Pine Bluffs is a team full of confidence right now.
The Hornets qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2003 last season and they had a winning record at 5-4. If that wasn’t enough for this team to be excited about, it returns 11 players who contributed to the success.
“That was huge to even make the playoffs,” Pine Bluffs coach Dale Gilbert said. “We weren’t happy with how we played over in Cokeville. We just didn’t think that we played up to snuff. And I think a lot of that had to do with we had been absent from the playoffs for so long.
“They felt like they had reached a goal at some point. And now I think we have a group of kids that expect to make the playoffs. We expect to be competitive in the playoffs. And that’s a hard thing to do. You have to go in there and give them a taste of it before they can take that next step.”
Most across the state think the Hornets have a great shot of making the Class 1A state title game in Laramie come November.
En lieu of that optimism and the season starting Friday, here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Hornets for this season.
For the second straight season, Gilbert will call on his son, Blayne to run his offense.
Blayne enters the season full of confidence in both himself and his teammates. He knows what to expect from opposing defenses this season and he knows to expect from the offense. Last year he threw for over 1,100 yards with 16 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
This season, Blayne wants to get even better.
“I just want to be more comfortable,” he said. “That’s the main thing, because in your first year of quarterback, you always have those jitters. Quarterbacks get a lot of open shots on them.
“But I’m really confident in the line that we have here. And we have an audible system, so I have to know everything from A to Z. I have to know that like the back of my hand. I’ve trained four years to do that, and I think I have the offense down pat to where I can do that.”
The loss of Chris Gorman is the biggest for this team. Last year, Gorman rushed for over 175 yards a game and gave Blayne and the offense that added element that opposing defenses had to think about and game-plan for.
Dale Gilbert has the utmost confidence in senior Austin Lang to replace Gorman. Unlike Gorman, Lang is more crafty and has more speed. He will do his damage outside the tackles, while Gorman did his between the tackles.
“Austin gives us an added dimension in our running game,” Gilbert said. “We lose a little size with Austin compared to what we had with Chris. But he’s a very gifted zone runner. So we’re excited that he’s in the mix, too.”
Experience and talent. That is the name of the game for the Pine Bluffs wide outs this season.
They are led by seniors Ryan May and Nolan Jeffres.
“With the receiving core that we have this year, Blayne could throw for even more than 1,100 yards this season,” Gilbert said. “Those guys are another year older. They’re more experienced. They came into camp bigger and faster. Our receiving core is really tough right now. It’s really a toss up who the No. 1 guy is for us.”
Like the receivers, the Pine Bluffs offensive line has experience and talent. The one aspect that could surprise some folks this season is the size and speed they have.
Gilbert has confidence his hogs up front have the ability to both open holes for Lang and give Blayne time to throw the ball – and do so well.
One of the guys to keep an eye on this season is Blayne. He’s big and fast. That goes for the whole defensive line – they are big and fast.
“I think all of those kids started at least one game along the D-Line last year,” Dale Gilbert said. “So they’re pretty experienced.”
Pine Bluffs has three really experienced backers this season who will be able to get pressure on the quarterback, plug the gaps for the running game and cover any receivers over the middle.
“The three guys that we have this season were all starters in the system somewhere last season,” Dale said. “So that really helps us out.”
May and Jeffres will lead the secondary as well as the receivers for the Hornets. Gilbert said these two guys will lead whoever lines up at the defensive back positions. And like on the offensive side of the ball, Gilbert expects May and Jeffres to make plays.