Optimism prevails as Wranglers rebuild football team

As a junior next fall, Bryson Alder is expected to take control of the Wranglers’ offense for possibly the next two years. He is considered a two-way threat, like his predecessor Michael Mindnich, with both an accurate passing arm and his quick and instinctive running ability. His anticipated back-up will be sophomore Calgero “Ro” DiCamillo (background).

By Kevin Cloe

Sun Correspondent

After losing 98 percent of its 2018 offense to this week’s graduation, Wickenburg High School’s 2019 football team could realistically be considered a rebuilding project that might take several years to return to state playoff contention.

But ask the Wranglers’ second-year Head Coach Mike Mitchell and Assistant Head Coach Jerry Watson about this coming season’s prospects, and they express an optimism of another winning campaign.

“Bryson Alder is looking good,” smiled Head Coach Mitchell about his new junior quarterback, who led the offense during the Wranglers’ two weeks of spring football practices this month. “He even looks good at tailback.”

Meanwhile, Watson is beaming about the depth of the Wranglers’ line and linebacker corps for the 2019 season.

“(Wyatt) Grantham and (Jett) Uldrickson are back, and we have five or six good-looking kids to fill the other three spots,” he said in explaining the loss of three big starting linemen to graduation. Those three included 6-3, 260-pound center Will Solper; 6-4, 270-pound Daniel Cushman and 6-2, 225-pound Garrett Branch.

Grantham, at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, is the anticipated senior leader in the line at offensive tackle and defensive end, while junior Uldrickson (6-1, 195) also is expected to play full time on the offensive and defensive lines.

Coach Watson also pointed out that most of the defensive linebackers are returning this coming season — headed by seniors Michael Flinn and Tyler Ness and his junior son Clay. Flinn led the Wranglers in tackles last season (8.4 per game), with defensive back Alder (6.2) and Watson (6.2) being the third- and fourth-leading tacklers.

The goal for the Wranglers in the fall will be to qualify for the state playoffs for the fourth consecutive year after going 8-3, 6-5 and 8-3 and past three campaigns. However, in all three years, the Wranglers bowed out of the playoffs in the first round against higher-ranked opponents.

Those who led the Wranglers last season but are graduating this week include quarterback Michael Mindnich, who accounted for 2,000 of the team’s offense and was named the 3A West Region Player of the Year; dual all-region first-team running back/linebacker Kegan Lindsay, who contributed almost 1,300 yards offensively and was the team’s second-leading tackler; and fullback/defensive lineman Joe Moder, who added another 300 yards of offense.

The Wranglers open the 2019 season against host archrival Parker on Aug. 30 in the 53rd battle for the Fireman’s Axe trophy, which they won last year 35-0 in a game halted at halftime due to a lightning storm.

The rest of the schedule includes the same opponents as last year, but with a switch in venues — home vs. Safford and Paradise Honors before a trip to Fountain Hills and home games against Coronado and defending 3A West Region champion Northwest Christian. They close out the 2019 regular season at Kingman Academy and Chino Valley, followed by a home game against Kingman and the long road trip to River Valley.

After the two traditional weeks of spring football, the Wranglers will continue informal practices through much of the summer while competing in a couple seven-on-seven passing tournaments in the valley.

The spring practices involved the typical 20 to 30 players, with several missing occasional practices for various reasons.

As a back-up to the absences of tailback/linebacker Flinn, Coach Mitchell installed Alder at the tailback position while sophomore Ro DiCamillo called the signals as the back-up quarterback — a combination that also pleased the head coach.

“Good, good day,” Coach Mitchell told his spring participants at the end of the second week of late afternoon practice sessions. “Now go out and recruit (bringing more classmates into the program) this summer.”

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