A fan stumbling across the Meeteetse football field might mistake this year’s Longhorns for a gym class.
A quick count reveals only 10 players working out.
While most high school football teams across the country field squads of 11 players at once, Meeteetse will have just 10 players on its roster for the 2019 season, starting with a Sept. 7 home game against Encampment.
The fact the Longhorns compete in Wyoming 1A, six-man football helps. But under any definition this is a small team.
When a player is asked what his position will be, he invariably replies, “Everywhere.”
That’s part of coach Zeb Hagen’s game plan. Everyone will be trained to play every position in case players go down with injuries. The only thing missing is depth.
“I think we kind of all have to be ready to step in,” sophomore Kalvin Erickson said.
Meeteetse may have one of the thinnest rosters on the planet, but it also has considerable experience. None are freshmen.
Hagen, an assistant coach for departed Matt Jensen last year, previously coached the Longhorns for several years in the early 2000s. He said he has faced such a situation before.
“I’ve coached some low-number teams here,” Hagen said. “We finished the season. We made the playoffs.”
Finishing the season is a genuine concern. Meeteetse is just a couple of injuries short of having to forfeit games.
At the end of a recent practice, Hagen told the Longhorns of how Dubois once won the six-man championship with just 10 players.
“I want that for you guys,” he said.
Sophomore Jace Bennett is a key at quarterback and believes in his guys.
“I’m confident we have a good, solid group,” said Bennett, whose older brother Seth once quarterbacked the Longhorns to a state crown. “Everyone knows all the plays.”
Bennett said the Longhorns hoped 12 or 13 boys might come out for the team – there were almost 20 last year – and players recruited to no avail.
“We tried,” Bennett said. Staying healthy, he said, “that’s the main concern. Everyone taking care of their bodies.”
Hagen is stressing hydration and conditioning, and said practices probably won’t include much contact.
Others on the roster are: Asa Eldredge, Hadley Abarr, Brandon Tew, Mickle Ogden, who has to tell the world his name “Michael” is spelled like pickle, Skye Blue Keller, who has to tell the world there is an “e” on the end of Sky, Courtney Braden, Kaden Redding and Jonathan Blessing.
The circumstances also might provide fresh opportunity.
“It’s kind of like, ‘I would like to try this position,’” Braden said. “Every single position is open. I always wanted to try running back.”
Redding said he doesn’t care where he plays and is bringing as much optimism to the season as anyone.
“The depth doesn’t really matter, if everyone on the team has heart,” Redding said. “We’re just trying to be versatile. It tells people you’re just as important as anyone else on the team.”
When parts are interchangeable and options are few, that’s true.
“One play you could be playing one position and then something completely different,” Ogden said.
Eldredge understands the value of staying healthy more than anyone. Last year, the defensive standout missed games because of injury, and then as soon as he healed, was injured again, denting his ambitious schedule of playing football, basketball and hockey, a trifecta he expects to take on again this school year.
“This season it’s the best condition I’ve ever been in in my life,” Eldredge said.
He should get to carry the ball, but so will Hadley Abarr, who has experience doing that.
“I like running back a lot,” Abarr said. “But everyone is going to have to play everywhere.”
Tew’s primary role is center, but as a senior he thinks most about just being able to play football with his friends this year.
“Being with my boys,” Tew said, was of paramount import. “I’ve known these guys the last five years.”