Head Coach: Ryan Hasselstrom
Years as Head Coach: 14th Season
Previous Experience: 21 Total Seasons at Prairie
Record Last Year: 11-1, State Champion
State Titles: 2008, 2014, 2017
Spencer Schumacher, QB/DL, 12
Caleb McWilliams, RB/LB, 12
Carson Schmidt, OL/DL, 12
Owen Anderson, RB/LB, 11
Damian Forsmann, QB/DB, 11
Returning Players with Honors:
Spencer Schumacher, All-State
Caleb McWilliams, All-State
Owen Anderson, All-State
Key Players lost from last year:
Hunter Chaffee, WR
Nick Mager, WR
Dereck Arnzen, OL
Jace Perrin, OL
Jacob Stubbers, RB/DB
Jayce Huling, DL
Photo By: Clayton Bunt - #12 Spencer Schumacher
Written By: Will Hoenike
The Prairie Pirates are coming off a 1A Division 1 state title in 2017, the program’s third championship in the past ten years. In rural, small-town Idaho, often times, success is cyclical. A good class or two comes through and buoys the program to a run of success before a regression until the next star-studded class comes through.
The Prairie run of success, going back over a decade and spanning several classes, shows no signs of slowing, which is a credit to the community, its student-athletes and its coaches. But that doesn’t mean 14th-year head coach Ryan Hasselstrom is dusting off a spot for another state championship trophy just yet.
“Each new team always brings unique challenges and excitement,” Hasselstrom, the reigning 1A Division 1 Coach of the Year, said. “This year will be no different, we have a few holes to fill and it will be exciting to see how the younger players adjust to it.”
Fortunately for Hasselstrom and his assistants, Teel Bruner and Matt Elven, there is a potent core of returners in Cottonwood to ease the adjustments for those new faces.
It is particularly true on defense, where the Pirates return three All-State caliber players to a unit that held half of its opponents under 30 points last season which, in 8-man football, isn’t too bad, especially in the powerful White Pine League. Linebackers Caleb McWilliams (first team All-State) and Owen Anderson (second team All-State) both return behind defensive end Spencer Schumacher (first team All-State). That’s almost half of the team’s defense right there. Schumacher and McWilliams combined for nearly 25 tackles-for-loss last season and Anderson is just entering his junior season. Include Carson Schmidt, Hayden Uhlenkott and Dean Johnson along the defensive line along with Damian Forsmann in the secondary and the ingredients are in place for a stingy defense.
Offensively, Schumacher returns for his third season as the team’s starting quarterback. The big lefty no longer has Hunter Chaffee, Nick Mager or Jacob Stubbers to get the ball to when the Pirates have the ball, but the tandem of McWilliams and Anderson at running back should prove plenty potent.
Hasselstrom also has the ultimate security blanked in Forsmann, the junior who spent time directing the offense from the quarterback position last fall while Schumacher was out with an injury.
“We have two quarterbacks that each played a lot last season, so they will be able to lead this team this year,” Hasselstrom said. “Our offensive line should be a little bigger this year, which should improve our running game.”
The Pirate offense amassed 50 points per game last season and was held below 40 points just twice, so the thought of an improved running game could scare 1A coaches throughout the state of Idaho.
There probably isn’t a 1A team in the state getting a sterner opening test in 2018 than Prairie. Many coaches expect the Pirates to have a chance to repeat as state titlists this fall and there are plenty who feel the Valley Vikings from District IV have a chance as well. Coincidentally, those two teams will meet in the middle, so to speak, and play a non-conference game on September 1 at Middleton High School, just outside of Caldwell, to open the campaign. It is part of a star-studded, powerful non-conference doubleheader that day as perennial 1A Division 1 toughies Raft River and Genesee will also play on the same field.
Once again, the White Pine is no leisurely stroll through the fall. Beyond Prairie and Genesee, Lapwai returns a wealth of talent, Kamiah has made strides and Clearwater Valley has a strong group of underclassmen beginning to come of age in Kooskia. And that’s just part of the gauntlet. The rest of the league will have its say as well.
A team that qualifies for the 1A Division 1 state playoffs out of north Idaho definitely earns its ticket. If the Pirates are able to stay healthy, Prairie may be the strongest obstacle in that gauntlet but far from the only obstacle. A return to the playoffs seems likely in Cottonwood but no one in the White Pine will stand down and just let the Pirates walk through.