The Grand County High School football team begins play this season on Friday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m., against the Buckaroos in Monticello. After losing several key players to graduation, including its two leading rushers in Dalton McElhaney and Joseph Shumway, as well as team leaders Brendan Bennett and Seth Holyoak, Grand will need players to step up in order to repeat or improve upon its 6-5 record in 2015.

Senior Taylor Horton and junior Josh Jones are candidates to replace McElhaney at quarterback this season. Horton, a defensive starter in 2015, played sparingly at quarterback, while Jones was McElhaney’s primary backup. Jones, however, will not play in at least the team’s first two games because of injury, coach Dennis Wells said.

Much of the ground game is generated from the quarterback position in Wells’ Wing-T offense, but running back is also a key role. Junior Nick Downard and sophomore Trent Elmore look to get the bulk of the duties, particularly early on in the season. Grand’s receivers have also been known to get touches in the running game, as evidenced by Shumway’s totals in 2015. Junior Brayden Schultz is the frontrunner at wide receiver this season as one of the fastest players on the team, Wells told the Deseret News.

Defensively, the Red Devils return four starters in Downard, Horton, senior Kenyon Birdwell and junior Gage Hansen. With players such as Jones and Schultz stepping into starring roles on the defense, and a strong freshman class with three to five players expected to see varsity playing time, Wells said he believes Grand will be OK.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’m a little nervous that we don’t have the superstars we had last year, but I think we will hold our own – be at least as good as last year, maybe take another step forward.”

Wells added that he doesn’t know what the team will look like for sure until it’s tested. The first exam takes place in enemy territory 50 miles south in Monticello. The Buckaroos overcame a 20-8 Grand lead with a 21-point fourth-quarter rally in Moab last season, defeating the Red Devils 29-20.

“I’ve told our players, ‘You can never overlook Monticello, even when you’re leading in the fourth quarter,’” Wells said.

The Buckaroos have good players at quarterback and wide receiver, but lost some key offensive linemen, Wells said, so containing the running game will be a focal point of the game.

Both the 2A South coaches and the Deseret News picked Grand to repeat its results of 2015 with a third-place finish in the division.

Wells agrees with the ranking, noting that San Juan and Beaver will be tough for anyone to beat this year, and added that Enterprise and South Sevier also have strong teams.

“If we can be at least as good as last year, we’ll be set up good for next year, but Enterprise and South Sevier had good players coming back and may have something to say about that,” Wells said.

Despite youth, coach confident in team’s ability

I feel good. I’m a little nervous that we don’t have the superstars we had last year, but I think we will hold our own – be at least as good as last year, maybe take another step forward.

What: Grand football versus Monticello

When: Friday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m.

Where: Monticello High School, 148 S. 200 West, Monticello