A level since 2002) and a quarterfinal playoff exit courtesy of eventual state champion Emmett, no one should take the Russets lightly. They are still a powerhouse in Idaho football.
Last season was somewhat of a transition period for Shelley and head coach Jake Monahan, now in his second year leading the program. It was, in a way, a new era for Russet football after the departure of former head coach Travis Hobson to Century. As with any transitionary period, there are bumps and growing pains to be had. But Monahan and his staff believe that their team is ready for the challenges that lay ahead – and the players are taking ownership of it.
“Our players are holding themselves and their teammates accountable,” he said. “There is more discipline and leadership. The players are enjoying playing with one another.”
Offensively, the Russets return quite a few players from last year’s roster, including senior quarterback Bryon Leckington and senior running back Justin Jensen. Senior Matt Leal returns to the fray at the tight end position and he will be joined on the outside by senior wide receivers Redgie Smith and Angel Herrera along with junior Mason Price.
On the offensive line, Shelley returns multiple starters with game experience. Seniors Will Durbin and Shad Foster will help anchor the line along with fellow seniors Diego Pena and Brady Hollist. Monahan noted that some of his players have been flying under the radar and could potentially have a breakout season.
“Price and Hollist are both big and athletic players… they both have lots of potential,” he said.
As for the offensive sets themselves, the Russets returned to a more traditional power-run game in 2015. They did so to use the talents and skill sets of their players to their maximum ability. This year, the coaching staff is mixing in a few more elements.
“We still want to be an aggressive team with a downhill run game, but we will use more of a spread look than in previous years,” Monahan said. “Leckington is a very physical quarterback with a good arm and good athleticism. Jensen is a very physical back as well. Price and Smith are our playmakers on the outside.”
The Russets averaged 29.0 points per game in 2015 and, while those are good numbers, there were times when Shelley just couldn’t get the offense in gear – The Russets scored 14 or fewer points in five of their 10 total games last season.
“We have to improve our balance between the run and the pass,” he said. “If we are more efficient in the passing game and have more balance in the offense, defenses will have to play us more honestly and we should be able to score more.”
Shelley will also be without the services of a couple of key players on offense due to graduation in Colt Johnson and John Carranza. Monahan said that Johnson’s physicality and Carranza’s leadership and aggression would be missed by the squad this year.
When it comes to defense, the Russets love to hit. Physicality is the name of the game in Shelley and that won’t change this season. While Johnson and Carranza helped lead the charge on defense last season, the team has very capable and quality players to replace their production.
The defensive line is senior heavy with Pena, Foster, Jensen, and Hollist looking to help lock down the trenches. Monahan pointed to senior Gabe Butler as one who could make a big impact on the front lines.
“Butler has a great motor overall and really put in the work this summer,” he said.
But for as experienced as the defensive line is this season, Monahan said that the Russets back seven could be what teams really need to worry about.
“Our defense’s focus is to be very disciplined and aggressive. We want to improve on having more discipline as a unit,” he said. “We’ve simplified our defensive scheme to allow our guys to be more aggressive. Price, Leckington, Durbin, and Smith will cause troubles in the back for opposing offenses this season.”
Monahan and his staff believe that simplifying their scheme will also pay dividends on the scoreboard. The Russets gave up an average of 24.5 points per game last season, which is well above the averages that many have come to expect from Shelley football over the last decade-plus. But they believe the hard work over the summer is about to pay off.
“Our guys have worked hard and had a great summer in the weight room,” Monahan said. “That work ethic has created depth for our team. If we can stay healthy, be balanced and disciplined, we will have success.”
Shelley has typically challenged themselves during the regular season with a more difficult schedule than most of their 3A counterparts. That is no different this season as the Russets will be tested right from the get-go. They open up the season at their ‘home away from home’, Holt Arena, in the Rocky Mountain Rumble against Utah 3AA South squad Snow Canyon from Santa Clara, just outside of St. George. Snow Canyon is coming off of a state semi-finals appearance last year and will already have a game under their belt by the time they suit up to face the Russets on August 26th. Following the opener, the Russets will hit the road again for a game against arch-rival Snake River – a team that has beaten them two years in a row. Both games are scheduled to be web cast live on IdahoSports.com.
Shelley then hosts 4A schools Canyon Ridge and Preston, followed by a road trip to District 4 against last year’s state runner-up Gooding. Conference play then begins with home games against South Fremont and Sugar-Salem and wraps up with a road contest at Teton.
Last season, the Mountain Rivers Conference was about as balanced as it could be with multiple tiebreaking scenarios in play through the last regular season game. In fact, in trying to solve the three-way tie for second through a Kansas City Playoff last year, the conference had to do the playoff twice – because the teams were all tied after the first round. Monahan believes that we could see much of the same this year.
“I think that the conference will be very competitive again this year. There is lots of parity overall,” he said.
He was also very complimentary of conference members Sugar-Salem, Teton, and South Fremont and what they might accomplish this year.
“I believe that the road to the state title goes through Sugar-Salem,” said Monahan. “Sugar is loaded from top to bottom and I would be very surprised if they won less than 10 games this year. Teton and South Fremont always have great skill kids and are both coached very well. South will be a force up-front on both offense and defense.”
Don’t mistake Monahan’s remarks for weakness though. He knows that Shelley has the opportunity to make some noise themselves come late October and early November. He and his team want to “Prove It”.
“That motto means to prove that we belong at the top, prove that we can play with consistency and passion,” he said.
Monahan and the Russets are certainly excited for the journey, the challenges, and the prospects that lay ahead.
“I can’t wait to see our guys performing at a high level,” he said. “I really feel like we have 22 guys who can play for us.
He keeps it all in perspective too – understanding that football is an avenue to teach young men.
“Coaching football allows me the opportunity to influence young men in a positive, life determining way. I believe that the lessons you learn from playing football and being part of a team help in future endeavors. You have to compete every day of your life!”
What should we expect from the Russets in 2016? They’re going to compete. They’re going to be aggressive. They’re going to be physical.
And they are going to keep coming after you until the clock shows zeroes.