GARLAND — In Chris Wise's seven years as head football coach at Bear River, the program and community have experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Almost comically, the Bear River motto has become state championship or bust.
In 2003, 2004 and 2006, the Bears enjoyed marvelous seasons capped by winning 3A state championships. In Wise's four other seasons as head coach, however, the program has finished with a losing record each year, including a combined 4-16 mark over the past two years.
"We'd like to get off of the roller-coaster," said Wise. "I'd rather be consistent, but you wouldn't trade the really good years for anything else."
Is 2009 the year the program finally settles into consistency? Maybe. The program returns plenty of starters, yet there are questions on the offensive line, and realignment has placed Bear River into the toughest region in 3A.
Legitimate consistency might still be a year or two away. When Wise took over the program in 2002, the Bear River alum sat down with all the little league coaches in the community to make sure everyone was running the same stuff as the high school team. The 8-year-olds at that time are now entering the high school program, and Wise said he is hoping he starts to see those dividends in the form of consistency.
It would help if the team could avoid the injury bug. In Week 4 last year, junior quarter James Taylor broke his collarbone, a injury that forced a sophomore into the starting lineup and forced the coaching staff to simplify the offense. The result was another bad region campaign.
Taylor is back for his senior year, and his coach expects big things.
"James has just gotten better and better as the year goes on," said Wise. "I think he's a next-level guy, but I don't think he'll be a quarterback at the next level."
Local colleges are looking at him as possibly a defensive end or safety, or perhaps he'll follow the footsteps of his older brother Caldwell Taylor, who's playing linebacker at Weber State. For now, however, the focus is on quarterback. A quick study, James Taylor has a real good understanding of Bear River's offense, and Wise said he usually only has to explain something to the senior once.
Dax Sederholm is Bear River's top receiving threat, but Wise knows it won't come quite so easy this year.
"Other teams know about Dax now, so we're going to have to find different ways to get him the ball. I think we're going to see a lot of double coverage on him," said Wise.
Hayden Haddock and Payton Wells will share the bulk of the ball-carrying duties, but they'll be running behind a line with some question marks. Defensively the Bears could be really good, which was the trademark of the school's championship teams of the past.
On a subtle note, one of the team's biggest strengths might be leadership.
"I was wondering how our seniors would step up and be leaders this year, and they've really stepped up. They've been one of the best leading classes I've had," said Wise.
Bear River Bears at a glance
Coach: Chris Wise is in his 8th year at Bear River with a 47-35 record.
Key Players: Hunter Payne is an outstanding linebacker who closes to the ball extremely quick. He and Hayden Haddock will anchor a solid linebacking core. QB James Taylor missed a good chunk of last season with an injury, but expectations are high for a break season for the athletic QB. Protection him will be a somewhat inexperienced line, but Brodee Nelson is a senior returning starter.
Strengths: With guys like Wells, Haddock and Aaron Spencer, Bear River has upwards of five guys who might be able to carry the load at running back. Defensively, that depth is most definitely at linebacker with five solid contributors as well. With 16 combined returning starters, the potential is there for a bounce-back season.
Concerns: How has back-to-back losing seasons affected this program mentally? Everyone insists it's not a big deal, but what happens if Logan hangs 40 points on the Bears' defense in Week 1? On the field, the offensive line is the one area where graduation left its biggest mark on the team. There appears to be enough talented seniors to fill gaps, but experience is a concern there, at least early on.
Last year: 3-6, missed the playoffs
Predicted Region 11 finish: Fourth
Postseason possibilities: If the Bears stay healthy, they should be in the hunt for the league title. Realistically, though, considering the program has missed the playoffs the past two years, they'd probably just settle for a postseason berth.
Aug. 21 — at Logan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — AMERICAN LEADERSHIP, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — at Box Elder, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 — vs. Minico, Idaho, 1:30 p.m. (at Idaho State)
Sept. 18 — BEN LOMOND, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — MORGAN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — BYE
Oct. 9 — JUAN DIEGO, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 — at Grantsville, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — at Judge, 7 p.m.