GUNNISON—In 2022, Gunnison Valley football finds itself with two hats, and the postseason outlook depends on which hat the team wears in the end.
The Bulldogs have scheduled two types of games this season. They’ll play 11-player (regulation) football in most of their games, but with the arrival of a newly sanctioned eight-player bracket, they have two eight-man games on their schedule. Resulting from that eclectic schedule, Gunnison will have its choice at the end of the season as to whether to play regulation football or eight-player football in the 1A playoffs.
The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) set up the sport so that 1A will feature two playoff brackets, and therefore, two 1A state champions.
“I am really just looking forward to the first game of the season,” Coach Patrick King said. “I just want to get the season going and start tweaking the play book.”
Most of Gunnison’s games this season will be regulation football games. The third game of the season against Rich High School, along with their final game of the regular season against Water Canyon (in Hildale, Washington County) will be eight-player games.
King said that the eight-man games will definitely look different. The coaches’ goal is to make a smooth transition as they pull some players off the field and move others to different positions. “But when you are in your eight-man playbook,” King said, “you can still call the same calls and use the same terminology, and it will still make sense.
“The field didn’t shrink, it’s still the same 100 yards,” King said. “There will be a lot more one on one, and I expect the scores to get run up.”
For the rest of the season, the Bulldogs will do what they’ve always done. King said the team’s identity is going to be the way it has been.
“We pride ourselves in physicality, and we will see a lot more of that,” King said, “and we hope to improve in the areas we need to improve in.”
The offense will run much like it has the last few years. King said he likes a hybrid offense, and he believes in running a power game. He likes to bring a lot of players to the point of attack. Then they throw off that. The team likes to be physical and keep the ball running.
Defensively, King said he feels he has a deep line, with about 12 players the coaches feel are ready to play varsity football on the line.
“We want to see another year putting up 1,500 to 2,000 yards rushing,” King said.
Gunnison gets another new test this year in their home opener against 2A American Leadership Academy. The Eagles were 3A at one point but realigned back to 1A last year.
“My group of kids have not played this group before, and I have never coached against them either,” King said, “but I am ready to get going.”
One of the qualifications making it possible for Gunnison to compete in eight-player football is that they’ve landed in the bottom three spots of the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) each of the last three seasons in 1A (2A in 2019 and 2020). Projections for the Bulldogs aren’t high, as the Deseret News coaches’ rankings pick them to finish last in the 1A North Region.
At a media conference last week, King dismissed the notion that the team is not playing for a region championship but rather looking to eight-man postseason play.
“We take a tremendous amount of pride in all our games,” King said, “and we want to win every one that we step into…”
The Bulldogs first game of the season will be at home against American Leadership Academy this Friday. They’ll be at home again on Friday Aug. 19 when they face Milford.