Note: Gunnison finished with a 3-7 overall record in 2016 and was fourth in 2A North with a 2-3 record. It lost to Grand 63-21 in 2A first round.
GUNNISON — Rarely has the Gunnison football program seen success in terms of wins and losses. In fact, head coach Jack Pay can only recall two winning seasons in the school’s history with the team’s best single season record being 7-4.
However, that doesn’t stop Pay and the Bulldogs from believing that things will soon change.
“This year, our goal around here is to have the best season that Gunnison has ever had,” the third-year coach said. “The best season to date is 7-4 and we think that reaching that is a goal that is very attainable.”
Last year, the Bulldogs went 3-7, but the way Pay sees it, the team has some momentum going into the 2017 season after winning a couple of games late in the 2016 season.
“I think the kids coming back are going to understand that they can be in a game,” Pay said. “Looking at it from my vantage point, there isn’t a game this year that is unwinnable.”
If the Bulldogs hope to win more games and reach their goal, a big improvement is needed on the defensive side of the ball, which ranked 11th in 2A in 2016.
Pay believes that after switching the defensive system prior to the 2016 season, the team had trouble adjusting during games.
This year, however, with the system being more familiar for the returning players, things should go smoother on the defensive side of the ball.
For the Bulldogs, a lot rests on the defensive line to translate the improved and more comfortable defense to game situations.
“The key for the defense is our defensive line needs to be very stout,” Pay said. “We have a lot of experience coming back on the defensive side of the ball and we need to make sure we use it.”
On the other side of the ball, the offense showed a lot of promise in 2016 with Kris Keeran-Edwards at quarterback, and Pay believes the running game will be stronger this year to help balance out the offense and aid the passing game.
Gunnison Bulldogs at a glance
Coach: Jack Pay is entering his 3rd year coaching after leading his team to a 3-7 record in his second year and 1-9 in his first year. He is a graduate of Gunnison high school and Utah State University.
Gunnison Offensive Snapshot
Offensive Coordinator: Jack Pay
2016 offensive production: 21.2 ppg (8th in 2A)
— 6 returning starters
— Pro-style offense
Key offensive returning starters
— Kris Keeran-Edwards, QB
Edwards threw for 1821 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016 but also threw for 13 interceptions. Look for him to improve on the TD/INT ratio this season.
— Mike Hansen, WR
The senior was one of Edwards’ favorite targets last season and will have an even bigger role now that the two players who had more receiving yards last season have since graduated.
Returning offensive starters
Kris Keeran-Edwards, QB
Mike Hansen, WR
Randy Maldonado, TE
Dallin Jackson, OL
Ty Hill, OL
Isaiah O’Neal, OL
Offensive newcomers to watch
Thomas Yardley, RB
Braden Beaumont, RB
Pay’s comments on Edwards:
“He is a great kid and a great kid to be around. He understands the offense, understands the reads, and understands where the ball is supposed to go.”
Pay’s comments on the run game:
“We have two junior running backs who played last year that are physical, downhill runners so I expect a lot of good things from them. They have shown a lot of improvement throughout fall camp. I would say we are a lot farther a long now that we have ever been. We’re getting a lot better.”
Keys for Offensive Success in 2017:
The passing game showed a lot of promise in 2016 with Edwards at the helm and some solid receivers around him but needs to be more efficient for the Bulldogs to get some wins. Also, the run game needs to live up to its potential to aid the passing game and put pressure on opposing defenses.
Gunnison Defensive Snapshot
Defensive Coordinator: Trent Halliday
Defensive production: 35.9 ppg (11th in 3A)
— 6 returning starters
— 4-3 defense
Key returning defensive starters
— Isaiah O’Neal
O’Neal racked up a whopping 95 tackles at the linebacker position to lead the team in 2016.
— Syrus Miner, CB
Miner was a force in the secondary last season with two interceptions.
Returning defensive starters
Syrus Miner, CB
Isaiah O’Neal, LB
Mike Hansen, FS
Wyatt Young, SS
Ty Hill, DL
Dallin Jackson, DL
Defensive newcomers to watch
Thomas Yardley, LB
Alex Holder, LB
Pay’s comments on the defense:
“We are running the same system as last year. Last year we switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 so the kids are going to be able to just play a lot more and not have to figure out how it is different from last year.”
Pay’s comments on surprising some other teams:
“I look forward to a good year. I’m looking forward to getting out on the field and playing some games and showing some other teams what our team can be. We’re going to get out on the field and show them what we can do.”
Pay’s comments on closing out games:
“We started out pretty poorly last year not really being able to stay in games. We would be in games and couldn’t really get over the hump to win the game. Toward the end of the year, around the American Leadership game, we played really well that game. We kind of figured out how to be mentally tough and believe in ourselves and try to change the mental culture that we hadn’t been able to do for my first year and a half.”
Keys for Defensive Success in 2017:
After switching defensive systems last year, Pay hopes that this year things will be more natural on the defensive side of the ball, resulting in more stops. Also, as Pay notes, the defensive line will need to step up this year in order for the defense to hold opponents from moving the chains.
Coaches preseason 3A North straw poll: Sixth
Deseret News 3A North prediction: Fifth
Key Region Game: vs. American Leadership, September 29 (week 7)
Bottom Line: Gunnison believes it is ready to turn its culture around and start winning games more frequently. To do so, the offense will need to be more balanced and efficient and the defense will have to step up. As those things happen, Gunnison will start taking some steps toward its goal of having the best season in school history.
Aug. 18 — MILFORD, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — at North Sevier, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — at South Sevier, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — ENTERPRISE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — at North Summit, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — SOUTH SUMMIT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 — AMERICAN LEADERSHIP, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — at Delta, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — MILLARD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 — 2A PLAYOFFS, TBD
Felts Facts for Gunnison High School
All-time record: 74-185 (27 years)
Region championships: 0
Playoff appearances: 12
Current playoff appearance streak: 2 (2015-2016)
All-time playoff record: 4-12
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0
Most played rivalry: 26 meetings with South Summit dating back to 1992. South Summit leads 21-5.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Gunnison had Utah’s only paid head female football coach. Vicki Brandt, an English, French and journalism teacher, spearheaded Gunnison’s efforts to start a football program in 1989. For a year she organized training camps and rallied community support for equipment and field construction. Two weeks before she was to coach the first game, the school board acknowledged her as the sole person responsible for the program, paid her and hired Ron Dalley to replace her.
2016 — 3-7 (2-3 in 2A North – 2A First round)
2015 — 1-9 (0-5 in 2A North – 2A First round)
2014 — 2-8 (1-5 in 2A North – Missed playoffs)
2013 — 4-7 (2-4 in 2A North – 2A Quarterfinals)
2012 — 3-7 (3-4 in 2A North – Missed playoffs)
Gunnison coaching history
2015-current — Jack Pay (4-16)
2014 — Trent Halliday (2-8)
2010-2013 — Yori Ludvigson (12-28)
1994-2009 — Rhett Jackson (63-126)
1990-1993 — Ron Dalley (5-22)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2016 — Kyler White, WR/LB
2013 — Tyson Moosman, QB
2013 — Jacob Hatch, WR/DB
2012 — Braden Harris, RB/LB
2011 — Braden Harris, RB/LB
2010 — Jantz Jensen, TE/LB
2007 — Heston Neal, RB/DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.