Marsh Valley High School
Conference: 3A South East Idaho Conference
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Head Coach: Doug Armstrong
Years as Head Coach: 1st Season
Previous Experience: Six years as assistant coach at Marsh Valley
Record Last Year: 2-6
State Titles: 2004
Peter Whitworth, RB/DB, 12
Dallin Belnap, WR/LB, 12
Tucker Eddins, WR/DB, 12
Caden May, RB/LB, 11
Isaac Bowman, TE/LB, 11
Justin Ketner, OL/LB, 11
Written by: Matt Harris (@IdahoSportsMatt)
“Every Fall, We Rise.”
That phrase has special meaning to the 2016 Marsh Valley Eagles football team. It’s not only a play on words for seasonal purposes, it’s the rallying cry to rebuild a once proud and competitive program from the ground up.
“We want the team to know that no matter the challenge or setback that we can rise up to and not only face that challenge, but overcome the challenge if we work together,” said new head coach alum Doug Armstrong, a Marsh Valley alum who was hired in late February.
It hasn’t been easy for the Eagles over the last four seasons. The team sunk to a 3-29 record overall between 2012 and 2015, including winless 0-8 campaigns in 2013 and 2014. The morale of the program, the fans, and the players, was low. Armstrong knew all about it though – he was right there with them as an assistant coach under former lead man Jason Taylor until 2013. He takes over for Thomas Elliot, who left after two seasons in Arimo.
The road to rebuild the program may be long, but Armstrong and his staff aren’t wasting any time – they believe they can see results now.
“After so many losses the last few years, we have had to break everything down to the most basic level,” he said. “We then had to start over by building a team-first foundation. In doing this, the boys have responded very positively.”
In beginning to change the culture at Marsh Valley, Armstrong insisted that they will indeed miss the now-graduated players from last season’s team, despite the overall struggles of the squad.
“We will miss all of last years seniors,” he said. “The team record is not a true reflections of their impact or ability at Marsh Valley.”
That being said, it’s onward and upward for the Eagles who will look to return to their roots on offense – a power rushing attack.
“We are going to strive to get back to a strong power running game where we are running downhill rather than trying to be fancy,” said Armstrong. “The strength of Marsh Valley has always been in outworking other teams. This philosophy starts up front with the offensive line and we will depend on them to set the tone for the offense in moving the ball.”
Returning to the offense this season is senior running back Peter Whitworth along with junior running back Caden May. They are joined on the outside by senior wide receivers Dallin Belnap and Tucker Eddins. Junior Isaac Bowman will occupy the tight end position while junior Justin Ketner will look to anchor a young offensive line.
“We want to improve in our consistency and game planning this season overall,” said Armstrong. “Last year, there were several games which would have been victories, however the team got away from doing the things that gave them the lead.” Marsh Valley averaged 24.1 points per game last season and had three losses of six points or less, including to conference-foe American Falls.
On the defensive side of the ball, Armstrong wants to see his team dig deep and find an aggressive tone that they have lacked in recent seasons.
“We will put a team on the field that is very aggressive in moving to the ball,” he said. “We have a lot of athletes who have returned to the team that will give us the speed to play sideline-to-sideline.”
Among those athletes, the back seven return a good amount of experience with Belnap, May, Bowman, and Ketner leading out from the linebacking core, while Whitworth and Eddins will look to lock down the secondary.
“We want all 11 men playing aggressively and moving to the ball. Last year’s team gave up too many yards after contact to be effective. We hope to be able to improve in this category.” Marsh Valley gave up an average of 33.4 points per game in 2015.
Armstrong is holding his team to a high standard. That includes those who don’t wear helmets and pads.
“We are expecting a lot of our athletes regardless of the position they play,” Armstrong said. “Everyone including the coaching staff must rise up to the challenge.”
We will see early on just how fast the team is progressing to that challenge. The 2016 schedule progressively gets harder week-by-week and the mettle of the team will certainly be tested. The Eagles open up on the road, making the trip down I-15 to play Malad in Week 1. They then host Filer on September 2nd before playing two straight road games: at West Side and at Sugar-Salem. Marsh Valley then finishes out the regular season slate with three of their final four games at home.
The Eagles host Bear Lake on September 23rd, followed by a home date with South Fremont before hitting the road again to face defending conference champion Snake River. They wrap up the season at home at Treasure Field against American Falls.
It’s been essentially been Snake River’s conference to lose over the last four years. No one has really challenged the Panthers for the league crown.
“Even though they are going through some changes, Snake River will always be the front runner until one of us removes them from that position,” Armstrong said.
Despite the challenges that lay ahead, the morale of the program is better than is has been in several years at Idaho’s smallest 3A school.
“There is a growing excitement among the fans and the players about our potential to be competitive and to start turning the program back into a contender in Southeast Idaho,” said Armstrong, who added that he hopes all Marsh Valley fans will be at every single game this year.
While getting wins and recapturing the feel of a consistent power program, the new coach knows that his reach goes far beyond the X’s and O’s of the game. As an alum of the school, Armstrong feels great pride to be a key cog in leading the transformation of the football program at his alma mater.
“This is a job I have worked towards for many years and it is both humbling and exciting to be in a position to set the tone of a program,” he said. “Winning ball games is great, but helping young men learn life lessons on the gridiron that will help them throughout their lives is what coaching is all about.”