New faces to lead Tiger football

LUSK – With the departure of eight seniors and coach Ryan Nelson since last season ended, the 2022 edition will see many new faces on the sidelines and in uniform. 

Chris Skeen becomes the 23rd head coach in school history and has eight years with Niobrara County High School as an assistant, in addition to six years at Moorcroft after starting his coaching career at Liberal, Kansas for two years.

“Yeah, I’m nervous. There’s history, pressure and expectations, but it’s really not the coaching aspect. It’s everything else to learn in a short time,” Skeen said. “We have some good things in place, and yet we’re trying to open the field up and use more misdirection and option-style plays. We’d like to attack the outside more and create space with some of the speed we have in the backfield.”

Boosted by an influx of underclassmen and newcomers, Skeen has 27 young men ready to carry on the Tiger tradition. Just five seniors dot the roster, but the coaching staff is impressed with their positive leadership so far.

“The buy-in by these seniors for getting everyone involved is huge,” assistant coach Adam Dickson said. “It started at the top and has had a great trickle down to the new kids.”

The senior class is led by two-time all-state player Dayne Lamp, while Miles Ashurst and Blake Miller earned all-conference honors last season. The trio will anchor the Tiger line, while protecting an inexperienced backfield. Colton Coffman returns after missing last season, while Sean Steemke is trying to learn the new system.

“We’ve got a brand new playbook, so it’s an adjustment,” Lamp said. “But we’re doing our best to be leaders like we’ve learned from the guys ahead of us.”

Juniors Kort Bannan, Donovin Kraft and David West return and will be expected to contribute. Their classmates Gabe Matthews, Caleb Miller and Tatum Stallman are working hard to earn playing time after a couple seasons away. Quinton Bieri, Ridge Kupke and Jackson Smith lead a small group of sophs looking for playing time ahead of the ten freshmen.

“We have a lot of athletes, and the young guys are working hard to earn a spot,” Skeen added. “There’s a lot of them looking like they want to start-they’re just very inexperienced at this point.”

The defense will be anchored by Lamp at linebacker, while Ashurst and Miller will be on the line and all other spots up for grabs as well.

Skeen will be joined by new assistants Adam Dickson and Chris Smith. Both are recently retired from their military service. They both have experience coaching football and are settling in to raising their families in Lusk.

Dickson, a Salem High School alumni from Salem, Virginia had the opportunity to coach nine-man football in Italy, with other stints in Washington state and Virginia.

Smith grew up just down the road in Guernsey and remembers facing NCHS in the 1990s.

“The school and community spirt was very intimidating,” Smith said. “But when my parents bought the ranch up here, I knew it was something I wanted my kids to be a part of.”

After a year with the Black Hills State University program, Smith joined the military and while stationed in Silverdale, Washington where he coached in their youth program for several years.

The Tigers scrimmaged a pair of Fremont County teams – both ranked in the preseason top five, last Friday in Casper. Wind River and the Tigers each scored a few times before the rain came in, and created a 45 minute rest before facing the defending state champs from Shoshoni. The number one and senior-heavy Wranglers scored early and often on the first series, but Lusk was able to score a few times.

NCHS opens the season hosting Big Piney to Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium for the first time. The Punchers are moving down to nine-man this season, and despite the obvious learning curve, will be a formidable test for the Tigers. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.