SBLive Idaho is previewing the Top 15 high school football teams in the state ahead of the 2021 season. Here’s an inside look at the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies of the 5A Southern Idaho Conference – No. 1 in our countdown.
2020 IN REVIEW
9-0 (first place in 5A Southern Idaho Conference West); won 5A championship.
- Chris Culig, fifth season
- Overall record: 40-4
- Assistant coaches: Tim Souza, Eric Fillmore, Mike Tanner, Ryan Ikebe, Jacob Pele, Nick Weatherly, Glenn Humphries, Lamont Oliver, Kaleo Nawahine
11 total on offense and defense.
The Grizzlies have arguably been the most well-run and best programs in the state year in, year out going on a decade now.
The proof is in the numbers.
They have an 86% winning percentage (78-13), been to eight consecutive semifinals, played in three title games and won all three since 2013.
The last three years have been even more impressive: Rocky Mountain is 31-1 with three consecutive 5A Southern Idaho Conference titles - arguably the best league in the state - and two state championships. Its only loss during that stretch was to Rigby during the 2019 semifinals, which it avenged at last year’s state finals.
And even with having to replace 20 all-5A SIC and 10 all-state players, don’t expect any setbacks, said Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig.
"We plan to be as good as we possibly can be. But we don’t ever put that pressure on our kids," Culig said. "We want to be the best team we can be by the last game of the year. We have some growing to do, but we have the opportunity. It can be a pretty special year if we play well."
That’s because the Grizzlies don’t rebuild, but reload.
A lot of them are still familiar faces, though, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which is typically the Grizzlies’ bread and butter.
Senior linebacker AJ Edwards will be a three-year varsity guy and a two-year starter, which is pretty hard to do in the state’s most storied and biggest program. He’ll anchor an impressive linebacking corps with seniors Caden Kelly and Mason Jacobsen, and junior Gage Tanner. Kelly is almost 6-5 and 200 pounds. Jacobsen was an all-league defensive lineman last season - with an offer from the University of Idaho. And Gage Tanner is already a three-star prospect, according to 247sports.com.
"I feel like that linebacking group is kind of really our group," Culig said. "I’m expecting them to make a lot of plays for us and be productive. I’m excited to see what those guys do for us this year."
Coming back up front are junior Kade Steadman and senior Glory “Teddy” Kabongo.” However, the secondary will be entirely new. Seniors DJ Juarez and Jackson Criner will have the tall task of trying to replace all-state defensive backs Xander Nawahine and Brayden Rundell.
While the defense gets most of the shine having led the state in turnovers the past three years, Rocky Mountain always has its fair share of playmakers on offense. And this year will be no different, even if it is under a new play-caller in Tim Souza, who is taking over retired Scott Criner.
Potentially the biggest weapon will be junior wideout CJ Jacobsen, who was an all-conference player a year ago. The 6-foot-5, 214-pounder is rated the No. 1 prospect for the Idaho 2023 recruiting class, and already has a NCAA Division I offer from Nevada. He’ll be flanked by senior wide receiver Jackson Mason.
Junior halfback Art Williams will look to fill the role of Jordan Erickson, who is now at the Air Force Academy. And likewise with Tegan Sweaney or California transfer Hunter Steacher, who will replace graduated all-state quarterback Kobe Warr.