The defending state champion Bayfield High School football team has won two of the last three Class 2A state titles. Another this year, and the Wolverines can claim a dynasty.
BHS earned its third football state championship in school history last season. The team went 13-0, picked up its first win against Durango High School’s varsity in program history, went 5-0 and won the 2A Intermountain League and steam-rolled its opponents in the playoffs. That included a 34-7 drumming of La Junta in the state title game, the first championship game ever played in the town of Bayfield.
With a large returning senior class and talented underclassmen filling key roles, the Wolverines are prime to repeat that success and will enter the season as the preseason top-ranked team in Class 2A.
“I’m not trying to be cocky, and we always stay humble, but I think our offense can be just as explosive or more explosive this year,” said senior Keyon Prior. “Defense, we’re still going to have a great pass rush. Just like last year, we will keep improving each week.”
Bayfield’s defense was historic a year ago. Senior defensive end Ryan Phelps had an all-classifications state record of 24 quarterback sacks, and the team set the record with 65 sacks in a single season. The team allowed only 56 points to opponents all year, while the offense totaled 506 points.
Bayfield lost its top four pass rushers with Phelps, Cole Wood, Wyatt Killinen and Kirk Malone. Isaac Lorenzen, who had four sacks last year, will be a force on the line this year along with Daniel Westbrook, who had one sack a year ago. The team also is excited about Rhett Hoover stepping in as an edge rusher in place of Phelps.
Everyone on the team has pointed to Lorenzen as a unifying force and leader of the defensive unit up front.
“Isaac at nose guard, he’s grown a lot of weight and strength,” Prior said. “Daniel Westbrook rotated in a lot last year, and he’s going to have a great year. Rhett Hoover, he’s like 6-4 or 6-5 and like a little (Phelps).”
A healthy David Hawkins will play middle linebacker in place of Hunter Killough, who led the team with 147 tackles last year. Hawkins also has replaced Killough as a verbal leader on the team. He will be joined at the interior linebacker position by Spencer Funke and John Foutz.
“David Hawkins is new to the middle moving from outside. He’s a great athlete and will command the middle of the field real well,” head coach Gary Heide said. “Spencer Funke is starting, and John Foutz will also play in the middle. He’s a phenomenal athlete. All three of them will play a lot, and it’s going to be possible that David needs a rest when he’s running the ball a lot on offense, and the other two guys are very capable. Then there are some sophomores behind those three, but those three with Hawkins spearheading them will be really good.”
Heide will enter his seventh season in charge of the Wolverines in 2018. He has amassed a 55-13 record since he took over in 2012, and that includes the undefeated championship seasons in 2015 and 2017.
The team has won a program record 20 consecutive home games. Since Wolverine Country Stadium opened in 2000, the team is 67-23 at home and has gone 56-6 at home since 2007.
While defensive coordinator Mike Wnorowski’s defensive scheme has been a focal point of the team around the state, Heide’s continual expansion of the offense has seen the Wolverines go from a complete focus on running the ball to a well-rounded machine.
Back behind center in 2018 is quarterback Hayden Farmer, who shined as a junior. His single-season statistics shattered records that many before him had accumulated across an entire career. He passed for 2,090 yards, 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while he completed 58.6 percent of his passes.
“He’s a field general out there and helps me out a lot,” Heide said. “We correct things together, and he helps the coaches make each offensive play better. We want to utilize that talent. We sense he’s gotten more mature and relished and accepted more of a leadership role. He’s gotten bigger physically, he’s throwing the ball real well and is really strong.”
Prior said Farmer has gained 20 pounds in the offseason and looks every bit like an elite quarterback.
“We have tons of faith in Hayden,” Hawkins said. “I’ve played with him since I was in fourth grade. I’ve got tons of confidence in his ability. The whole offense does.”
Hawkins will be key to the offense’s success in 2018. A year ago, a knee injury suffered during the third game of the season limited his time at running back. Carl Heide went on to lead the team in rushing with 920 yards, and Killough added another 701 while the two combined for 19 rushing touchdowns. Hawkins rebounded and finished with 596 yards and six rushing touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry, but he was never truly himself after the injury. During the 2018 offseason, including the CSU-Pueblo summer camp, Hawkins has run through opposing tacklers much the way he did as a sophomore when he totaled 1,001 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“Having the knee injury last year, I’m coming in this year excited,” Hawkins said. “One of my focuses all offseason was building leg strength and running the ball like the power back we need. Through rehab, I’m stronger and better than before.
“Defensively, at middle linebacker, I’m getting to both sides of the field quicker, and I’m gonna be a lot more help in run support.”
Prior also is healthy going into 2018. Last year, he struggled with turf toe and was limited on offense as a runner and receiver, though he was key in the defensive secondary all year. Along with sophomore speedster Dylan Hilliker, the Wolverines have plenty of playmakers on offense. The key is replacing the big boys on the offensive line.
“You can’t mention our line without coach Frank Hawkins,” Heide said. “He’s one of the best line coaches in the state and has been great at developing players. He gets the guys communicating well together, and the line is coming along real well. They’ve gelled together and played beyond our expectations at the CSU-Pueblo camp. We went in there with certain expectations, and they played beyond our expectations.”
Expectations are another state championship for the Wolverines. To get there, BHS will have to navigate a tough schedule that includes the season opener at 7 p.m. Friday at Farmington High School. The Wolverines haven’t played the Scorpions since 1947. FHS reached the state quarterfinals a year ago in New Mexico’s Class 5A.
“Starting with Farmington, it’s tough. It will be a good game to see what we can get rolling,” Prior said. “Then we head to San Juan, and that’s always a tough game on the road. Durango, another great one over there and then Aspen. It’s a good preseason schedule that sets us up nice going into league.”
Bayfield will have one less league game this year, as Gunnison canceled varsity football because of a lack of upperclassmen this season. The Wolverines have not been able to find a new home opponent for Oct. 5, which was supposed to be homecoming night, but they haven’t given up on adding a ninth game to the schedule.
The season finale will come Oct. 26 at Salida, a newcomer to the Intermountain League that qualified for the playoffs a year ago. In all, Bayfield will play six teams that made their state playoffs last season.
“It certainly prevents any type of complacency that might have crept in, but we don’t have that,” Heide said. “This is a brand new team. We are ready to showcase our talents, and we will improve as a football team, no doubt about it. We are going in upbeat and looking forward to this season opener. Let’s see what happens.”