Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In 2012, the Cheyenne High football team was one bad bounce away from playing in the state championship game.
But they couldn’t duplicate the good play last year, winning just two games in one of the worst seasons in the school’s more than 20 year history.
The 2-8 record, though, isn’t a good indicator of the talent-level in the Cheyenne program. Most of the key contributors in 2013 were underclassmen — including multiple sophomores — playing varsity for the first time.
This season, they are seasoned veterans, picking up experience that other teams in the Division I-A’s Sunrise Region lack. Don’t be surprised if Cheyenne’s 17 returners starters lead the Desert Shields back to the top of the standings.
Despite the struggles, Cheyenne still backed into the playoffs last season on a tiebreaker. Giving players that extra game of experience, even if they were shutout by Moapa Valley, helped Cochran in one of his best offseason’s battles. He’s worked to instill confidence in players, making sure they realize last year’s struggles were the product of being young, not having bad players.
“We played a lot of young guys last year. They have matured over the year,” Cheyenne coach David Cochran said. “...The maturity factor will help us get back on track.”
So will Cheyenne’s linemen.
Cheyenne’s strength is the size and athleticism of its linemen, which could be the best unit in the Division I-A. Two-way performers Joe Rose (6 foot 5, 250-pounds) Erwin Burrell (6 foot 4, 255-pounds) and Kyle Power (6 foot 6, 230-pounds) could control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
They’ll block for Jordan Johnson, who could be the next-great Cheyenne running back.
“We have to be physical, and we have to be conditioned to go the whole game and block our hardest every single play,” Burrell said. “You can’t win a game without your linemen, so we have to be in tiptop shape.”
Junior quarterback Anthony McConnico returns for his second season as the Cheyenne starter. When McConnico was good last season, so was Cheyenne. In a victory against Pahrump Valley, he completed 16 of 19 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
He probably won’t throw as many passes this season with Cochran returning to the program’s bread and butter of establishing a strong run game.
“We are back to the old-school style. We’ll be running the football 65-35,” Cochran said. “We’ll be pounding the ball up front with the big guys and the size we have.”
And those guys up front have something to prove. They aren’t a two-win team.
“It is definitely motivation. We did have a bad season,” Rose said. “We need to work harder and stay more consistent through every game so we can win all of these games and make the playoffs.”