Fall Preview: Bradshaw Mtn. football seeks 4th straight playoff berth (VIDEO)

Bradshaw Mountain’s Gunner Bundrick sets to pass during a scrimmage against Millennium High School Aug. 16 in Prescott Valley.

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Bradshaw Mountain’s Gunner Bundrick sets to pass during a scrimmage against Millennium High School Aug. 16 in Prescott Valley.

Video

BMHS Football Preview

PRESCOTT VALLEY – Bradshaw Mountain High’s football team may occasionally struggle to overcome its nerves during games in 2016. But if the program’s recent past is any indication, confidence will abound.

2016 Fall Schedules

Bradshaw Mtn. High School

All home games in CAPS

FOOTBALL

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 26 at Cactus 7 p.m.

Sept. 2 ESTR. FTHILLS 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 at Combs 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 MAR. DE NIZA 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Flagstaff^# 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 30 MINGUS^ 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 at Coconino^ 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 LEE WILL.^ 7 p.m.

Oct. 21 at Mohave^ 7 p.m.

Oct. 28 PRESCOTT^ 7 p.m. ^ = 4A Grand Canyon Region game

= at Walkup Skydome (Northern Ariz. Univ.)

The Bears, who finished the 2015 campaign with an 8-4 record and a Division III state tournament quarterfinals appearance, have qualified for the playoffs in each of the past three years, including 2014 and 2015 under current coach David Moran. Moran was the offensive coordinator in 2013.

Bradshaw kicks off the much-anticipated 2016 season in the 4A Conference at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at Cactus in Glendale.

“That very first year we got here [in 2013], that senior class laid the foundation down and went to the playoffs,” Moran said. “Our kids know what to expect. We’ve got some seniors that have been to the playoffs for the last three years.”

Armed with a 58-player varsity roster, Bradshaw’s aiming for its fourth consecutive state berth in the reinstituted 4A Conference as part of the Grand Canyon Region.

Bradshaw should be among the favorites to win a region whose membership includes area rival Prescott, stalwart Cottonwood Mingus Union, Flagstaff, Coconino, Bullhead City Mohave and Kingman Lee Williams.

The Bears have captured section titles in two of the past three years (2013, 2014). In 2015, Bradshaw lost at Prescott in Week 9, spoiling its shot at a third consecutive section crown. The Bears qualified for the D-III state tournament with an at-large berth.

“Winning the section championship and going to the playoffs are a big deal,” Moran said, “and we’re not satisfied with winning the playoffs in the first round.”

In 2016, the Bears are a bit green, particularly on the offensive line and in spots defensively, which could bring on those aforementioned nerves.

However, Bradshaw still possesses seniors in primary positions, led by quarterback Gunner Bundrick (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), who will start for the third straight season. Last fall, Bundrick threw for 2,034 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for a team-best 672 yards and eight TDs in 11 games.

After a preseason home scrimmage versus 6A Millennium Aug. 16 at Bob Pavlich Field, Bundrick seemed pleased.

“I liked that we came out to play,” Bundrick said. “We have a lot of guys that have never really played varsity ball before, and we’re ahead of the game there. Our plays will be fine; we just need to keep perfecting everything.”

Senior running back Abe Hernandez (5-8, 165) and senior wideout Ryan Shaver (6-0, 180) will be among Bundrick’s main weapons this fall.

Star senior tailback Christian Setter, a transfer from Prescott, will suit up in Week 6 after losing a hardship appeal with the AIA this past week. Setter rushed for 1,237 yards on 159 carries and 21 touchdowns his junior season with the Badgers.

Bundrick and Shaver, who connected on a long TD pass in the scrimmage, have spent time after practices and on weekends running routes, while the linemen have labored on their footwork. Shaver said the Bears remain talented.

“Our team – we’re pretty young and pretty inexperienced, but I believe these next two weeks we’re going to pick it up here and we’re going to get after it,” said Shaver, who recorded 30 catches for 493 yards and two TDs in 2015. “We’re going to start hitting each other, and we’re going to be positive and give it all we’ve got.”

In the scrimmage, Moran said his team played “better and better” as play progressed. He knows how much Bundrick means to the offense.

“Gunner’s a tough kid, and he’s really, really improved as far as his leadership on and off the field for the guys,” Moran said. “And the guys are kind of rallying around him a little bit offensively. We’re going to be fine.”

Bundrick, who doubles as a standout catcher for Bradshaw’s varsity baseball team, suffered a hyperextended left knee early in the scrimmage, but he bounced back a few plays later.

“I’ll be fine – it’s just a little sore,” Bundrick said afterward.

Senior o-lineman Raul Gomez (6-1, 240) is another main piece for the Bears. He sprained his left ankle in the scrimmage and his status for Week 1 is day-to-day.

Senior Kobey Rushton (6-1, 255) returns to lead a sophomore-laden o-line and d-line with 2015 standouts RJ Aguilar and John Trout having graduated. Rushton said the 2016 team is as talented as the 2014 and 2015 squads. Now it’s a matter of getting game experience.

“We have a lot of sophomores and some seniors [on the o-line] that have never played before, and I was pleased [with their performance in the scrimmage],” Rushton said. “Me [once] being in a supporting role and having to step into RJ’s and John’s shoes, I’ve done a pretty good job of just trying to get my team together; wanting all five of us to play as a unit.”

Defensively, Bradshaw prides itself on a swarming, attacking unit dubbed the “Black Plague.” At the scrimmage, the coaching staff picked up on the defense’s improved effort, rebounding from some soft, mistake-prone practices, as Shaver put it.

“We’re a very physical defense when we want to be,” Moran added. “We played a lot of seniors last year and we’re just inexperienced. It’s going to take us a few games.”

Even if the Bears struggle in the first third of the season, Moran says his players, including the linemen, are cooperative.

“We’ve got good coaches and we’ve got good kids, and they listen,” Moran said. “From this day on, we’ll get better, offensive-line wise.”

With five days to go until the season starts, the focus is straightforward. The Bears spent the off-season developing players, preparing them both mentally and physically for Friday nights.

“We’re still going to stress fundamentals on both sides of the ball [this week], and the coaches know that we’ve got to get kids ready,” Moran said. “For the most part, our kids are ready to go game one.”