EDITOR’S NOTE » This is one in a series of previews of Utah’s high school football programs. They will run throughout the summer leading up to the 2014 regular season, which begins Aug. 21.
Judge Memorial Bulldogs
In 2013, Judge Memorial captured the UHSAA Class 3A championship for the school’s first state title in 30 years.
The question for 2014: As an encore, can the Bulldogs repeat?
With many starters, including four all-staters, returning from last year’s team that also won its region, Judge may at least have some momentum toward delivering another memorable season. But with the state title comes expectations. And pressure.
"There’s a little bit of nervousness," coach James Cordova said. "It’s always excited to get going, but there’s a little bit of nerves there, too."
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, enough talented players are back from last year’s title run to help calm any jitters. Defensive lineman Ricki Maka, linebackers Max Barnett and Braden Pelly, and defensive back Michael Kearns — all four also play offense — earned statewide honors last year and give Judge valuable experience on both sides of the ball.
"It’s a nice group of kids," Cordova said. "We’ve had a great follow-through this summer. The program, the last few years, has evolved into what it needs to be in terms of the kids’ commitment and focusing on what they’re doing."
Maka will anchor an offensive line that includes three players — Mason Knight, Noah Elliss and Quincy Houston — who each weigh more than 300 pounds.
Cordova believes the play of both lines will be crucial to Judge’s success.
"We have to jell up front," he said. "Having veterans and rookies mixed together is always an interesting mix. We need those guys to come together. High school football is won or lost in the trenches."
Last year » 11-2 overall (5-0 in 3A North; won Class 3A state title)
Key returner » Ricki Maka, an All-State selection on the defensive line, brings experience to the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Player to watch » Jacob Cline, who was a starter on the offensive line last year before breaking his foot and missing the last six games of the season, is back.
Biggest hole » Though Michael Kearns was an All-State defensive back last season, he is the only returning starter from the secondary.
Need to know » Offensive coordinator and state coaching legend Ray Groth retired after 46 years on the sidelines at several different schools. Head coach James Cordova is taking over working with the offense, and Luther Elliss is calling the plays on defense.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.