Sugar-Salem High School
Conference: 3A Mountain Rivers Conference
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Head Coach: Tyler Richins
Years as Head Coach: 3rd Season
Previous Experience: 2 years as Hillcrest assistant coach, 3 years as Shelley assistant coach
Record Last Year: 9-2
State Titles: None
Camry Ingram, RB/LB, 12
Colby Ingram, RB/LB, 12
Junior Gonzalez, LB, 12
Jaron Rose, RB/DB, 12
Dylan Pope, RB/DB, 11
Kyle Ostermiller, RB/LB, 10
Angel Gonzalez, OL, 12
Eduardo Avendano, DL, 12
Austin Williams, OL/DL, 12
Zach Belnap, OL/DL, 12
Connor Stanford, OL, 12
Returning Players with Honors:
Austin Williams - 1st Team All-Conference OL, 2nd Team All-State OL, 2nd Team All-Conference DL
Camry Ingram - 1st Team All-Conference LB, 2nd Team All-Conference RB
Junior Gonzalez - 1st Team All-Conference LB, 2nd Team All-State DB,
Zach Belnap - 1st Team All-Conference DL, 2nd Team All-State DL, 2nd Team All-Conference OL
Dylan Pope - 1st Team All-Conference DB, 2nd Team All-State DB
Colby Ingram - 2nd Team All-Conference LB
Jaron Rose - 2nd Team All-Conference DB
Key Players lost from last year:
Derek Ostermiller, RB
Ethan Arnold, QB
Caleb Cureton, OL/DL
Photo By: Patty Theurer - #27 Colby Ingram
Incoming impact players:
Junior Gonzalez, QB, 12
Marcus Maxwell, TE/OL/DL, 12
Chandler Pincock, TE/LB, 11
Ace Christensen, WR/RB/DB, 11
Tate Pinnock, OL/DL, 12
Mason Balzen, OL/DL, 11
Wolf Bennion, OL/DL, 11
Taylor Fyfe, RB/LB, 12
Blake Neria, OL/DL, 11
Hayden Crapo, DB, 10
Jacob Christensen, WR/DB, 11
Written by: Matt Harris (@IdahoSportsMatt)
It was a landmark year for the Sugar-Salem Diggers in 2015.
The team in Sugar City turned in one of their best football performances in school history with a 9-2 overall record and their first trip to the state semi-finals since 1999 – and only their fourth appearance in that round of the playoffs since 1986. The Diggers also won the Mountain Rivers Conference for the first time since 2010 and eliminated perennial 3A championship contestant Fruitland from reaching their 10th straight title game appearance in a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat game.
And while the hopes of a potential championship game appearance and title weren’t realized last season, the Diggers appear to be re-tooled and reloaded for another run at that elusive state championship.
Under the direction of third-year head coach Tyler Richins, the culture at Sugar-Salem around the football program continues to change – more emphasis in the weight room, offseason programs, and overall game preparation. Richins hopes the hard work continues to pay off.
“We are excited about the growth of our football program, winning the District last year and taking home a State 3rd place trophy,” he said. “It was exciting for our team, our school, and community. It’s been a long time since either of those happened. However, as a team we are not content with where we finished. Our motto this year is ‘Climb Higher’. We know we need more effort, more dedication, and more discipline to reach our ultimate goal of a State Championship.”
In order for Sugar-Salem to reach that goal, they will first have to replace some key players on both sides of the ball. The big name on the list is 2,000-yard rusher and All-State running back Derek Ostermiller, who ran in 25 touchdowns while averaging 8.4 yards per carry. Replacing a player who brought that much production to the table is not easy by any means. Quarterback Ethan Arnold is gone as well, taking with him nearly 1,400 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns while including 39 tackles and three interceptions on defense. Another player that will be missed is Caleb Cureton, whom Richins said was a big factor in their success last year.
“Caleb anchored a line that blocked for nearly 3,500 yards in rushing and had 51 tackles, four sacks, and nine tackles for loss on defense,” he said. “He was a First Team All-State player on the offensive line and a Second Team All-State player on the defensive line.”
However, the Diggers will press on and fill the voids left by these graduating seniors. A host of talent returns for the defending conference champions as they look to make it two years in a row atop the district. Several All-State and All-Conference players are back for the blue and white this year and are eager to make their impact – and it all starts up front.
“We are very athletic up front which should really help us in our run game,” Richins said. The Diggers return Second Team All-State offensive lineman Austin Williams along with All-Conference selection Zach Belnap, seniors Marcus Maxwell, Tate Pinnock, Angel Gonzalez, and Connor Stanford. Add in juniors Mason Balzen, Wolf Bennion, and Blake Neria into the fray and Sugar-Salem suddenly boasts a wealth of depth on the line.
When it comes to the run game, expect more of the same from the Diggers – with a slight twist.
“We’ve become a more physical team and have developed more speed. Rather than feature one back like we had in Ostermiller last year, we want to rely on a host of backs with different strengths to carry the word load,” said Richins. “We suspect that even though we lose a work horse in Ostermiller, we will still rush for more yards as a team this year.”
How does a team lose a 2,000-yard back and rush for more yards the next year? A quick look at the depth chart will show how it’s possible. Twin brothers and All-Conference selections Camry and Colby Ingram will lead the way for Sugar-Salem and be joined by fellow seniors Jaron Rose, Dylan Pope, and Taylor Fyfe in the backfield. Richins anticipates junior Ace Christensen and sophomore Kyle Ostermiller making a big impact as well.
While Richins is confident in the rushing attack, he acknowledges that improvement in the passing game is needed to help Sugar-Salem become an elite team. The Diggers only passed the ball 67 times last season (just over six times per game) for a total of 709 yards with eight touchdowns. At times, opposing defenses would stack the box and try to force Sugar-Salem to beat them through the air.
“We understand that in order to take the next step to become a team to beat we have to be better in the passing game,” Richins said. “The more balanced we are and the more we spread the ball to our playmakers – it will make us that much better. We’ve seen more improvement in our passing game over the summer which should allow us to be more successful running the football. Throwing the football and becoming more balanced has been an offseason emphasis.”
Replacing the departed Ethan Arnold under center this season will be senior Junior Gonzalez. Richins mentioned that Gonzalez has worked hard to improve his control of the football and command of the offense.
“Our ability to control the clock and keep possession of the ball is crucial for us,” he said. “Last year, we had a combined 50 minutes more time of possession than our opponents.”
Richins added that with an improved passing game and more balance, he hopes to see that translate to longer drives on the field.
“We would like to see our third down conversions increase as well as our scoring opportunities in the redzone,” he said of his team, which averaged 32.5 points per game last season.
Gonzalez will have targets to work with downfield too. Maxwell and junior Chandler Pincock will see time at tight end, while Ace Christensen and Jacob Christensen will lineup at wide receiver to give Gonzalez another threat downfield. Many Digger running backs caught passes last season out of their Wing-T formation, led by Camry Ingram with 12 receptions for 384 yards and five touchdowns.
Whereas the Diggers have good depth at most positions on offense, it’s the defensive side of the field where it really stands out. A total of seven players with honors return to the squad this season, including four All-State selections on defense.
“With all but three returning starters coming back we are very excited for our defense,” said Richins.
The secondary may be among the strongest positions for Sugar-Salem, as Gonzalez (Second Team All-State DB), Pope (Second Team All-State DB), and Rose (Second Team All-Conference DB) look to anchor the defensive backfield. They will be joined by both Ace and Jacob Christensen and sophomore Hayden Crapo, all of whom Richins expects to make an impact this year.
“Our pass defense needs to become better overall, but we do return a good amount of experience,” he said.
On the line, Belnap (Second Team All-State) will lead the way alongside Williams (Second Team All-Conference). They are joined by Pinnock, Balzen, Bennion, Neria, and senior Eduardo Avendano to form a solid front line. Behind them awaits First Team All-Conference linebacker Camry Ingram, twin brother Colby Ingram (Second Team All-Conference LB), Ostermiller, Fyfe, and Pincock. Overall, the Diggers return seven of their top 10 tacklers from last season.
“We want to win the turnover battle and limit big plays,” Richins said of his defense which gave up 19.5 points per game last season. “Because we are so experienced on the defensive side of the ball it will allow us to work on the little things and develop our younger players.”
With the way the schedule is structured, Sugar-Salem does not play in a conference game until October 7th, when they face Teton in their final home game of the season. This will allow Sugar-Salem to tweak and adjust problems they see to try to become a well-oiled machine by the time early October rolls around.
The Diggers open up the season with two straight road games: at perennial 2A power Declo and 3A school Jackson, Wyoming. Sugar-Salem then gets four games at home in a row as they welcome Snake River, Marsh Valley, 4A school Jerome, and Teton to Sugar City. The regular season then wraps up with two more road games at Shelley and at South Fremont in the annual ‘Cold War’.
“Any conference game is what we consider must-see football,” Richins said. “We believe we play in the toughest conference in the state.” His statement is corroborated by other Mountain Rivers Conference coaches, who have said the same to the Preview.
State championships don’t come around often. The window for a potential state championship game appearance (and potential title) has never been bigger for the Diggers. Richins tempers those thoughts however, knowing that his team has a lot to improve on before they can even think about hoisting the blue trophy in mid-November. But the potential is there.
“If we can fill the big shoes of the players that graduated, we could be a very good football team,” he said.