For the first time since 2005, the Melba football team is the one being chased as 2A Western Idaho Conference Champions.
But despite losing the Conference Player of the Year, as well as the Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, it’s a challenge fifth-year coach Juan Colunga believes the Mustangs are up for.
Melba returns seven starters on each side of the ball and seven players who earned All-WIC honors a season ago.
“The best part about being in Year 5 is that instead of rebuilding, we’re reloading with all this talent and athletes that have seen nothing but my program and my system,” Colunga said. “I’m very sad we lost (last year’s senior) group, but I know that comes with the territory. I know this group is very excited to follow in their footsteps.”
The Mustangs will be the target of every team in the conference with New Plymouth and Nampa Christian both knocking at the doorstep and featuring many returning starters. Even Cole Valley Christian features a young team and Marsing, which has been in the conference basement for much of the last decade, is starting to show signs of improvement. But with the other four teams all gunning for Melba, the goal remains the same.
“Anything less than a conference championship would be a disappointment to these kids,” Colunga said.
To continue its success, Melba will have to break in a new quarterback, sophomore Cache Beus. Beus will be replacing Henry Clark, the 2020 conference Player of the Year. Like Clark, who was 6-foot-5, Colunga says Beus has the size and talent that can make him a dominant quarterback in the WIC.
“I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen with Cache,” the coach said. “He’s 6-4, himself, he’s about 210 pounds. He might not be as good of an athlete as Henry, yet, but I’m telling you, I think the world is going to find out who Cache Beus is really fast.”
Melba also loses running back Zane Helm, last year’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the WIC. But the Mustangs do return senior Trace Stimpson, who was a first-team all-conference running back. Along with Stimpson, Melba will have senior Gabriel Shaffer, to provide the 1-2 punch at running back that Melba has relied on in recent years.
Beus will also have a pair of all-conference receivers to throw to as second-team selection Dillon Stosich and honorable mention William Vail both return. Sophomore Noah West moves up from the junior varsity team and is another receiver that Colunga said can be a dangerous offensive weapon. Senior Alfredo Orozco is another target for Beus.
Keeping the offensive line sharp will be the key to scoring, the coach said. Melba has plenty of experience on that unit, with first-team all-conference selection Cody Dickard, honorable mention Troy Theobald and Sean Canoy all returning.
“We’ll have to find a left tackle,” Colunga said. “A left tackle is our biggest need. But center, both guards and right tackle is taken care of. We just got to find that left tackle and that’s open to competition. We have three guys we think can do the job, but we got to play it out.”
On defense, six of the seven returning starters were all-conference players. Dickard and Vail and Canoy help anchor the defensive line, which will lose the WIC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Donovaun Rose.
Stimpson and Orozco will be back as linebackers, while Stosich was a first-team defensive back. Colunga said Beus, West, Shaffer and Kaden Dayley could all see time in the backfield.
“As far D-Line, I think that will be our most solid defensive unit,” Colunga said. “Linebackers will be right behind and then we graduated two defensive backs, but I think the guys who are going to replace them are just as good.”