San Juan football team opens year next Friday with eyes fixed on a 2021 state championship

The San Juan High School Football Team has their sights set on one goal in 2021: winning the 2A state football championship. It’s a goal the team feels is within reach.

The Broncos return every starter from a 2020 squad that was already strong and gave eventual 3A state champion Juab a run for their money in the quarterfinals.

In addition, San Juan (along with a number of 2020 3A schools) move to 2A football this year, so the competition should be extremely equal. But nothing will be handed to the Broncos in 2021. They will still have to put in hard work to sit atop the standings in November.

San Juan joins a new 2A South region that includes defending 2A champ Beaver, Delta, local rival Grand County, Millard, and South Sevier. Only Beaver and Millard competed in 2A last season.

Though 2A coaches’ votes placed the Beavers in the number-one preseason spot, 2A South coaches predicted the Broncos will win the region. Of course, preseason rankings are out the window once the teams hit the gridiron.

Without a doubt, San Juan will be exciting to watch this season, and it’s going to make my job as Bronco play-by-play caller on Redrock Radio fun all year.

San Juan led 3A scoring last season, averaging 39 points per game. Defensively, the Broncos allowed 21.1 points per game last season, sixth in 3A. They return 11 starters on both sides of the ball.

Head Coach Barkley Christensen enters his fifth season excited about the “tremendous depth” San Juan will put on the field in 2021. He answered several questions via email and we present his answers here:

Q: You guys are obviously poised for a strong season, returning lots of experience. How is the team shaping up this year?

A: Throughout the summer this is the hardest-working, most dedicated team we have had. Throughout non-mandatory workouts we’ve had up to 60 kids each morning at 6:30 lifting and working hard in team activities.

With all of the returning players, offensive and defensive practices have looked smooth. Of course we are not perfect but we have jumped out to a great start.

Q: What has impressed you so far in practice?

A: Just how player-led we are this year. I don’t have to harp on kids to have better attitudes or work hard. The players take care of everything. We have a great culture here at San Juan football and the kids have taken the lead with how practices are going and how they are run.

Q: What hasn’t impressed you?

A: Sometimes I get the feeling the hype has gotten to us in a negative way. The papers came out and ranked us second in 2A, and coaches in our region have voted us first in the region. That’s all pre-season stuff that doesn’t matter.

But sometimes I feel our kids think this is just going to happen because we are “supposed” to be good. That has been a hard challenge to overcome – that we are not overlooked anymore, that we are getting all the attention, and the kids dealing with that hype thinking we’ve arrived. 

Q: Has anybody in particular surprised you with their growth and performance since last year?

A: Every kid has surprised me with how much better each and every one of them has gotten since last year. Landon Black after his knee injury last year has made tremendous strides and is healthy and looking in tip-top shape again.

We got a new move-in from Aztec, NM who plays line and he has impressed us. We have some juniors who have taken big leaps from their sophomore years who will contribute a little bit more in Collin Baker, Garett Young, and Jerzy Nieves.

But each kid – even ones who were big contributors for us last year – have impressed me with their improvement.  

Q: Do you have any strong young players coming up?

A: We have a handful of sophomores who could help us this year who did not play as freshmen. We have juniors coming up who did not play a ton as sophomores. But for the most part it will be the same kids as last year, just a year older.

Q: Who do you expect to step up into leadership roles this season?

A: All 19 seniors. They have been tremendous as a group this offseason, coming together as one strong group of leaders.

Q: Where do you expect to have strengths this year?

A: With how much returning talent we have we expect to be pretty strong in about every unit.

Q: In what areas might you need work?

A: We need a kicker. We might struggle for a minute on special teams. A kicker is a major part of the team and we don’t have anyone right now booting the ball. But that could change.

Q: What attitude are you seeing from your players? Where’s their focus? Is the Juab loss still on their minds, or have they put it behind them?

A: Their attitude is head down, eyes up, and go to work. They have had awesome attitudes. The Monday after we lost to Juab we had 40 kids in the weight room. Their focus is a state championship. They starve for one.

We have created a tough preseason schedule to prepare us for one. They have put the Juab loss behind them in that they’re not down about it, but it’s still on their minds in that they know we can play with just about anyone in the state.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a team this season?

A: We want to make our town and community proud. We want to be good players on and off the field. But I think if you ask any of our kids what we want to accomplish this year, 100 percent of them will tell you we want a state championship.

Q: Moving back to 2A, do you know much about your competition?

A: We know a lot about them. We have watched film on every team we will play. Every team in 2A except for Beaver and Millard were in 3A with us last year. It’s still not going to be easy. We have some great teams in 2A.

The Broncos’ preseason will indeed be challenging. They open against 4A Desert Hills in St. George next Friday, August 13 at 7 p.m.

Last season the Thunder finished fifth in Region 9 with five wins and seven losses. They lost to eventual 4A state champion Sky View in the second round of the state tournament.

This season Desert Hills has a new coaching staff, with Rick Berry coming on as head coach and Jim Eggleston taking over the offense.

Like the Broncos, the Thunder return a lot of experience, with eight veterans on offense and seven on defense. It should be a good battle.

San Juan comes back home to host Summit Academy (who spanked the Broncos 49-28 last year) on August 20 and Bayfield, CO August 27.

Two more road games will follow to conclude the preseason, September 3 and 10 at Milford and Canyon View before the Broncos host the first 2A South region game of the year against South Sevier on September 17.

One of the most anticipated matchups of the year is set for October 8 when San Juan travels to Beaver to take on the defending 2A state champion Beavers.

You can catch every play of the Broncos’ football season live on Redrock 92.7 FM, with streaming video at during the regular season and home playoff games.

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