Young San Juan High School football team set to kick off 2020 season with August 14 opener
A lot has happened in the nine months since the 2019 San Juan High School football season came to a premature close at the hands of Region 12 opponent Richfield on October 25, 2019.
It could even be said the bitter taste of the 41-20 loss to the Wildcats in the first round of the 3A state tournament departed along with most of the Bronco varsity players.
Seventeen San Juan seniors graduated after the 2019 season in fact, and the 2020 squad will be a completely different animal.
Just five starters return this season: Jaden Baker and Cooper Black on offense and Ladd Ivins, Jensen Grover, Cooper Black, and Bronson Snyder on defense.
Though the team lacks experience, fourth-year head coach Barkley Christensen said he’s very pleased with their preparation and progress at this early stage.
“We’re building on the excitement we established last year,” he said. “Kids have shown up to workout every single day over the summer. We’re hitting the ground running now that we’re in mandatory practice.”
The Broncos out-performed Duchesne and South Summit in recent preseason scrimmages and also competed well in a couple of seven-on-sevens, according to Christensen.
“For being a whole new team,” he said, “I’m not going to say we’re perfect, but they have exceeded my expectations.”
Junior Jace Palmer will step into the quarterback position, replacing the graduated Shaw Nielson. Christensen said Palmer is “very smart, and though he won’t have the playmaking ability this year that Shaw had, he makes good decisions and he will take care of the ball.”
Palmer missed a good portion of the 2019 season due to injury. He is a leader the rest of the players look up to, “but we have so many weapons on the outside with receivers. I think that will help him not feel like he has to do too much,” explained Christensen.
Palmer’s targets in the passing game will be Ladd Ivins, Cooper Black, and Landon Black. Christensen said Ivins has “stepped up in a big way to take over the number one receiver slot.”
Junior Jensen Grover takes over as running back for San Juan in 2020. He ran for 245 yards on 45 carries with two TDs last year.
An offense is only as good as its line, and Christensen is counting on players to step up and lead from those positions that don’t normally receive a great deal of glory.
Jadon Black looks “really tough” according to Christensen, who adds that Tyler Bayles should return from injury just before the Broncos’ first game, and Maddax Lee has been strong in the preseason.
The Broncos will employ the same spread offense fans have come to expect under Christensen’s leadership, but the playcalling will look a little different this year.
“We don’t have the size we had at the slot position, so you’ll see more sweeps to get those guys involved with the run game,” Christensen explained.
One area on offense San Juan will need to improve is turnovers. They gave up the ball 31 times in 2019, which was an average of almost three per game.
Christensen would like the team to be plus-five over their opponents or better in that department this year, and he’s confident they can get it done.
On the defensive side, it will be a new look for the Broncos in 2020 with Bobby Bowring and Landon Palmer taking over as defensive coordinators.
The team will move to a 4-2-5 scheme, which features four down linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs.
Christensen said the players have really bought into the new system, which will rely on defensive backs aggressively coming up on many plays to make tackles against pass-heavy 3A opponents.
He hopes to get defensive leadership from Ivins at safety, Cooper Black at corner, and Landon Black and Jenson Grover at linebacker.
And Christensen is expecting more from his defense this year. “If we had held teams to 20 points per game last year, we would have been undefeated,” he reasoned.
Though the Broncos scored an impressive 445 points in 2019, they allowed 265, an average of 40-24 per game, respectively.
Christensen said the keys to success on defense in 2020 are going to be “playing assignment football, understanding the new scheme, and just doing our job.”
The Broncos have won 18 games in their first three seasons under Barkley Christensen, they’re 14-7 in the last two years, and they won the Region 12 championship last season.
In the Deseret News Region 12 Coaches’ Poll, Richfield is picked to win the region in 2020 with San Juan providing the Wildcats their only real challenge and finishing second.
With COVID-19, changes are expected as the season goes along. There is even the possibility the season could begin, then not finish. But according to Coach Christensen, the Broncos are excited to get started and are hoping for a complete season.
They kick it off against Delta on Friday, August 14 at the San Juan High School football field in Blanding.
It’s a rematch of last year’s knock-down, drag-out, triple-overtime thriller that saw the Rabbits come out on top 34-28. The Broncos are shooting for a different result this season.