North Gem High School
Conference: Sawtooth Conference East Division
Classification: 1A D2
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Head Coach: Dana Strong
Years as Head Coach: 3rd Season
Previous Experience: Hansen High School
Record Last Year: 6-3
State Titles: 1988, 1996
Nathan Christensen, End/DE, 12
Dawson Barfuss , QB/LB, 12
Tucker Swenson, OL/DE, 12
John Forte, OL/RB/LB, 12
Jacob Neese, QB/End/LB, 11
Bronx Holbrook, End/ DE, 11
Bennett Cooper , End/DE, 11
Chance Williams,RB/LB, 11
James Rindlisbaker, RB/LB, 11
Gabe Brito, QB/RB/S, 10
Gavin Brito, OL/LB, 10
Michael Barfuss , End/S, 10
Date Yost, OL/FB/DT, 10
Tyler La Brouche, OL/DE, 10
Kooper Swenson, C/DT, 10
Bryson Hatch, OL/DT, 10
Ramon Joya, RB/LB, 1
Returning Players with Honors:
Bronx Holbrook – First Team All-Conference WR
Dawson Barfuss – First Team All-Conference S
Key Players lost from last year:
Bridger Jensen, RB/LB
Walker Davids, QB/DE
Jacob Lish, C/DT
Brandon Lloyd, G/DE
Incoming impact players:
Ramon Joya, RB/LB, 10
John Forte, RB/OL/LB, 12
Written by: Matt Harris
Late in the 2016 season, the North Gem Cowboys were bitten by the bug that all 1A Division-II schools in Idaho never want to interact with.
The injury bug.
The result was key players being sidelined and the conference champion Cowboys getting knocked out of the state play-in round by Camas County in a 46-32 loss. Certainly, it was not the way in which North Gem wanted to end the season.
Not only did their campaign come to an end early, the Cowboys lost some notable players to graduation, including Walker Davids, Jacob Lish, Brandon Lloyd and Bridger Jensen, who was the conference player of the year.
“Bridger was a smart, talented two-way player who never missed a snap and also anchored our defense,” said Dana Strong, now in his third season as head coach at North Gem. “Walker was tough and talented and our team leader, Jacob was very productive from his defensive tackle position and always took on double teams. Brandon had a high motor, was productive, and just a tough young man.”
While the Cowboys will certainly miss the services of those young men, it also opens the door of opportunity for those who return to fill their shoes and reach greater heights.
“We are a young team with a bright future and have some really talented players coming back and some real talent coming from the middle school,” said Strong. “We should be an exciting team the next few years. This is not a physically big team but is a physically tough team.”
Leading the way on offense for the Cowboys is senior quarterback Dawson Barfuss. He will be joined in the backfield by junior running backs Chance Williams and James Rindlisbaker with sophomores Ramon Joya and Gabe Brito also seeing time at the position. Plenty of targets will be available for Barfuss at wideout as Bronx Holbrook and Nathan Christensen will put pressure on opposing defenses downfield. The likes of juniors Jacob Neese and Bennett Cooper along with sophomore Michael Barfuss will also see time at wide receiver.
“We have a talented and deep set of receivers and a strong running game,” Strong said. “We have a mobile and accurate quarterback in Dawson Barfuss. Chance Williams is going to be a dominant running back and both Bronx Holbrook and Nathan Christensen are tall receivers with great hands.”
Up front, North Gem will look to senior Tucker Swenson to take charge and anchor the line. Senior John Forte will assist in the effort, along with sophomores Gavin Brito, Date Yost, Tyler La Brouche, Kooper Swenson, and Bryson Hatch. There’s a lot of youth on the line, but a lot of talent as well.
“The offensive line will have to be rebuilt and will be a real focus during training camp. If our offensive line comes through, we will put a lot of points on the board,” said Strong. “We can have a balanced attack and be a scoring machine. The X-factor for us is that offensive line. They will be the key to our chances of repeating as conference champions.”
Strong added that if his team could develop a more consistent passing game, they would be able to put up some “huge numbers” on the scoreboard.
Defensively, the Cowboys will look to a lot of familiar faces from the offensive side of the ball to make an impact. Tucker Swenson and Bronx Holbrook will be looked to for leadership on the line, with Nathan Christensen, Bennett Cooper, Date Yost, Tyler La Brouche, Kooper Swenson, and Bryson Hatch all seeing time up front.
The linebacking corps is the strength of the North Gem defense as they return Dawson Barfuss, James Rindlisbaker, and Chance Williams, while John Forte, Jacob Neese, Gavin Brito, and Ramon Joya will get snaps at that position. Sophomores Michael Barfuss and Gabe Brito will roam the secondary at safety.
“We are loaded with a group of talented and athletic linebackers,” said Strong. “We have good speed and toughness on defense, but lack size. We will be aggressive though.”
When looking back to last year, Strong said that they hope to avoid a rash of injuries which crippled their season while improving turnover margins.
“We had a superb defense last year until injuries ravished the unit,” he said. “We hope to stay healthy this year and cause more turnovers. We need to be ball hawks.”
North Gem will get their first chance to show their improvement on Aug. 25 when they travel to perennial contender Carey in what should be a hard-hitting and physical game. Then, following a bye week, the Cowboys hit the road again on Sept. 8 to open their conference schedule at Mackay.
The Cowboys then host three straight games in Bancroft beginning on Sept. 15 against Clark County, followed by games against Rockland on Sept. 22 and defending 1A Division-I champion Raft River on Sept. 29. North Gem then rounds out the regular season schedule with two of three games on the road: Oct. 6 at Watersprings, Oct. 13 at home against Sho-Ban, and on the road on Oct. 20 in Arco against Butte County.
While all games are important, Strong broke down two key matchups for his team over the course of the season.
“Rockland is the team to beat this year,” he said. “They are talented, experienced, and well coached. They will be our top home game. As for the road, Butte County has a ton of players and will be very tough. They will be our top road game.” The Cowboys game at Butte County is scheduled to be video streamed on IdahoSports.com.
If the Cowboys can stay healthy and rebuild their offensive line quickly, don’t be surprised to see North Gem making a deep postseason run and setting themselves up for much more success in future seasons.