With the last five Division IV state football championships under their belt, the start of the 2013 season is just three weeks away for Pahranagat Valley High School

Pahranagat Valley coach Ken Higbee directs team members through weight training and conditioning drills at practice this week. The Panthers are the five-time defending Division IV state champions and open the season at home against Wells Aug. 30. (Dave Maxwell photo)

With the last five Division IV state football championships under their belt, the start of the 2013 season is just three weeks away for Pahranagat Valley High School. It is also the beginning of a new era, and the hopeful continuing of a state record.

Coach Ken Higbee enters his 18th year with the Panthers, and not only has won five consecutive state titles (tied with The Meadows, Virgin Valley and Reno), five straight unbeaten seasons, 12 consecutive Southern league titles, but is also riding a state record 57-game winning streak, currently second in the nation at any level.

The new era comes as Pahranagat graduated six seniors, including their main linebacker corps and backfield in Austin Poulsen, Tyler Higbee, Tyson Sparrow, and Mathew Roemer.

Others have said Pahranagat Valley does not rebuild, they just reload, but this year it will have to be with a lot of younger players.

In 2012, on offense, Higbee, the coach’s nephew, was the Division IV Southern League Player of the Year. He rushed for 1,278 yards, while Poulsen, a dual threat QB, passed for 1,735 yards and 34 touchdowns, while rushing for 851 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Dr. Higbee said, “You don’t replace players like that. We’ve got younger kids to step up to fill those spots, and are going to have to play. You get kids who want to be there and who have been in the program for a number of years, who step in and take their turn, but I also like what we have coming back from last year.”

The Panthers will be young this season, having only two seniors, eight juniors and six freshmen.

Freshman quarterback Tabor Maxwell takes over the reigns from Poulsen who was the First Team All-League quarterback and Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year, and led the state at all levels with 10 pass interceptions.

“Maxwell, although a freshman, has been playing quarterback since grade school, has a strong arm, and is learning our audible system. We have confidence in him,” Higbee said.

Junior Wade Leavitt returns at running back and may be paired with junior Caleb Hansen or sophomore Jordan Crytz. “I like our backfield,” Higbee said.

The offensive line will be anchored by senior Jake Carter (6-2, 235), 2012 First Team All League guard and defensive nose guard, plus Mateo Linares (5-6, 180), and Paden Higbee (6-2, 230).

“I think Carter is the best offensive lineman in the state,” Higbee said. “He’s got great feet and good speed. The off-season workouts we’ve been doing have stressed footwork and conditioning.”

For several years Higbee has said the current success of the team is due to the hard work of the players. “The kids know we are going to put them in positions to be successful if they do what we ask. Our ability to be fundamental will be paramount this year.”

Pahranagat plans to open field and run the ball quite a bit to offset the play action. “We’ll spread the field just like we normally do, a lot of the West Coast offense style, three-step drops, get rid of the ball quick. Tabor has been calling options since he was a seventh-grader and last year he stepped that up, and our expectations are that he will continue that progress as he moves into our varsity program,” said Higbee.

“Our brand of football has been pretty remarkable and these kids realize they are going to have to get better from week to week, and are realistic about our expectations. I look forward to seeing what mark this group of kids leaves on the program.”

While PVHS has enjoyed the fine running performance of Austin Poulsen and Tyler Higbee the past two years, this year they look to have outstanding quickness at the wide receiver in junior Jeremy Minick and sophomore Jordan Crytz. And Leavitt can also take a pass out of the backfield. He had 15 catches for 185 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.

In the pre-season, pending approval by the Lincoln County School District Board of Trustees, Pahranagat Valley is taking another trip to California for a non-league game Sept. 6 with a Los Angeles inner-city team, the Wallis Annenberg Panthers, who play in the city 8-man league. The game is set for 7 p.m. at Santee High School, a short distance north of Annenberg High.

Higbee said, “We were looking for a spot to fill in our schedule and it turned out this California team had the same opening and was glad to play us.”

He said Annenberg does not have adequate facilities and plays most of their home games at nearby Santee High, which he said is quite nice.

Annenberg has an enrollment of about 288, was 6-5 last season, and lost in the Los Angeles City Section 8-man final under first year coach Charles Burnley.

Four times in the past PVHS has played a California school, first with Avalon on Santa Catalina Island in 2007, then Joshua Springs in Alamo in 2009, at Joshua Springs in 2010, and at Avalon again also in 2010, although the game was played in Long Beach.

In 2012, Annenberg featured a strong passing game, completing 112 of 168 attempts, for 1,640 yards, scoring an amazing 67 passing touchdowns.

Higbee said they do have an outstanding split end, senior Spencer Aranda, (6-2, 185) with 1,004 yards on 41 catches and nine touchdowns. “Probably the best athlete we are going to see this year.”

Annenberg figures to be rebuilding as is Pahranagat Valley, Higbee said, as they lost 11 men to graduation, including their first team quarterback, running back, and receiver. “Both of us are trying to reestablish who we are and what we do.”

Following the Annenberg game, Pahranagat Valley concludes the non-league season at Virginia City Sept. 13, then begins league play at Beatty Sept. 20.

Alamo and Virginia City have never played in football. The Muckers discontinued football for a time and did not restart until 2007. Higbee said, “We had a lot of film on them last year, as we thought we were going to play them in the state finals.” However, Virginia City (9-2) lost their semi-final game to visiting Spring Mountain.

“They lost a substantial amount of what they had, so they are rebuilding, just like us,” Higbee said. But the Muckers are a senior laden team with nine on the roster in 2013.

A major factor in the success of the Pahranagat program under Higbee has been the longevity of the coaches and staff. Higbee returns all his help from last year, with his brother Brian as offensive coordinator; Mike Strong as defensive coordinator; Mike Sparrow as the associate head coach and special teams coach; Wade Poulsen as the defensive and offensive line coach; and Brett Hansen, defensive ends and offensive tight ends coach.

The season opens Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in Alamo against traditional first game opponent Wells.