by Tad Barton
When a football team replaces a three-year starter at quarterback, especially when that quarterback is an athlete the caliber of Payton Palmer, there tends to be some concerns.
While Palmer and the other seniors from the 2015 season will be missed, they left the program in very capable hands.
Add that to the fact that the returning running backs will line up behind a very big, fast and experienced offensive line, and things look pretty good for the Broncos in 2016.
On the offensive side of the ball, San Juan returns four out of five of their starters on the line.
Senior Lucas Giddings will anchor the line at center. He will be joined by fellow seniors and returning starters Peter Shumway, Zach Brown and Connor Palmer.
In the backfield, Jordan Blake will take over at quarterback. Blake has plenty of varsity experience at wide receiver and defensive back.
Jay McDonald and Kavika Su’eSu’e both return at running back. Jaxon Lee, the leading Bronco receiver last year, rounds out the returning starters on offense, giving the Broncos a total of eight returning starters.
It is said that defense wins championships, and San Juan should again be very solid on that side of the ball.
Like the offense, the Broncos also have a number of returning starters on defense, with seven. Su’eSu’e and Lee will return to anchor a very good linebacker core, along with Bayl’r Eldredge, who moves to outside linebacker after starting much of the year last season at cornerback.
Blake will lead the way in the San Juan secondary, considering he has started there since he was a freshman.
The other returning starter in the defensive backfield is senior Nathan Nielson.
Peter Shumway started every game in the trenches for the Bronco defense last season and will be joined by Connor Palmer, who was not a full time starter, but adds experience.
Add in McDonald to solidify a very athletic and quick defensive line. He started last year as a linebacker but will move up a few yards to defensive tackle.
In addition to the returning starters, the Broncos have a bevy of talented players filling the spots left open on each side of the ball.
Senior Coleman Black looks to fill in the lone open position on the offensive line but could be pushed for playing time in that spot by a few others, including Walker Black and Tanner Black.
Eldredge and fellow junior Jaden Torgerson will more than adequately fill out the depth chart at wide receiver, and Nielson will be a weapon for the Bronco offense at flanker.
Defensively, Dylan Ivins looks at home next to Su’eSu’e in the heart of the defense at middle linebacker.
Aaron Mitchell will try his hand at corner and is more than athletic enough to get the job done. Coleman Black should see playing time at defensive end, along with Zach Brown.
Another player to keep an eye on is junior Jens Jones, who should help San Juan on both sides of the ball.
San Juan quick facts:
Head Coach: Monty Lee enters his 14th season at the helm and his 31st season overall with the Broncos. He boasts the best winning percentage of active high school coaches in Utah with a record of 119-29. His teams have won three state titles and eight region championships.
Leading Returning Rusher: Kavika Su’eSu’e – 51 carries, 385 yards and eight TDs.
Leading Returning Receiver: Jaxon Lee – 14 catches, 346 yards and five TDs.
Returning Offensive Starters: Lucas Giddings (OL), Connor Palmer (OL), Peter Shumway (OL), Zach Brown (OL), Jaxon Lee (WR/TE), Kavika Su’eSu’e (RB), Jay McDonald (RB) and Jordan Blake, who moves from WR to QB.
Offensive Newcomers to Watch: Bayl’r Eldredge (WR), Nathan Nielson (FL) and Coleman Black (OL).
Defensive Coordinator: Ryan Nielson is in his third year as coordinator. San Juan will run a base 4-4 defense and has seven returning starters.
Leading Returning Tackler: Kavika Su’eSu’e – 88 Tackles
Sacks: Peter Shumway – seven Sacks
Interceptions: Nathan Nielson – three INTs
Returning Defensive Starters: Peter Shumway (DT), Jay McDonald (DT), Kavika Su’eSu’e (LB), Jaxon Lee (LB), Baylr’ Eldredge (LB), Nathan Nielson (CB) and Jordan Blake (FS).
Defensive Newcomers to Watch: Dylan Ivins (LB), Coleman Black (DE), Connor Palmer (DE) and Aaron Mitchell (CB).
No team in 2A has been as successful, year in and year out over the past 30 years, as San Juan. This year’s team looks to carry on those winning ways.
The Broncos will definitely be tested this season as they take on the returning 2A runner-up, the South Summit Wildcats, to kick off the season.
The Broncos return home in week two to take on the reigning 2A state champs in Colorado, the Bayfield Wolverines.
Rounding out their pre-season San Juan travels to Richfield to take on the Richfield Wildcats in week three, before hosting the always dangerous and talented Summit Academy Bears in week four.
The regular season will pit the Broncos against tough competition as well as they play at Beaver, Enterprise, at South Sevier, North Sevier and at Grand.
2A South Pre-Season Coach’s Poll – First
Deseret News 2A South Prediction – First
Parry’s Power Guide Standing – Third
2016 San Juan Football Schedule
August 19 — at South Summit, 5:30 p.m.
August 26 — Bayfield, CO, 7 p.m.
September 2 — at Richfield, 6 p.m.
September 9 — Summit Academy, 7 p.m.
September 16 — at Beaver, 7 p.m.
September 23 — Enterprise, 7 p.m.
September 30 — at South Sevier, 7 p.m.
October 7 — North Sevier, 7 p.m.
October 14 — at Grand, 7 p.m.