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3 winning Idaho high school football teams that are defying the odds this season

Boise, Canyon Ridge and Marsing have all exceeded preseason expectations to break out to combined 14-1 record

There’s always those teams - the emerging ones nobody saw coming.

This year is no exception in Idaho football.

Boise, Canyon Ridge and Marsing High Schools are the feel-good stories of 2023 thus far. They’re a combined 14-1 after winning all but eight games total a year ago. Two of them are ranked in the state media poll.

All of them have unexpected, yet very realistic title chances now:



Boise Brave football 2023

2023 record/ranking: 5-0/No. 2

Last year: 2-7/last place in 5A SIC River.

Summer Altieri asked her husband a simple question right before his second interview for the Boise High School football coaching job.

“What are you going to do if they offer you the job?”

Mike Altieri has done what several others tried and failed to do. What was seemingly thought to be impossible - make Boise relevant in football again.

But the Brave (5-0) are off to their best start since 1988, and face No. 1 Eagle on Friday night.

“I was downtown having dinner with my wife last Saturday and we were leaving a restaurant and somebody from across the street that I don’t even know yells, ‘Boise High 5-0. You guys are kicking ass!,’” Altieri said with a laugh. “There’s so much pride and tradition and people care. I think people have just been waiting to get behind that.”

Altieri never intended to apply for the job. He was just wanting to coach the North Junior High lightweights - 115 pounds or under - to help make the Boise High feeder program better for his own sons, Tomasi and Kavika.

Altieri got the job. But the next day the athletic director who hired him said his talents would be better suited at the top instead. So, Altieri emailed Boise athletic director Brian Barber and was asked to come in for an interview.

While Altieri played outside linebacker at Boise State (2003-07), he had never coached football at any level. His only previous coaching experience was one year with his sons’ four-on-four soccer teams. But none of that mattered.

Altieri became the new Boise coach in December of 2019.

“They didn’t need somebody that could come in and drop 'X’s and O’s.' They didn’t need somebody that was good on the chalkboard,” Altieri said. “Where I felt like they were missing the boat on was the culture. And it was from the top down. They needed somebody that could come in that could get in touch with this community and really want to take on that job and build something. That wasn’t going to change overnight.”

He found that out firsthand.

Altieri had just 22 varsity kids that first season. He dressed 15 to 18 ninth graders each game just to make it look like the Brave had a full roster. Boise canceled its junior varsity season the year before his arrival with just 28 players total.

The Brave began the COVID-shortened 2020 season 0-3. They were outscored in those games, 146-34. It was their 13th consecutive loss. Boise had now also dropped 29 of 30 games.

The struggles were nothing new, though.

Boise has just one winning season over the last 31 years and owns the longest active playoff drought in the 5A classification. It hasn’t made state since 2002.

“I remember telling the coaches, ‘If we’re going to lose kids, this is going to be when we lose them,’” Altieri said.

But after the 48-0 loss to Capital in early October of, 2020, every single one of his players showed up to practice the following Monday.

And then it happened.

Playing on its practice field that hadn’t been used for a game since the 1960s and with fans sitting on the top of their cars because there really wasn’t any seating, Boise beat crosstown rival Borah, 41-31, for the first time in five years that very same week.

“I remember the kids and the parents crying because of how happy they were,” Altieri said. “I’ve never felt a relief like that. This huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. It was like, ‘OK, we can do this. There’s hope.’ I’ll never forget that game for as long as I live.”

The Brave went on to win the next two games for their first three-game winning streak and non-losing season since 2008.

While they went 4-14 over the next two seasons, optimism remained. Even if others from the outside didn’t see it.

Boise, now with 50 kids on the roster, was picked 13th out of 13 teams in the 5A SIC preseason coaches’ poll.

It didn’t get a lot of respect following a 4-0 start, either. Critics pointed to the fact that three of those wins came against teams with a combined 1-14 record.

But the Braves silenced them and everyone else last Thursday night.

They upset No. 3 Mountain View, 35-21, for just the second win ever against the storied program.

“It was one of those program-changing moments for us,” Altieri said. “We don’t have those types of wins. We haven’t had those types of wins. And I don’t think anybody thought we were gonna win that game.”

That’s not the case anymore.

Boise shot up the polls and could be No. 1 next week if it can beat Eagle for the first time in 28 years.

But the Brave are not paying any attention to any of it. They still have the No. 13 written all over their pads, arms and shoes. Every huddle is broken with the word “13th.”

“I tell the kids, ‘All the publicity that we’re getting, all the media coverage, all the rankings, it’s great. But don’t let that stuff go to your head. We’re still 13th,’” Altieri said. “Every single person is waiting for Boise High to be the same old Boise High that we’ve always been. They’re all waiting for us to fall. And this is the perfect week for them to say, ‘Ha, we told you. Boise High’s back to the same old stuff.’ But we’re not going to let that happen.”



Canyon Ridge football 2023

2023 record/ranking: 5-0/No. 5

Last year: 5-4/fourth place in 4A Great Basin West

The Riverhawks haven’t had a lot to celebrate in their 14-year history.

They’re a combined 46-64 and have just three winning seasons to their name. Which is why the community is really buzzing about the 5-0 start - the best in program history.

First-year coach Juan Alvarado fully understands and embraces the excitement. But he cautions that his team hasn’t won anything yet.

Canyon Ridge faces its toughest test of the season in a road trip to Minico (4-2) at 7 p.m. tonight.

“I’ve never been in a gym where they’ve hung a banner that said, ‘Hey, we started 5-0,’” Alvarado said. “That’s great to hang your hat on, but those don’t exist. We have to have higher expectations of ourselves.”

Alvarado knows all about high expectations. He came over from Minico, which is the two-time reigning 4A Great Basin Conference champion. Alvarado was the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach for the Spartans, who haven’t had a losing season in seven years.

So he knew all about Canyon Ridge’s recent resurgence that began last year.

It started 4-0 and posted the first winning season since 2015.

“It’s just funny how everything works out. My relationship with Conner Willis started when he was in eighth grade,” Alvarado said about his senior quarterback. “I’ve seen Conner grow up a little bit through these camps. So I already had a pretty decent relationship with him.”

Which is how Alvarado also knew how last season ended, as well.

A 69-7 beatdown by Minico derailed the promising start.

The Riverhawks lost three out of their final four games by double-digit margins, no less. This included a 70-0 shellacking at the hands of eventual state runner-up Bishop Kelly. It was the worst defeat in program history.

“Most coaches take the approach of, ‘I gotta get in here and rebuild.’ And to be honest, that’s what I thought,” Alvarado said. “But from competing against Canyon Ridge for the last few years, I noticed how experienced they already were from having to play as sophomores and how good they were at the passing game. So in order to be successful, I knew I had to keep building on the strengths that this program already had.”

So far, so good.

It took the Riverhawks all of four weeks to get votes in the state media poll. And by Week 5, they were ranked for the first time in school history.

But some are still apprehensive.

One win is against a Class 3A opponent and another is over a team that hasn’t won a game in nearly five years. In fact, Canyon Ridge has yet to beat a team this season with a winning record. Its five opponents have a combined record of just 5-20.

“We haven’t played the best teams in the state, I know that,” Alvarado said. “But we don’t owe anyone anything, but ourselves. And ourselves, I think we can be one of the most competitive teams in the 4A ranks.”

To do so, the Riverhawks will have to go through the Spartans, who own 12 consecutive wins against them - all by double digits. The average margin of victory in those games has been 30.3 points. Canyon Ridge’s only win against Minico occurred back in 2009 - its first year of existence.

Even if the Riverhawks manage to get by the Spartans, Twin Falls looms. They’re 2-12 all time against their crosstown foes. Then there’s the playoffs, which are an entirely separate matter altogether.

Canyon Ridge has been there four times and is still searching for the first postseason win in program history. It has lost the last three by an average of 52.3 points per game.

“Have I had to reach into my bag of motivational speeches? I have,” Alvarado said. “No one outside of us believes and that’s cool. We’re the underdog and I’ll take that hat over any other hat any other day. But I truly do believe we have all the right pieces here.”



Marsing football 2023

2023 record/ranking: 4-1/Unranked

Last year: 1-8/last place in 2A Western

Shea McClellin wasn’t going to apply.

The 2007 graduate was still upset about not even being contacted by his alma mater for a prior opening.

“I honestly kind of took it personal,” McClellin said. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ll go coach somewhere else.’”

But after stops at Mountain View and Cole Valley Christian, McClellin grew tired of watching the program, which had helped mold him into becoming the 19th overall pick by the Chicago Bears in the 2012 NFL Draft, struggle with seemingly no end in sight.

Just a year and a half on the job, he’s done what no one else has been able to in quite some time. The Huskies (4-1) are off to their best start in a decade and have a chance to win consecutive conference games since McClellin’s rookie season in the NFL.

They’ll visit reigning Western Idaho Conference champion Nampa Christian at 7 p.m. tonight.

“We’re a different Marsing,” McClellin said. “We’re not the same old Marsing. You’re not just gonna come in and walk all over us. We’re gonna fight our butts off till the end. If it comes out a victory, great. If not, you’re gonna be sore and you’re gonna be paying for it for sure.”

McClellin is doing it with a total of 30 kids, too.

His junior varsity team has to play eight-man football just to get games. He took over a program that only had three sophomores and three juniors on the roster the year before. And despite McClellin being a Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots and a former Boise State star, the numbers have actually dipped a bit since his arrival. He had players quit even after his hiring was publicly announced.

“I was at basketball and baseball games trying to recruit kids and I don’t think I got one of those kids that I spoke with to come out and play,” McClellin said with a laugh. “It was wild. Let’s say an old professional tennis player came to coach here and I didn’t even enjoy tennis, I’m still gonna play tennis because I want to learn from that person because they played at the highest level.”

He went 1-8 during that first year. But the team, consisting of many ninth graders and sophomores, showed improvement from the previous year. The average points per game nearly doubled.

“It was good to see the culture change a little bit as far as not quitting,” McClellin said. “Because the mentality at Marsing for the longest time had just been giving up when things got hard.”

McClellin was Marsing’s eighth coach in the last 10 years. It resulted in the Huskies going 6-57 (.095) during an eight-season stretch from 2014-21. This included three consecutive winless seasons (14-16) for a 24-game losing streak.

Marsing hadn’t even won a league game in a decade.

“You just can’t be good that way,” McClellin said.

But all of that ended last Friday at home.

The Huskies snapped the 42-game WIC losing streak with a 24-14 win over New Plymouth.

“It was big-time for sure,” McClellin said. “It was more refreshing than exciting. Because we finally did it and could move on now. We can actually just go play and not have to worry about putting so much pressure on ourselves.”

They’ll now look to end an 11-year postseason and conference title drought. But Marsing will now have to run the gauntlet against Nampa Christian, Melba and Cole Valley Christian in order to do so.

“I still think there’s doubt in people's minds and that’s fine,” McClellin said. “We wouldn’t want it any other way. We love just the underdog mentality and having to prove ourselves each week. It gives us motivation.”