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The Idaho Press is counting down to the start of the 2020 high school football season by spotlighting all of the teams and the top players from the Treasure Valley. Next up is Melba.

The Melba High School football team had its best season in nearly 20 years in 2019.

It ended the year 8-3 — the only teams it lost to played for the state title — ranked fifth in the state and made the state semifinals for the first time since 2004. The Mustangs’ record was actually better than when they won it all back in 2002.

Melba coach Juan Colunga, who was on that title team, expects this year’s group to be even better.

“Year by year you build your foundation and I think this year we’re clicking on all cylinders so early. We’re ahead of any year that I’ve been here,” Colunga said. “Although we graduated a great class, I’m very excited. These guys are hungry. I’ll be honest, anything less than a state championship appearance, I’ll be disappointed. And the guys are buying in.”

While key contributors like last year’s 2A Western Idaho Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year Easton Bunnell and first-team all-league back Scotty Martinez, who combined for more than 2,500 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns, are gone, Melba still has plenty of talent left to go around with seven returners on each side of the ball.

The biggest — literally and figuratively — is Henry Clark. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior was an All-WIC first-team selection at both quarterback and on the defensive line. He threw for almost 1,000 yards and recorded 57 tackles. Clark has a goal of playing for Boise State.

“Usually I’d be very realistic and say, ‘Try Idaho State or something like that,’ but he’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve coached in 15 years,” Colunga said. “He can move. He’s one of the very few quarterbacks that plays defensive end, which is pretty intimidating to a lot of other players. He’s a freak athlete.”

Clark will have multiple all-conference weapons to throw the ball to as well. Junior William Vail was a second-team tight end a year ago. On the outside will be a pair of second-team receivers in seniors Cameron Wood and Andrew Herman.

Senior Zane Helm led the team in interceptions with four last year. The All-WIC first-team defensive back will anchor a secondary chock full of talent. Senior Joey Bradshaw and Herman were second-team selections, while junior Alfredo Orozco was an honorable mention pick.

Helms and Bradshaw will also help fill the voids left by Bunnell and Martinez. The two still ran for 724 yards and nine TDs between them in limited carries last season. Junior halfback Kyler Oakes and junior fullback Trace Stimpson are ones to keep an eye out for as well.

The strength of the team looks to be up front. The Mustangs bring back five of seven linemen, four of whom were all-league players a year ago.

There’s obviously Clark. But there’s a lot of talent alongside him as well.

Sophomore Cody Dickard was a second-team selection as a freshman. Senior Donovaun Rose was a second-team defensive lineman and an honorable mention pick on offense. Fellow senior Braulio Colunga — the coach’s nephew — also earned honorable mention on offense.

“It starts with the line, which is great because the last two years, I thought it was our weakest area,” Juan Colunga said. “I honestly think we’ll have one of the best fronts in the 2A.”

So maybe Colunga’s expectations aren’t too high.

“This is our year,” Colunga said. “We return enough that I’d put us up against anybody in the state. Two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said that, but now we’re deep enough that I can.”

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