Trojans expect to make next step toward playoff return

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • The West Marshall football team returns 15 letterwinners from last year’s squad, which finished 5-4 overall. Pictured are, front row: (from left) Ryan Sabastiano, Chase Burr, Levi Randall, Alex Dickey, Jake Tollefson, Beau Coberley and Kristian Carbajal; back row: Josh Larsen, Nat Markle, Cameron Bannister, Parker Hulbert, Cole Baccam, Michael Doe, Joe Halverson and Kyle Schaper.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • The West Marshall football team returns 15 letterwinners from last year’s squad, which finished 5-4 overall. Pictured are, front row: (from left) Ryan Sabastiano, Chase Burr, Levi Randall, Alex Dickey, Jake Tollefson, Beau Coberley and Kristian Carbajal; back row: Josh Larsen, Nat Markle, Cameron Bannister, Parker Hulbert, Cole Baccam, Michael Doe, Joe Halverson and Kyle Schaper.

STATE CENTER — Nothing exemplified West Marshall head football coach Cody Hackett’s analysis of last fall like the Trojans’ season-opening defeat.

The 2016 campaign, which ended with a 5-4 overall record and 3-4 mark in Class 2A’s District 3, “felt close.” The Trojans couldn’t get much closer than a 14-13, double-overtime loss to Nevada to open the 2017 schedule in last Friday’s Week Zero contest.

Hackett opened his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater with a heartbreaking non-district defeat, trying to turn the momentum from his first winning season with West Marshall into the Trojans’ first playoff appearance since 2013. But a pair of turnovers and a failed two-point conversion attempt left West Marshall wanting in its opener a week ago.

“We’re trying to get it back to the tradition we’ve always had,” Hackett said in the days leading up to the season opener. “We’re getting there.”

Leading that charge for the Trojans will be eight of last year’s nine all-district honorees, a defense that brings back nine of 11 starters and an offense that’s equally experienced. West Marshall returns 15 letterwinners, highlighted by 11 seniors who have been with Hackett as their head coach every step of the way.

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“They’ve been great. These were my first group of freshmen, they didn’t really know [former head coach Ken] Winkler’s system,” Hackett said. “They’ve stepped up, bought in and are leading the young guys in a good way. I know they want to win.

“We were 5-4 last year and we felt that we possibly could have been 7-2. Things can change.”

The Trojans have made merely minor adjustments in their schemes and nearly no changes in personnel. Only four seniors graduated from last year’s squad, so West Marshall is hoping to experience the positive strides that are expected after a year of experience.

“We lack a little depth up front but our for our skill guys we’ve got pretty good depth there,” Hackett said.

Junior quarterback Cameron Bannister, senior tailback Alex Dickey, junior fullback Chase Burr and senior wide receiver Beau Coberley headline the returning ballhandlers for the Trojans. Bannister threw for 1,389 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions a year ago, with Coberley leading the way with 39 receptions, 644 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Coberley is the team’s only returning first-team all-district selection from a team that ranked 18th in 2A for passing offense. Dickey led the backs with 604 yards rushing last fall.

Paving the way for their success will be linemen Kyle Schaper, Kristian Carbajal, Cole Baccam, Luke Pinnick and Michael Doe, as well as tight ends Parker Hulbert and Joe Halverson.

“I think we have a lot of guys on the offensive end who can make plays,” Hackett said. “We’ve got speed, we’re fast, but not very big. Cam can throw and also has the ability to escape the pocket and make plays. Beau knows the game, he’s been around football all his life, he cares and is passionate, smart, elusive, quick. He’s our go-to guy. He’s going to have to be our playmaker.”

Hackett hopes to find better balance on offense after throwing for 1,425 yards and running for 950 a year ago. Dickey, Burr and backup tailback David Willis are expected to help make it happen.

“I think any coach would say they’d like to be able to run the ball, you have to establish the run before you can pass the ball, and we’ll be better [running the ball] this year,” Hackett said. “We definitely want to be able to run, but we’re not scared to throw at all.”

Carbajal, Burr, Schaper and defensive back Ryan Sabastiano anchor the defense as returning all-district second-team selections, leading a unit that allowed an average of 22 points per game. The Trojans forced 25 turnovers and will look to their athleticism, not size, to be disruptive.

“We feel pretty good about our defense, it should be pretty strong,” Hackett said. “We lack the size but they know what hard work can do for them.”

Burr, a linebacker, was the team’s top tackler a year ago with 66 solo stops and 63 assists, including 10 total tackles for loss and one quarterback sack. His hard-nosed ways make up for his lack of size (5-foot-10, 160 pounds).

“He’s definitely undersized but he can fly around and he has a nose for the ball,” Hackett said. “You can tell he’s very passionate about the game. He’s our vocal leader — you can’t even get him to shut his mouth — and he leads in a good way. He grinds on the guys but he let’s them know he wants to win.”

West Marshall will have to duplicate its defensive efforts from a year ago in order to contend in District 3, which was paced by Dike-New Hartford’s run to the state semifinals last fall. Roland-Story earned the runner-up spot, and Hackett believes those two teams will be favored once again.

“I’d like to say we’d be up there for a chance to maybe make a playoff berth,” he said, “and we feel that way but we know it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a tough road but if we can stay healthy, I feel we have a good shot and I think the kids feel that way too.”