KHS football skews young, but hungry for success

KHS head football coach Bart Jernigan talks with his players during a break in practice Thursday. The Rangers are a young team this season, but are talented, and hungry for a return to the playoffs. (GAZETTE PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Trip to 2A playoffs ultimate goal for 2023 campaign

Looking to improve on back-to-back 2-6 seasons, the Kemmerer High School football team will rely on a Youth Movement to make that happen in 2023, though head coach Bart Jernigan likes what he sees so far after a full week of practice.

“We look all right — young, in a lot of spots — but the kids we have coming out definitely have a pretty good base underneath them, and are pretty aggressive,” Jernigan said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to ease them into contact where we need it and — outside of that — our older guys can step up and take the lead, and show them [the younger players] the things we want and need done.”

Jernigan is particularly encouraged by the number of freshmen that turned out, and have so far stuck with it through the grind of two-a-day practices, designed to test the grit of younger players.

“We’re at a dozen freshmen out for the team, which is a decent number,” Jernigan explained. “I’ve thought all along that if we could find a way to get 10 kids per class coming out, we’d be a pretty powerful program — having 40 kids should give you a decent glut of athletes to compete with. Having 12 freshmen is really exciting, and hopefully we can continue to grow with the participation below them.”

Graduation wasn’t kind to the Rangers, with the loss of seniors Riggen Walker, Seth Krell, Tim Peck, Karl Haslem and Landon Heaps leaving some pretty big shoes to fill, especially on the offense. Heaps at quarterback and Walker and Krell at running back accounted for most of the Rangers’ offensive production.

That said, the cupboard wasn’t left bare. All-Conference selections Tanner Schramm and Gabe Emery return for their senior season, and while both were stalwarts on the O-line last season, their roles will change dramatically this year.

“Our two All-Conference selections — Tanner Schramm and Gabe Emery — both of those kids will go through position changes,” Jernigan said. “They were both good enough athletes last year but we had a lot of decent backfield talent, so we ended up using them on the line. This year, they’ll both move into the backfield — Tanner at quarterback and Gabe at fullback or wingback.”

Told that Schramm and Emery were fulfilling every lineman’s dream by moving into a skills position, Jernigan wholeheartedly agreed.

“They don’t know how good they have it,” he said, laughing. “Maybe it’s just the O-line coach in me, vicariously living through them. I would have loved that opportunity in high school. So yeah, they’ll move into the backfield, but we have some good talent that will stay on the O-line. Owen Barton was another kid who had a big impact for us last season, as did Graison Kelley, who did a really good job.”

Sophomore Colter Krell will also be counted on to provide stability at the center position, and Jernigan is impressed with the young player’s tenacity.

“Colter’s a stud, he’s going to do a great job for us at center,” Jernigan said. “He’s athletic at that spot. He’s quite the athlete — a lot of people think of linemen as slower, bigger kids, but he’s pretty cut and he’s got good size on him, and he can move as well as the next guy. He’s a guy whose athleticism is really going to shine for us this year, and he’ll do some good things for us.”

Many of the starters will play both ways, though there will be plenty of snaps for the younger players. Defensively, Roany Proffit returns for his junior campaign, and Jernigan said he will be a leader on that side of the ball, provided his off-the-field exploits in the rodeo arena don’t derail his season.

“We’ll be young — outside of Tanner and Gabe — in the skill positions,” Jernigan explained. “Roany Proffit on defense — as well as offense — stands to contribute quite a bit this year, as well. If we can keep them healthy — those darn kids like to jump on the back of wild animals.”

“To be honest with you, the number of kids I have that get hurt here on rough stock, and ATVs, and side-by-sides — I’ve had more season-ending injuries on those things by far, than anything that’s taken place on the football field,” Jernigan added, laughing. “It pales in comparison. You get these moms and dads that are worried about their kids getting hurt playing football, and I’m like, ‘No, it’s all this other crazy stuff you’re letting them do. We at least have pads on, and coaches here, trying to protect them.”

This Friday is Zero Week around the state of Wyoming, with many teams opening their season by facing a non-conference opponent. The Rangers will travel to Cokeville for what will most likely amount to a controlled scrimmage against the Panthers, giving both