Grand football coach Dennis Wells coaches the scout offense at practice on Monday, Aug. 10. The Red Devils begin the 2015 season at home versus Monticello on Friday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. [Photo by Tim Chappell / Moab Sun News]

The Grand County High School football team will look to keep its key players healthy as the Red Devils aim to climb back up the proverbial mountain after an injury and distraction-riddled 2014.

The Red Devils played in the state title game in 2013, but took several steps back last year, thanks to the loss of a large, decorated senior class, followed by significant injuries to several key players. Grand finished the 2014 season fifth in the 2A South division with a 2-4 division record and a 2-8 overall record.

Many of the players who spent much of last season on the shelf are back and healthy for the 2015 season, such as seniors Dalton McElhaney and Brandon Secrest. Both had the potential for great things before McElhaney lost part of his ring finger in the spring of 2014, which kept him off the field until shortly before the end of the football season; and Secrest was bothered by chronic ankle problems, limiting him to only three games.

The Red Devils, however, will still begin another season short-staffed. As of Monday, Aug. 10, there were only 42 players on the roster, Grand football coach Dennis Wells said.

“We should be around 60-65 players – I think the most I’ve had here is 70 or 72,” Wells said. “The last two years, we’ve just been down. (Our school has) got some good athletes, they just decided not to play.”

Of the 42 players, nine are seniors, seven are juniors, 12 are sophomores and 14 are freshmen. Seniors include McElhaney, Secrest, Seth Holyoak, Brendan Bennett, Joseph Shumway, Derek Johnson, Caleb Howe, Kyle Sutton and Cooper Holloway. Senior Josh Stalpes, who spent the offseason rehabilitating a torn ACL suffered in the 2014 season opener, was set to play before committing to join the military after high school, Wells said. Howe and Sutton haven’t played football at the high school level, but Wells said he is pleasantly surprised by their progress to this point in the preseason.

With such a small roster, the Red Devils will once again have to lean on sophomores and freshman to step up and not only give breathers to the juniors and seniors, but also become dependable contributors. Significant changes have been made on both offense and defense to better play to the strengths of the players on the team. Wells wouldn’t divulge the details prior to the Red Devils’ first couple games, but he said this year’s Grand offense will have plenty of options offensively and be able to attack the whole line of scrimmage.

“If we can stay away from injuries, I think we’ll be respectable,” Wells said. “… We don’t have any standing around in practice. Everyone’s constantly moving. (With a roster this small), we’ve got to have our guys in shape.”

The Red Devils were picked by both the coaches and by the Deseret News to again finish fifth out of six teams in 2A South.

“That’s where I’d pick us too,” Wells said. “Hopefully, we can be a pleasant surprise. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.”

That work begins Friday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m., when the Red Devils welcome the Monticello Buckaroos to Meador Memorial Field. The Buckaroos advanced to the 1A semifinal in 2014.

“It’ll be interesting,” Wells said. “They’ll give us an idea of what the season is going to be like. They’re a 1A school, but they always play us tough. They get excited to come to Moab.”

Coach: health is the key to respectability

“Hopefully, we can be a pleasant surprise. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.”

When: Friday, August 21, at 7 p.m.

Where: Meador Memorial Field at Grand County High School, 608 S. 400 East