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High school football: Bear River Bears 2017 preview

Note: Bear River finished with an 8-4 overall record in 2016 and tied for third in 3AA North with a 5-2 record. It lost to Dixie 26-25 in 3AA quarterfinals.

Bear River 2016 offensive and defensive stats

GARLAND — Following back-to-back losing seasons, Bear River’s program took some big strides forward last season in winning eight games and pushing Dixie to the brink in the 3AA quarterfinals before losing by one point.

It’s no secret what fueled Bear River’s success — defense. It ranked first in 3AA scoring defense, only allowing an average of 13.4 ppg. It held five opponents to single digits and kept Dixie under its season average in the heartbreaking playoff loss.

With five defensive starters returning, expect Bear River to be stout again in 2017.

“I think they’re going to be relentless, I think they’re going to do the little things well,” said Bear River coach Chris Wise.

The heart of that defense are linebackers Tate Porter and McCoy Christensen and defensive lineman Easton Payne.

To keep up with the upper-echelon teams in the new 4A, the Bears must improve their offensive efficiency. They ranked 12th out of 14 teams in 3AA last season, averaging only 20.3 ppg.

A strong defense can keep games close, but you need some semblance of offense to win those close games.

Bear River returns six players who started at one point last season. Drake Marsh got a lot of playing time at halfback, but his workload should increase dramatically from the 43 carries he had last year. McCoy Christensen has looked strong this summer at running back as has Texas transfer Braxton Jeppsen.

If a relatively young offense line picks things up early, Bear River’s offense should be much improved from a year ago.

Bear River Bears at a glance

Coach: Chris Wise is entering his 16th season as Bear River’s head coach, and he’s one of the longest tenured coaches in school history. He’s amassed a 91-79 record along the way, including state titles in 2003, 2004 and 2006. He’s a graduate of Bear River High School.

Bear River offensive snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Chris Wise

2016 offensive production: 20.3 ppg (12th in 3AA)

— 6 returning starters

— Multiple offense

Key offensive returning starters

Walker Wise (OL)

He was one of the anchors of the offensive line last season, and even bigger things are expected in his senior season.

Kaygen Canfield (QB)

He came on strong late last season as he finished with 1,397 passing yards and 403 rushing yards. A year of experience under his belt should help Bear River’s offense.

Returning offensive starters

Kaygen Canfield (QB)

Jacob Olsen (WR)

Easton Payne (FB)

Drake Marsh (HB)

Walker Wise (OL)

Makayden Kent (OL)

Offensive newcomers to watch

McCoy Christensen (HB)

Braxton Jeppsen (HB)

Wyatt Jeppesen (TE)

Judd Miller (WR)

Parker Coombs (WR)

Brady Brown (WR)

Logan Pond (OL)

Kaden Miller (OL)

Logan Frazier (OL)

Wise's comments on O-line experience:

“The two that I have, Makayden Kent and Walker Wise, are good tough kids and I think I’ve got some good young kids that are coming up that will eventually develop into some things. The Wise kid has a lot of experience and understands how to use his leverage. The Kent kid is just a killer. He gets off the ball, gets into the numbers and drives. He really tries to put people down when he drive blocks, and hopefully the younger kids feed off that.”

Wise's comments on newcomer Braxton Jeppsen:

“Braxton Jeppsen has just moved in. His dad has lived here for years, and he moved in from Texas. He’s extremely athletic and he’s got to be on the football field offensively.”

Wise's comments on expectations for QB Kaygen Canfield:

“Kaygen has been starting there since he was a sophomore and I fully expect him to step up, but I fully expect him to get pushed (by Brady Brown and Braxton Jeppsen). Kaygen is a smart kid, hard worker, extremely competitive. He had an outstanding game against Dixie last year, and I hope he picks up right where he left off.”

Keys for offensive success in 2017:

Gage Kaneko led Bear River last season in rushing yards with 692 yards. For a run-based offense, that’s simply not good enough. Along with better production from the offensive line, somebody needs to step up in the backfield for the Bears, whether it’s Braxton Jeppsen, McCoy Christensen or Drake Marsh.

Bear River defensive snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Jared Lish

2016 defensive production: 13.4 ppg (1st in 3AA)

— 5 returning starters

— 5-2 defense

Key defensive returning starters

— McCoy Christensen (LB)

Led Bear River in sacks last season with seven as he also finished third in tackles with 68.

— Tate Porter (LB)

A returning outstanding linebacker, Porter was in the top five in tackling for Bear River last season with 49 tackles to go along with his three sacks.

Returning defensive starters

Easton Payne (NG)

McCoy Christensen (LB)

Tate Porter (LB)

Jacob Olsen (CB)

Judd Miller (CB)

Defensive newcomers to watch

Logan Frazier (DL)

Logan Pond (DL)

Garrett Byington (DL)

Parker Coombs (S)

Kaygen Canfield (S)

Braxton Jeppsen (S)

Wise's comments on D-lineman Easton Payne:

“Easton Payne is returning, he’s a big strong physical kid. He’s going to get some looks from the next level. He played nose guard for us. I think this year we’re going to move him up and down that line. He also plays fullback. We’d like to have him focus on defense, but I need him to be a sixth or seventh offensive lineman in there.”

Wise's comments on linebackers Tate Porter and McCoy Christensen:

“Tate Porter did an outstanding job for us last year, kind of a ball hawk kid. He does a great job of setting that edge. McCoy Christensen is going to be in the middle. He last year caused a lot of trouble for quarterbacks. He’s great at timing the snap, great blitzer.”

Wise's comments on strength of Jared Lish’s defense:

“One thing his defenses do well, it’s over the next play. They don’t dwell on the mistakes. They fix them and move on quickly.”

Keys for defensive success in 2017:

Nose guard Easton Payne is Bear River’s lone returning starter on the defensive line. He recorded 21 tackles and was very disruptive at the line of scrimmage a year ago. The rest of the defensive front personnel is unproven and needs to rise to the occasion for Bear River’s defense to lead the way again.

Coaches' preseason Region 12 straw poll: Fourth

Deseret News Region 12 prediction: Fourth

Key region game: at Green Canyon, Sept. 22 (Week 6)

Bottom line: At Bear River, Wise as always tried to encourage kids to play other sports. The drawback for the football program is that most kids have other sporting obligations throughout the school year. With less practice time and exposure throughout the spring and summer, Bear River sometimes gets off to a slow start. That could happen again with a preseason schedule that features Juan Diego, Box Elder and West Jordan. If the Bears come out of that gauntlet healthy and improved, they should be in great position to compete in Region 12.

2017 schedule

Aug. 18 — JUAN DIEGO, 7 p.m.

Aug. 25 — at Box Elder, 7 p.m.

Sept. 1 — WEST JORDAN, 7 p.m.

Sept. 8 — at Morgan, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 — at Sky View, 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 — at Green Canyon, 7 p.m.

Sept. 29 — MOUNTAIN CREST, 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 — at Ridgeline, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 — LOGAN, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 — OGDEN, 7 p.m.

Felt's Facts for Bear River High School

All-time record: 384-439-19 (95 years)

Region championships: 13 (1937, 1959, 1983, 1984, 1985 co, 1986 co, 1987, 1990, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2006)

Playoff appearances: 36

Current playoff appearance streak: 5 (2012-2016)

All-time playoff record: 38-33

State championships: 3 (2003, 2004, 2006)

State championship record: 3-5

Most played rivalry: 96 meetings with Box Elder dating back to 1923. Box Elder leads 69-25-2. Meet Sept. 5.

Felt’s Factoid(s): Bear River's 96 meetings with Box Elder makes the game the longest uninterrupted active rivalry in state history, having been played every season since 1923. The winner has taken home a traveling trophy, the Golden Spike, since 1959. … BR recovered 10 fumbles — a state record — against Jordan in a 1981 Class 3A playoff game.

Last 5

2016 — 8-4 (5-2 in 3AA North – 3AA quarterfinals)

2015 — 3-8 (2-4 in 3AA North – 3AA first round)

2014 — 5-7 (3-3 in 3AA North – 3AA quarterfinals)

2013 — 7-4 (4-2 in 3AA North – 3AA first round)

2012 — 7-5 (4-2 in Region 11 – 3A quarterfinals)

Bear River coaching history

2002-current — Chris Wise (91-79)

2001 — Jay Graft (5-4)

1998-2000 — Ryan Bishop (23-10)

1997 — Jeff Kilts (2-8)

1992-1996 — Doug Parry (34-22)

1988-1991 — Mike Rosky (26-16)

1981-1987 — Dan Cox (58-21)

1979-1980 — Mark Pierce (4-14)

1978 — Hal Lewis (2-7)

1976-1977 — Bill Jacobson (7-13)

1968-1975 — Don Peterson (20-50)

1959-1967 — Gerald Simmons (38-39)

1957-1958 — Donald Smith (8-10)

1955-1956 — Hess Peterson (6-11)

1954 — Wendell Hess (6-3)

1952-1953 — Howard "Tuff" Linford (7-9)

1946-1947 — Floyd Rasmussen (4-10)

1944-1945 — Moyle Knudson (2-9)

1943 — Mr. Leavitt (0-6)

1940-1942 — Carl Smith (0-19)

1937-1939 — Lyle Tripp (9-11)

1932-1936 — Vern Harris (7-17)

1927-1931 — Leo Walker (10-14)

1922-1926 — Unknown (6-12)

Deseret News Mr. Football recipients

2004 — Jason Zundel, QB

Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years

2006 — Garland Munns, RB

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

2016 — Jordan Watson, DE

2016 — Gunner Sorensen, S

2013 — Justus Wise, OL

2012 — Justus Wise, OL

2009 — Hunter Payne, LB

2007 — Jake Miller, DL

To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.

Read rest of the 2017 prep football previews here.