The Red Devil football team, fresh off of placing second in 2A in 2013, will face an uphill battle full of uncertainty after graduating a decorated class and having a key player suffer an injury.
Grand County, once primed to remain contenders in 2A, only has 35 players on its roster to this point in the preseason, about 15 less than last year’s squad. Junior Dalton McElhaney, who was to be the Red Devils’ starting quarterback, broke his wrist in early August and faces a 12-week recovery.
McElhaney’s injury requires a full-arm cast will keep him out of action completely for most of 2014, but Wells is hopeful that at about midway through his recovery, he’ll be allowed to switch to a smaller cast, which would enable him to play on defense. In the mean time, quarterbacking duties will likely fall to senior Tanner White, Wells said. Others who may see action as the signal caller on offense include senior Ronnie Dolphin, who is currently penciled in as the starting tailback, and sophomore Nolan Beeman, who got some brief varsity experience last year and has been having a strong camp.
“It makes sense to run (Beeman) at quarterback so we can keep (Dolphin) at tailback and (White) at tight end,” Wells said. “It looks like we’ll be going with (White) at least early on, which I don’t want to do because I think he is the best tight end in the state. He gets his blocks, and he catches everything thrown at him.”
Dolphin said he believes the Red Devils, who are ranked No. 5 in 2A in the Deseret News preseason poll, are still capable of competing with the 2A elite.
“We still have the talent we had last year,” he said. “We just don’t have as much size or depth.”
The 2013 Red Devils boasted strong senior leadership. Dolphin said he believes this year’s squad has that as well, although not as vocal.
“In practice, a lot of the seniors are quiet so far,” a trend Dolphin hopes changes as the season progresses, he said.
The Red Devils had heir apparents to the incumbents at most of the skill positions last year, but on the offensive and defensive lines, they’re largely untested. The offensive line had four seniors last season, three of whom garnered all-state accolades.
“Our offensive line will be alright,” Wells said. “They’re a little inexperienced and have no depth, but they’ll get better as the season goes along.”
Defensively, the Red Devils have questions marks on the front seven, but figure to continue to boast a strong backfield, Wells said. He mentioned that this year’s coaching staff, which includes assistants Ron Dolphin, Derrick Cook, Steve White, Scott Horton and Jared Meador, has done an exceptional job keeping the younger players involved in practice, having them perform drills, rather than stand and watch varsity, where they have a tendency to lose focus.
The Red Devils have been focusing on conditioning through the better part of the preseason because much of the roster will be playing both offense and defense. With a roster of so few players, Wells said he won’t be able to have juniors play in junior varsity games, such as in years past, so the junior varsity team and the “C” team will basically be the same. Wells said he expects them to do well in C-team games, but have struggles in junior varsity games.
Without depth, the Red Devils will work at a slower pace offensively than in past years, not being able to run the hurry-up offensive that Wells likes to employ to keep the defense on its heals.
The Red Devils’ first test of the new campaign will take place in Price on Friday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m., as Grand County plays the Carbon Dinos, a 3A team they defeated 48-7 in last year’s opener.
This year, the Dinos have a new coach, leaving Grand with no idea of what to expect when they take the field for the first time.
After matching up with the Dinos, the Red Devils break in Meador Field for the first time in 2014 on Friday, Aug. 29 at 7 p.m., when they play host to Rifle, Colo.
Grand’s first test Aug. 22 at Carbon
“For a school of over 400 kids, to only get 35 out for football is frustrating, especially after the success we had last year. We had some good kids that just decided not to come out for football.”
What: Red Devil football home opener
When: Friday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m.
Where: Grand County High School, 608 S. 400 East.
Opponent: Rifle, Colo.
Cost: $8 for adults, $5 for students