Michael McGuire had a feeling Big Horn's returning talent was a good fit for the system he hoped to install.
And the former Riverside head coach and Sheridan assistant wasn't wrong. The Rams rolled to an undefeated regular season and the Class 2A East Conference championship before falling just one point shy of a state title game berth.
"It all just kind of fell together," McGuire said.
But the final piece fell in place on Friday, when McGuire was named the Casper Star-Tribune's Super 25 Coach of the Year. The top 25 high school football players in the state were honored on Friday, the 22nd year the newspaper has selected the all-class all-star team.
In winning the award, McGuire joined elite company. But the job he did in taking over Big Horn, which dismissed its entire coaching staff after the 2011 season, was noteworthy. McGuire said after the Glenrock game -- a 30-26 victory at Big Horn -- the team's confidence grew and the Rams "just rolled for awhile" before Lovell upended the thought of a perfect season with a 29-28 victory in a state semifinal game.
But McGuire considered himself blessed and was humbled to be in the same company as Don Julian (Sheridan), Mark Bullington (Southeast) and Todd Dayton (Cokeville), all recipients of the Super 25 Coach of the Year award.
"There are so many great football coaches in the his state," McGuire said. "To be mentioned [with them] ... is very humbling."
In addition to honoring the top 25 players in the state, Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year were also named. Dino Collins (Lovell) was named Offensive Player of the Year, while Dan Reese (Natrona County) earned Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Collins was surprised to honored as the top offensive player.
"There are a lot of good players here," Collins said.
But the 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior running back was one the best. Collins -- nicknamed "The Beast" for his punishing running style -- compiled a state-best 1,531 rushing yards, along with 23 rushing touchdowns, to help lead the Bulldogs back to the state title game. Collins led the state with 28 total touchdowns and gave credit to his offensive line, but also said the Bulldogs' passing attack -- led by senior quarterback Dylan Hultgren and senior receiving threats Cody Savage (also a Super 25 selection) and Ryan Clark -- was overlooked.
"Dylan hitting Cody and Ryan ... just opened up the run," Collins said.
For Reese, a two-time Super 25 selection, earning top defender was just icing on the cake to a undefeated championship season. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior inside linebacker was the captain of the Mustangs' top-ranked defense. Reese averaged 7.6 tackles per game (117 total), to go with 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass break-ups, one fumble recovery and four interceptions.
Natrona completed its undefeated title season with a dominating performance against Gillette in the Class 4A title game. Reese remembers watching his older, Will, play on Natrona's 2003 undefeated state championship team.
"It was an awesome season," Reese said. "It's a dream come true."