LANDER – Three weeks remain between the Lander Valley Tigers football team and their opening game during Week Zero play. That means that new Head Coach James “Jim” Burton has three weeks to get his team ready to represent Lander Valley High School (LVHS) after a decade on the Evanston sideline. 

Burton, who was recently head coach of the Evanston Red Devils for four seasons, has spent time coaching in Utah and now adds LVHS to his résumé after five years of the Tigers going out on the gridiron under Coach John Scott. In those years, the team was a hard-nosed offensive squad with strong special teams and defensive efforts in Class 3A. 

“There’s no way to fill [Coach Scott’s] shoes,” Coach Burton said during a minicamp at LVHS. “He may not know this but I really look up to him … The things he’s been able to do in his career, everywhere he’s been, all the things he’s done and just the culture he’s created here … it’s something to build on [and] I really appreciate what he’s done here for this program.”

Not only does Coach Burton have to find a way to fill Coach Scott’s shoes, he has to do so with a team that will look vastly different than they did this time last season. Huge offensive pieces like quarterback Brenon Stauffenberg, wide receiver Gabe Harris, running back Jack Pasquinelli, wide receiver Evan Stephenson and more all graduated, some even graduating to play college football. 

Coach Burton added another name to the list of players he’ll be missing: Matisse Weaver, Lander’s superstar kicker and offensive Swiss Army Knife who signed with Dartmouth University earlier this summer. 

“If you can kick the ball into the endzone every time, that’s huge,” Coach Burton said about Weaver. “But There are some people we are going to have to try and replace. I don’t know if you can ever truly replace any of them, we’ll just have to adapt and make our style fit the kids we have.”

Even though the up-and-coming Tigers are going to have to be the stars of the show, they’ll have plenty of young talent in the ranks who could get more and more time on the field by the end of the season. 

“There’s a lot of youth here,” Coach Burton said about his 2023 team. “But, there’s also a lot of excitement and a lot of kids out here working really hard … I like their work ethic.”

Along with Coach Burton, the coaching staff seems to have a strong fascination with linemen. Not only have a few of them already played the position of lineman, both on offense and defense, but they love to coach the line play which is the first and last mark of a good team. 

“If nothing else, the O-Line is going to be pretty good,” Coach Burton joked. 

Linemen workouts were vast at the LVHS camp this past week (p/c Shawn O’Brate)

The hope, especially with a new head coach and a team that is not full of extremely experienced seniors, is still the same as the last few years under Coach Scott: to get out of the first round. For five years in a row the Lander Tigers have found themselves in the playoffs, and all five seasons they found themselves losing in the quarterfinals by a combined score of 179-75. 

Coach Burton is aware of this “Quarterfinal Curse” as some have put it, but he’s not afraid of the postseason because there’s still an entire regular season in the way. 

“The big thing here, the big goal, is to get a first round home playoff game,” Coach Burton said. “If we can get that I think we have a huge advantage playing here … In the 3A division going on the road and winning, especially in the playoffs, that’s tough. Those are tough teams.”

No matter how Coach Burton does in his first season there is plenty to be hopeful and excited about when looking at the young, fresh faces that will be sporting white-and-green pads this year. 

You can watch every single Lander Tigers football game on WyoToday’s YouTube page starting with their Week Zero game on Friday, August 25. 

BY: Shawn O’Brate