Natrona County coaches knew what they had in Chase Brachtenbach when he entered the program. He arrived as a dedicated, hard-working, blue-collar linebacker with an unrivaled dedication.
His career quietly started in earnest along with his freshmen classmates at the sub-varsity level. There he was able to learn the Mustangs’ system and lay the groundwork for what was to come. After three years as a starter, all of them culminating in the state championship, Brachtenbach and the Mustangs finally broke through with a 28-14 win over Sheridan in the Class 4A championship game.
In that game he had five tackles and shared one for a loss. He finished the season averaging just over seven tackles per game and tallied 13 for loss. Statistics, however, don’t begin to cover what made Brachtenbach so valuable to the Mustangs. His off-season dedication and rigorous film study helped him mentally prepare for each game. He could read offenses and which plays would ensue from his perch 7 yards off the ball. That made him one of the defensive captains that limited teams to just 206 total yards per game, the best among Class 4A defenses.
On Friday he was one of four state champion Mustangs honored as Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 selections. That made him one of 68 Mustangs all-time to earn the honor. Then he became the seventh Natrona County graduate to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. The last to do so was Josh Harshman during the Mustangs’ last state title in 2014.
“I just worked my tail off and I think I got what I deserved and I know the coaches had my back,” Brachtenbach said. “They made me work 10 times harder and I did what they wanted me to do.”
It was an honor three years in the making.
Brachtenbach started at linebacker as a sophomore. Not many start every Friday night home game on Cheney Alumni Field before they are legally eligible to drive. But Brachtenbach was the best one for the job. He learned alongside fellow linebacker Tom Robitaille (now at Carroll College) and became a student of the defense.
During that year he learned how to play in tough, back-against-the-wall situations. He distinctly cited both games at Camel Stadium against Gillette that year. Natrona County started that season 0-2 after being outscored 35-0. Then came a one-point win against Laramie to set-up the first meeting against returning state runner-up Gillette.
Through defensive stands, turnovers and well-scouted stops, the Mustangs held on to upset the Camels 27-20. They repeated the feat in the semifinals with crucial fourth-quarter stops, punching their ticket to the state championship with a 30-28 win to start Gillette’s current 19-game losing streak.
“We were the only team to beat them and those were two big ol’ grudge matches,” Brachtenbach said. “Those taught me how to play in tough situations.”
He continued to play as such throughout his final two years. His roll as fullback became essentially nonexistent as Brachtenbach played nearly every snap on the first-team defense.
Last year he also led Class 4A’s best defense, as Natrona County allowed just 194.7 yards per game. Brachtenbach averaged 5.8 tackles per game and finished second in tackles for loss (14.5) and third in sacks (seven). Despite the better stats and even holding Sheridan to just 169 total yards, the Mustangs came away runners-up again. That gave him one last goal to achieve in his final year.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “It’s such an incredible four years of high school and an unreal senior year. I’m loving every part of it.”
Brachtenbach has had multiple schools contacting him about playing college football but he’s not sold on one yet. He also admitted to thinking about hanging his cleats up entirely. Going out on top wouldn’t be the worst way to go. But then again, why not keep that good feeling going for another four years?
“I think I probably will, ultimately,” he said. “I don’t want to end just now.”