The nice thing about high school athletes is that they get better with age. Grand County's football team is expecting to reap those rewards this season.
The Red Devils reached the Class 2A semifinals with a junior-laden class last year, and they return the bulk of their talent to contend for region and state championships.
"This group of kids expect to win," Grand coach Dennis Wells said. "We're not taking anything for granted because we know we have our work cut out for us. We relied heavily on our junior class last year, and they brought us along. We didn't lose much from that team, but we still have to show up ready to play."
In fact, the Red Devils return eight offensive starters and nine on the defensive side, none more important than Koi Cook. Cook, who will play running back and linebacker, led 2A with 129 tackles and ran for more than 900 yards last season. Meanwhile, quarterback Jacob Francis, who threw for 988 yards and ran for 765 with 16 total touchdowns, also returns to give Grand plenty of options.
"We've run that offense so long that it clicks pretty good," Wells said. "We're a better team than last year. We're bigger, more mature and are working hard. I'll be disappointed if we're not region champions. We have the talent to do it."
The Red Devils stunned Millard 48-33 in the 2A quarterfinals last season only to suffer a 58-15 drubbing at the hands of eventual state champ Manti.
"That left a nasty taste in our mouth," Wells said about the loss. "We know we're a better team than what we showed in the semis."
Wells said he noticed his team's intensity during a camp against three-time defending 1A state champion Duchesne. The coach said he hadn't seen that type of intensity in the last few years from his players.
Cameron Taylor, who rushed for 435 yards and six scores last season, also returns on offense, while Dalton McElhaney and Koby Sobremesana are ready to burst onto the scene at receiver. The line only lost one starter from last year.
And the team has come together even closer following the death of sophomore lineman Sam Woodruff.
"It was pretty rough last week, but it's going to be a positive in the long run," Wells said. "They're rallying around it and thinking about what Sam would do."
Grand opens the season Friday against visiting Carbon.
Grand County Red Devils
ASSIGNMENT • Class 2A South
LAST YEAR • 7-4 overall, 5-2 Class 2A South
KEY RETURNER • Koi Cook, RB/LB. Plays all over the field offensively and defensively. Led 2A in tackles with 129 last season. Even Grand's offense couldn't run the ball against him during an intersquad scrimmage.
PLAYERS TO WATCH • Dalton McElhaney, WR/CB, Ronnie Dolphin, FB/SS, and Brandon Seacrest, OG/LB. Big things are expected from each player.
BIGGEST HOLE • Grand's receivers are talented but inexperienced. Coach Wells is excited to see how the group responds game time.
NEED TO KNOW • Opponents will have to figure out a way to stop Cook, who is a threat on both sides of the ball. He also has begun to attract college offers.