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High school football: Box Elder Bees 2017 preview

Note: Box Elder finished with a 6-6 overall record in 2016 and was fourth in Region 5 with a 2-3 record. The Bees lost to Maple Mountain 32-8 in the 4A quarterfinals.

Box Elder 2016 Offensive and Defensive Stats

BRIGHAM CITY — We've often been told that the only two sure things in this life are death and taxes.

But if you grow up in the vicinity of this quaint, relatively quiet Northern Utah town, a few other things seem to be a certainty as well.

First, someday when you're old enough to go to high school, you'll be dang proud to call yourself a Box Elder Bee.

Second, if you're a football player, you'll grow up to be a tough, hard-nosed kid who doesn't back down from anybody.

And third, there's a real good chance you and your football teammates will be in contention for a state playoff spot pretty much each and every year.

It's definitely no different in 2017, as this year's edition of Box Elder football, celebrating the school's 100th anniversary, goes into a new region alignment with what's always the same, singular, determined goal: Play a fierce, fly-to-the-ball brand of football and do your best as a Bee to make your school and community proud.

"We're gonna compete. I'm telling you, we're gonna come every week and we're gonna get after it," said Box Elder head coach Robbie Gunter, who has guided the Bees to seven straight state playoff berths. "Our goal is to get better every week and be playing at the end of the season.

"We've had some good kids that have done a good job for us, and last year we had to win out to get there and that was a battle. But the kids did a great job and came together at the end.

"There's a tradition, there's a feeling around here that 'Let's do this, we can do this,' and our coaches do a great job of buying in and they don't get up or down, they just keep working toward reaching that goal," Gunter said.

Indeed, when you grow up in Box Elder County and it comes time to attend high school, you've got two choices -- Box Elder or Bear River.

Yep, you're either gonna be a Bee or a Bear and, either way, you're gonna take fierce pride in being one or the other.

Chances are, many of these kids' parents, grandparents and great-parents had an opportunity to make that same choice once upon a time.

"We're still a one-horse town. We don't get kids from other places, and our kids don't go someplace else to play, they stay here," Gunter said. "It's funny because we really don't have a boundary line on the north end (of the county), and Bear River doesn't have a line on the south end. But you know when you're born where you're going to school.

"My cousins live in Tremonton and their kids are growing up, and we get together and my kids wear purple and talk about the Bees and their kids talk trash on the Bees and they're dyed-in-the-wool Bears all the way. People pass that stuff down to their children and grandchildren."

Indeed, it's seemingly in their genetic makeup, and it seems they're born and raised to either be a Bee or a Bear.

If they're football players, it's also in their genes to be the kind of kids who are bound and determined to do what they need to do to help their school's program be successful.

And this year's group of Bees is no different.

"It's a good group," Gunter said. "It's a small senior class as far as numbers go, but they're working hard and we've got a good junior group that we're gonna have to count on to step in to take on some of those roles.

"But I like what they're doing, They're working hard and they're trying to be that next, successful group. That's what I love about Box Elder and Box Elder football -- there's some pride and there's some tradition here. And there's a level of work capacity that goes into it, and they know they've gotta reach that, and so each group tries to get to that point."

One of the biggest challenges the Bees will face this season is that they have just one returning starter, junior center Ryan Gunn, on offense.

So they'll be breaking in some new playmakers who, though many of them have had plenty of varsity reps in the past, are being counted on to carry a much bigger share of the role this year.

Gunter is hopeful that the program's proud winning tradition will help them get through the transitionary tough times.

"I'm glad we have it," he said of the Bees' perennially high expectation level. "I wouldn't want to be on the other side of that. These kids are working hard; we're still trying to fit people into spots.

"The thing that stinks in Utah is we get a week of practice, and then we put pads on the next week and then we play a game the next week. So it's like we've gotta come together with a good game plan. And we play Layton right off the bat, so it's like we're going right into the fire. We've gotta get these guys put together, so it's a process to get 'em all squared away.

"And our process is, even though we're playing a game, we still keep working towards putting everything together," Gunter said. "It's two or three games into the season before we actually have things solidified."

Seeing young men grasp the responsibility and accountability that occurs between an athlete's junior and senior years is something Gunter enjoys watching unfold.

"The fun part is seeing those kids make that transition," he said. "Sometimes as a junior, they're a timid and they're still trying to figure it out, but they do a good job.

"But then they become a senior and it's like 'Man, I've gotta do it now.' And they work hard and all of a sudden, we've got a couple of kids that their bodies are coming around and they're starting to be faster and stronger, and all of a sudden, they feel like they should be the guy. And it's fun to see that as a high school coach."

The region realignment means the Bees will be part of a revised Region 5 that now has just five schools after losing reigning 4A state champion East, perennial power Highland and Bonneville, replacing those three schools with Roy and Viewmont, which will cut down on the Bees' commuting time considerably.

"We hated the drive home on Friday night," Gunter said of facing the high-powered East High program. "But they set the standard pretty high, and you know where you stand after you play them. You get your kids fired up to play a team like that, and you know who you are after you play a team like that. I felt like it's been good for us to play Highland and East because they've set such a high standard. But we won't miss the commute to Salt Lake City.

"Viewmont and Roy, I'm telling ya, they're two great teams, two great programs. Freddie (Fernandes) has done an awesome job with Roy and it doesn't matter, he just lines 'em up and they play hard and they've got a good tradition back. And Viewmont is loaded. I think that they think this is the team that they feel is their team. The coach (Scott Ditty) got there and he moved a bunch of kids up and I think he's played those kids all the way through, so now they're seniors and they're ready to go.

"Roy (in Region 1) and Viewmont (in Region 2) were both region co-champs last year, and I always say that the team that was the region champ deserves it until they're knocked off," Gunter said. "There are five teams in our region now, and we get four state playoff spots. And I'm looking at it and going 'Man, who's the odd man out?' Because everybody's going to be competing; the other two teams are Woods Cross and Bountiful, and they're both great teams, too. I feel like it's an opportunity to have a real tough, competitive region."

And, at season's end, the one sure thing you can count on is that these Bees will be battling to nail down one of those coveted spots in postseason play.

Box Elder Bees at a glance

Coach: Robbie Gunter is entering his ninth year as Box Elder's head coach. He has compiled a 43-48 record in his eight years at the school and is 79-77 overall in 14 years as a high school head coach. He is a graduate of Marsh Valley (Idaho) High School and Southern Utah University.

Box Elder Offensive Snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Robbie Gunter (9th year at the school)

2016 offensive production: 22.7 ppg (17th in 4A)

-- 1 returning starter

-- Wing-T formation

Key offensive returning starters

-- Ryan Gunn (C)

Gunn is the lone returning starter on the Bees' offense this year, and he's being counted on to anchor their O-line as a junior.

Returning offensive starters

Ryan Gunn (C)

Offensive newcomers to watch

Jeremy Kaleikini (QB)

Jeremiah Petersen (TE)

Kaleb Christensen (OT)

Bernard Pena (RB)

Jaden Nessen (OG)

Kade Stiver (OT)

Conner Stevenson (WR)

Gunter's comments on the strengths of his team's offense:

"I feel like we're pretty athletic. I also feel like there's a good team concept of share and work; guys are blocking and guys are running and guys are doing their job. That's what I feel like so far has been a good strength for us."

Gunter's comments on the quarterback position and senior QB Jeremy Kaleikini:

"Our quarterback, it seems like every year we've got a new quarterback. And we get a good senior that steps up and takes over, so we don't get that young guy that chance because the senior does his job, which I appreciate, and that's what we want. But then every year you're getting it going again.

"But Jeremy is really doing a good job and kinda taking some ownership and trying to be a good leader. He throws the ball well and he's athletic, so that helps. He's played, obviously he started at safety for us and played a lot of offense, but he didn't play very much at quarterback. Every game was so close last year it was hard to pull that roation. If we could've had a couple big wins, we probably could've got him som more reps. But he did get practice reps and he was a quarterback before that."

Gunter's comments on junior center Ryan Gunn, the team's only returning starter on offense

"He started last year as a sophomore for us and did a great job. He just does a real good job for us."

Keys for offensive success in 2017:

With just one returning starter in Gunn, a bunch of new skill-position players must step into the spotlight and shine for the Bees to be successful. The athletic Kaleikini shows plenty of promise at quarterback, and running backs Brock Hardy, Steve Handy and Bernard Pena are being counted on to help move the ball on the ground. If the receiving corps and O-line can get their jobs done, the Bees' offense should be able to generate some scoring punch.

Box Elder Defensive Snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Travis Mumford

2016 defensive production: 20.7 ppg (7th in 4A)

-- 4 returning starters

-- 4-3 formation

Key defensive returning starters

-- Brock Hardy (LB)

Hardy was the Bees' leading tackler last season as a junior, piling up a whopping 93 tackles along with 3 sacks from his linebacker position.

-- Jeremy Kaleikini (S)

Last year as a junior, Kaleikini recorded 68 tackles and 4 interceptions from his safety spot.

-- Colton Kapp (LB)

Kapp came up with 52 tackles last year as a junior linebacker for the Bees.

-- Ethyn Butler (DT)

Last season, Butler had 27 tackles and 1 quarterback sack as a junior defensive tackle.

-- Jeremiah Petersen (LB)

Petersen compiled 19 tackles from his linebacker position last season as a junior.

Returning defensive starters

Brock Hardy (LB)

Jeremy Kaleikini (S)

Ethyn Butler (DT)

Colton Kapp (LB)

Defensive newcomers to watch

Steve Handy (CB)

Kaleb Christensen (DT)

Christian Esparza (MLB)

Jeremiah Petersen (MLB)

Tyson Madson (DT)

Casey Jacobson (DE)

Porter Cochran (DE)

Gunter's comments on the strengths of his team's defense

"Defensively, we've got some good starters back and we keep it simple on defense, so we try to let those kids play, just line up and play hard. There's still a lot of questions, and we're gonna have to have juniors step up at certain spots and our seniors that haven't played much step up at certain spots, but that's kinda why we have the J.V. team and the sophomore team help prepare 'em.

"Simplicity, in a few different ways, that's a strength for us. I feel like we do few things, but we get to where we can do 'em real well, and then you have a few kids coming back and they take a little ownership and help the other guys learn how to play football.

"I feel like we run to the ball and we play team defense really well. We don't really have any standout defensive players; in fact, we call our standout our defense as a whole, that's the standout. We're the Bees, so we call it 'The Swarm,' and not for any reason other than were' all trying to get there, we're all working together, and we have a lot of little Bees getting there (to sting their opponents and make the stop) at the same time."

Keys for defensive success in 2017:

With linebackers Hardy and Kapp, Butler and Madson up front and Kaleikini on the back end, the Bees have got some strong, experienced performers to lead the way. Now they've got to get other players involved so that "The Swarm" can continue to do its job after ranking among the top 4A defensive units in the state last season. Not having to go up against the likes of East and Highland should help them statistically, and Box Elder's fierce, hard-hitting tradition should serve it well in the new-look Region 5.

Coaches preseason Region 5 straw poll: Fourth

Deseret News Region 5 prediction: Fourth

Key region game: vs. Bountiful, Sept. 15 (Week 5)

Bottom line: Playing in a five-team region will have its advantages and disadvantages, and the prospect of facing less travel, no trips to Salt Lake City and no more games against East and Highland should enhance the Bees' chances for success. However, the addition of Viewmont and Roy to the region won't be a cakewalk by any means, either. It would seem only fitting that in this, the school's 100-year centennial celebration, the Bees would continue their run of success and nail down an eighth straight state playoff spot. But it won't come easy.

2017 Schedule

Aug. 18 — at Layton, 7 p.m.

Aug. 25 — BEAR RIVER, 7 p.m.

Sept. 1 — at Mountain Crest, 7 p.m.

Sept. 8 — POCATELLO, IDAHO, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 — BOUNTIFUL, 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 — at Viewmont, 7 p.m.

Sept. 29 — CLEARFIELD, 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 — ROY, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 — at Woods Cross, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 — BONNEVILLE, 7 p.m.

Felts Facts for Box Elder High School

All-time record: 559-333-25 (100 years)

Region championships: 35 (1919, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1957, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966 co, 1968, 1982, 1983 co, 1984 co, 1992 co, 1995, 1996, 2001 co, 2003, 2004 co, 2010 co)

Playoff appearances: 60

Current playoff appearance streak: 7 (2010-2016)

All-time playoff record: 43-52-1

State championships: 8 (1926, 1928, 1935, 1945, 1946, 1946, 1957, 1960, 1995)

State championship record: 6-10-1

Most played rivalry: 98 meetings with Logan dating back to 1919. Box Elder leads 62-33-3.

Felt’s Factoid(s): Box Elder meeting Bear River 95 times is 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. ... Box Elder holds the record for most consecutive undefeated, untied regular seasons with four (tied with two others). The Bees didn’t lose a regular-season game from 1933 through 1936. … Joe Call gained 593 all-purpose yards in a contest in 1925, a single-game record that remains one of the oldest individual state records

Last 5

2016 — 6-6 (2-3 in Region 5 – 4A Quarterfinals)

2015 — 5-8 (2-4 in Region 5 – 4A First round)

2014 — 5-7 (2-4 in Region 5 – 4A First round)

2013 — 6-5 (4-2 in Region 5 – 4A First round)

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

Box Elder coaching history

2009-current — Robbie Gunter (43-48)

1991-2008 — Wes Roesler (128-71)

1988-1990 — Larry Findley (18-10)

1981-1987 — Michael Madeo (39-29)

1979-1980 — Larry Findley (10-10)

1974-1978 — Gordon Peterson (21-25)

1964-1973 — Les Dunn (56-40)

1963 — Gerald Simmons (2-6)

1960-1962 — Les Dunn (22-9)

1921-1959 — Earl Ferguson (213-78)

1917-1920 — Alvin Twitchell (7-7)

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

2015 — Haydn Stender, OL

2014 — Riley Burt, RB

2014 — Jarom Meacham, DB

2013 — Luke Daley, OL

2013 — Breckin Gunter, LB

2012 — Breckin Gunter, LB

2011 — Britton Gunter, DB

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