The 2018 season started just like the previous three seasons had for the Jackson football team — with a loss to Teton, Idaho. The 28-20 setback extended the Broncs’ losing streak to 16 games and left second-year head coach David Joyce in search of his first victory since moving to Jackson from Arkansas.
But the Broncs rebounded the following week, defeating Bear Lake, Idaho, 41-13 to end the losing streak.
“When we lost to Teton it was pretty tough because we turned the ball over four consecutive times in the fourth quarter,” Joyce said. “So it showed the integrity of the team that we bounced back the following week and just went to work.”
Jackson followed that with a 35-10 victory over Pinedale as part of a five-game winning streak. The Broncs finished 8-3, just missing a trip to the Class 3A championship game with a controversial 22-21 loss to Torrington in the semifinals.
The Broncs’ turnaround made Joyce the Star-Tribune’s selection as the Super 25 Coach of the Year.
“Going into this year the entire team thought we were going to be competitive,” Joyce said. “And deep down we knew we were going to have a good football team, just because of the amount of work we put in in the offseason and some of the talent we had coming back.”
Still, what Joyce and the Broncs did in such a short amount of time caught most people off guard. That included Jackson activities director Mike Hansen.
“We thought the team would be very good,” Hansen said, “but we thought we were maybe two years away from really being a team to watch.”
Joyce, who has a history of turning programs around in a short amount of time, knew the building blocks were in place in Jackson. Despite having just 13 kids attend his first practice, the Broncs slowly but surely bought in to his approach. According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the team’s roster grew to 32 by the end of Joyce’s first season. This season there were 44 players listed on the school’s official roster.
“This is the fourth program that I’ve taken over that was struggling,” Joyce said. “People ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ It’s pretty simple. You invest in the kids and there’s no step you have to take that is too small.
“When you invest in those kids, the other kids see that investment and so they start to play harder and work harder. The more genuine investment you put into a kid, the more you get back from them.”
The investment and the buy-in was apparent this season.
The Broncs served notice they were legitimate contenders Sept. 21 with a convincing 27-7 victory over defending state champ Cody. Two weeks later their winning streak ended with a loss to eventual state champion Star Valley, but they responded by winning three in a row, including a 32-17 victory over Lander in the quarterfinals, before the loss to Torrington.
“Each week it seemed like the confidence rose,” Joyce said. “Once you get over the hump and the kids start walking with a little swagger they don’t usually go back. Once you’ve earned that swagger it’s pretty hard to take it away.”
Hansen credits Joyce for helping develop that swagger and admitted he knew Joyce was the right coach to lead the Broncs resurgence during his initial interview.
“It was almost like he was interviewing me,” Hansen said. “He was asking all the right questions and he seemed fully committed to developing a full program.”
Even after taking the job, Joyce knew it wouldn’t be easy. But as someone who was familiar with turning around moribund programs, he also knew he liked the hand he had been dealt in Jackson.
“The nucleus of kids that we had, in my opinion, had been undervalued,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff that took place in Jackson before I got there and those kids had stuck through it, and that showed a lot of integrity and character. And you can build a foundation from that.
“So I went home and told my wife, ‘We’ve got a foundation here so we’ve got a shot. We’ve just got to take our time to build it the right way.’ That’s what we focused on that first year was just getting the culture established. We weren’t looking for a short cut or a quick fix.”
The Broncs do lose five all-state players to graduation, but they also return Super 25 running back Jeydon Cox, who rushed for a state-best 2,257 yards and 21 touchdowns; all-conference linebacker Kirby Castagno; starting quarterback Pearson Evans; and a strong group of underclassmen.
In other words, don’t expect Joyce and the Broncs to be a one-year wonder.
“With what we have coming back our future looks bright,” Hansen said. “We should be on the map for a while now.”