Photo by Andrew Ottoson
The 2017 Salmon River Savages are (from left): back row, Eric Nelson, Joe Fredrickson, Peyton Baugh, Randy McClure, Reece Jones, Isaac Hofflander and Devan Branstetter; and, front row, head coach Charlie Shepherd, Clay Ross, Canyon Harper, Jimmy Tucker, Ethan Shepherd, Malachi Bell, Jaedyn Herman, Johnathon Swift, Justin Whitten and assistant coach Ty Medley.
As of Thursday, August 31, 2017
Salmon River’s record under coach Charlie Shepherd has been astonishing. The Savages have proven Salmon River’s talent and his approach are a championship-caliber combo.
They’ve shown these aren’t one-offs, but repeatable — by winning two separate back-to-backs, with 1AD2 titles in 2012 and 2013, then 2015 and 2016.
But is all this success re-repeatable? About the only thing the Savages haven’t done in the course of winning six of the last 10 smallest-school football titles is win three in a row. (With the news that S-R alum Leighton Vander Esch has been named a defensive captain at Boise State this fall, it has become inarguable that Shepherd’s teams even have a history of fostering one of Idaho’s foremost football talents.)
“As returning state champions, we have that great big bullseye on our backs,” Shepherd said. “Everyone is going to play their best game against us and we have been fortunate to stay healthy.”
Meeting the highest expectations year after year has given rise to one of Shepherd’s biggest challenges: keeping everyone around the program focused on the tough games ahead in Long Pin Conference play.
During one key league game last fall, the Savages had a hand in turning misfortune back in their own favor.
A slow start nearly cost them against Tri-Valley. The Titans had the Savages down 14-0, but behind standout running back Canyon Harper, the Savages outscored Tri-Valley 50-6 during the rest of that contest.
It wasn’t the only time the Savages salvaged a win from a slow start. They trailed 14-0 after the first quarter of their season opener at Kamiah, and runner-up Kendrick held a 14-6 lead early in the 1AD2 state championship game last November.
Shepherd sees the rematch with Tri-Valley on Oct. 13 as potentially the most important game on the schedule — and as a potentially decisive moment iin the Long Pin title hunt.
Harper is back and is poised to lead the offense as a junior who has shown considerable physical development.
“Having Canyon at running back gives us a huge advantage,” Shepherd said, “but we have to replace our dual-threat quarterback and rebuild our lines.”
In front of Harper, lineman Joe Fredrickson figures to be a fixture. Both were all-state first-teamers last year. Another forceful blocker — fullback Peyton Baugh — is poised to make a mark clearing the way for Harper and carrying it himself.
Fredrickson played brilliantly on both sides of the line late last season, Shepherd observed, but the team also lost stalwarts to graduation.
Departed are all-state defensive end Johnny Shepherd, quarterback Tucker Boyd, wide receiver Clayton Shepherd and fullback Gabe Gonzalez.
For his 10th season as program head, Shepherd, the coach, is looking at a quarterback rotation that will include yet another Shepherd — sophomore Ethan Shepherd — in alternation with senior Devan Branstetter.
Two juniors — Reece Jones and Randy McClure — will be playing bigger roles. Jones’ higher impact figures to follow from his size and athleticism, while McClure’s is rooted in a return from injury.
The first home game in Riggins this fall comes Sept. 1 against Colton, and the slate also includes a couple of 1AD1 playoff teams back-to-back with a trip to Prairie Sept. 8 and a visit from Notus Sept. 15. The Oct. 20 regular season finale at rival Council also looms large.
Aug. 25 at Horseshoe Bend
Sept. 1 vs. Colton
Sept. 8 at Prairie
Sept. 15 vs. Notus
Sept. 22 at Lapwai
Sept. 29 at Cascade
Oct. 6 vs. Garden Valley
Oct. 13 vs. Tri-Valley
Oct. 20 at Council