A year ago, Alta nearly completed a perfect regular season - a three-point loss to Bingham in Week 2 the sole blemish.
The Hawks made up for it through region play, steamrolling opponents to post two shutouts and a 30-point average margin of victory. With a regional title wrapped up, Alta headed into the playoffs with an eight-game win streak and a set of swollen heads.
That's when Syracuse snuck up and won its biggest upset in school history - a 16-10 slugfest that included two defensive touchdowns and a scoreless second half.
This fall, the Hawks careful not fall into the same trap.
"We don't really have that all-star mentality," said wide receiver Ammon Barker.
After graduating every defensive starter, Alta's lineup won't boast the athletic talent it had last year, when it rolled out eventual All-State honorees such as defensive back Austin Lee and lineman RyanJensen. Instead, the team will make do with what many players profess to be a greater sense of unity, as well as more familiarity with the gameplan.
"We had brand new coaches last year," said senior linebacker Carson Bodon. "We know the defense (now). We're more prepared than they were."
Considering how dominant the Hawks' defense was last year - three shutouts and an average of 12.4 points allowed - just keeping pace would be impressive.
"They've got big shoes to fill," said head coach Bob Stephens.
LAST YEAR: 9-2, lost in first round to Syracuse.KEY RETURNERS: Ammon Barker and Harrison Hanley, seniors, wide receiver. Two of only three returning starters. With the departure of star tailback Bryan Engstrom - whom Stephens called the "heart and soul" of last year's offense - the Hawks will likely lean more heavily on their passing game.PLAYER TO WATCH: Brock Davies, senior, defensive lineman. At 6-foot-4 and more than 230 pounds, Davies has the frame to blossom in his first full season as a starter.BIGGEST HOLE: No defensive starter returns, so question marks abound at various positions. "Defensively, there's a lot of holes we're trying to massage," Stephens said. "We kind of know who's going to be there, but they're untested."NEED TO KNOW: The Hawks' quarterback situation is still unsettled, and may remain so even into the season opener. Senior Dylan Rivas is a lefty with scrambling ability, while junior Chipper Lucero is a more prototypical pocket passer.SEASON OPENER: Visits Timpview. Aug. 17 @ 7 p.m.
Previous postsJuly 25: Introduction/Riverton
July 26: Hunter/Park City
July 27: Kearns/Copper Hills
July 28: Davis/Juan DiegoJuly 30: Olympus/Judge Memorial
Jack Wangjwang@sltrib.comTwitter: @thejackwang