Prep football: Region 1 team previews
Consistency was thrown for a loop in mid-July.
The face of one of the more successful high school football programs in Utah moved on after 13 years at the helm and 88 career coaching wins at Davis High School when Ryan Bishop stepped down to take a job as an associate director with the Utah High School Activities Association.
It didn't take long for Tyler Gladwell to shake hands and accept the reins to succeed his coach and friend leading the Darts' football program. The former Davis assistant who was the head coach at Bonneville for a season in 2012 Â is now aiming to re-implement that consistency in the weeks before the season starts.
"It's something I'm excited for," Gladwell said. "Something I would hope happens again in terms of becoming a head coach, but didn't know where or when or how."
But the first-year Davis head coach understands the expectations that come with coaching at Davis High School. The Darts are coming off a 9-1 2013 campaign that ended much sooner than expected after a 9-0 start. Davis was upset at home by Pleasant Grove in the first round of the 5A playoffs.
This year's group has some major holes to fill. A very talented defense loses Davis Hanson, Kawika Tupuola, Jaxon Foreman, Aaron Becker and Matt Morrell, among others. Toss in the likes of Abel Porter, Trevor Leavitt, Parker Rose and Colton Chronister moving on from the offense, Gladwell knows the Darts have their work cut out for them.
"We're going to take the time we have during camp and the preseason to bring along those who don't have a lot of varsity experience and get them ready for the speed of the game, playing and the lights and the pressures that come with Friday night games," Gladwell said. "That's something we're going to have to build up to."
Offensively, running back Mason White returns for his senior year. He rushed for nearly 700 yards a season ago. Speedster Conner Simonsen is back and will provide versatility in the backfield and split out wide. Having a foundation of those two will help incoming odds-on starter Parker Christiansen, a 6-foot-4 quarterback who Gladwell describes as a very physically gifted and cerebral player.
Having never been the No. 1 option, the pressure to learn the intricacies of the offense and leading a team must come quickly.
"You can't really simulate a Friday night on a Tuesday afternoon," Gladwell said.
Two key returners from last year's defense will be defensive backs Tyler Hines and KJ Bishop, Gladwell added.
Last year • 9-1 overall (6-0 in Region 1; lost in first round of playoffs)
Key returner • Mason White (RB). The senior running back who rushed for nearly 700 yards in 2013 should shoulder the load as first-year QB Parker Christiansen gets his feet under him as the Davis signal-caller.
Player to watch • Tyler Hinds (S). Partnering with fellow ballhawk KJ Bishop, Hinds' ability in the defensive backfield will make quarterbacks think twice about testing the Davis secondary.
Biggest hole • Offensive line/Defensive line. Coach Tyler Gladwell said the four positions on the defensive line and five positions on the offensive line remain up for grabs going into fall camp.
Need to know • For the first time in 13 seasons, Davis will have a new head coach manning the sidelines as former coach Ryan Bishop accepted a job with the UHSAA and assistant Gladwell succeeded him.
Fremont Silver Wolves
One of the great things about sports is that at the start of every season, each team can wipe what happened a year ago away and start fresh.
That's exactly what Fremont football coach Kory Bosgieter is trying to do. Asked about last year's 1-9 Silver Wolves' record, he used words such as "don't even want to talk about it," "amnesia" and "gone."
Right now, he likes what he is seeing in two-a-day drills.
"This team has the qualities good teams have," he said. "We have hard workers and good leadership. We are tight-knit. The kids are good listeners, as good as I have ever had."
Bosgieter's major concern is seeing how his team will react the first time it faces some adversity.
"These kids have done everything we've asked them to do," he said. "Everything so far is positive. The first time we face adversity, will we think back to what happened last year and succeed through it."
Fremont does have some good returning players to work with its multiple-set offense. Perhaps the best is three-year starting tight end Paxton Merrill. He should get plenty of help from quarterback Justin Shaw and running back Cole Bingham.
Bosgieter sees Region 1 as a potential dogfight with Northridge, Syracuse, Layton and Davis looking good and Weber returning a lot of players from a year ago.
Last year • 1-9 overall
Key returner • Three-year starter Paxton Merrill had great numbers last year at tight end.
Player to watch • Junior linebacker Caleb Ingram "could be something special" according to coach Kory Bosgieter.
Biggest hole • After a difficult 2013 campaign, how will Fremont react the first time it faces some adversity on the field?
Need to know • Offensive lineman Hunter Miller is a 15-year-old senior who was bumped up two grades. "He still can't drive and is a senior," said Bosgieter.
Every game is the biggest game of the year. That's usually the case in the agonizingly-familiar Region 1 picture every fall, and Layton coach Jim Batchelor knows it. The Lancers and Batchelor believe their young talent, put to the test in 2013, has the ability to contend for a region championship after going 4-7 a year ago. Layton's defense returns seven starters who saw time as underclassmen a year ago, with the offense having four clear-cut starters back with as many as seven players who saw time.
"We were pretty young a year ago," Batchelor said, "so I'm hoping the kids who are returning can come back and have a year under their belts and really step up."
Replacing premier offensive talents like running back Davis Marriott and Jordan Jaramillo will be a tall task. Marriott rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, while Jaramillo had over 800 yards receiving and was one of Layton's top defensive backs. Batchelor said the program flirted with spread formations a year ago to better suit its personnel at the time, but once it reverted back to its standard two-back system, things were more familiar.
In 2014, Keoni Larsen will be one of the two backs to keep an eye out for.
"He's showed me promise," Batchelor said. "He's got more speed than Davis did and he's faster through the holes, and his ability to break away is impressive."
Julian Blackmon and Koy Cannon are two names that should star for the Lancers both ways, and Batchelor hopes their versatility and explosiveness can lead to big plays in the receiving game as well as in the defensive backfield.
"The two of them are definitely going to be guys producing for us," he said.
Senior-to-be Steel Roberts will get the first bite at the apple at the quarterback position. A starter at free safety a year ago, Roberts has earned the Week 1 start, Batchelor said, but added two sophomores, Taylor Katoa and Caleb Taylor, are showing the ability to run the offense.
"All of them are right there," Batchelor said. "They all have different strengths, but Steel's been in the program for four years now since he was a freshman. He's earned this."
Not surprisingly, the Lancers have their eye on a return trip to the postseason and a shot at winning Region 1. Batchelor thinks his kids can do it.
"In year's past, there's been one team that is solid at all three levels," he said. "I don't know if we have someone who is dominant at all three levels. I don't know if there's anyone who's a clear-cut favorite."
Last year • 4-7 (3-3 in Region 1)
Key returner • Wade Meacham (OL). At 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, Layton will have a sure-fire star on the offensive line, as Meacham has recently committed to Utah State. He played guard a year ago, but will be at his more natural spot of tackle in 2014.
Player to watch • Keoni Larsen (RB). The shoes vacated by Davis Marriott are big. But Batchelor thinks Larsen can be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014 with his size, speed and breakaway ability.
Biggest hole • Offensive line. The Lancers return their center and Meacham from 2013, but have three other spots to fill. The success of implementing the new running backs will be contingent on how well the offensive line gels.
Need to know • Week 1 starting quarterback Steel Roberts started at free safety as a junior in 2013 and was the junior varsity quarterback.
"The proof is in the pudding," as Northridge coach Erik Thompson says.
His Knights, talented and young, have to go out and prove it in 2014. And they must do so in a much different way than 2013. The fast-paced aerial attack that produced two 1,000-yard throwers a year ago is in the process of being morphed into something more suitable for the skill players returning this year. Thompson said Northridge returns eight starters from a year ago, three on offense and five on defense.
"We've got some work to do, but we're highly optimistic," Thompson said. "I think we can compete with anyone on any given day, but we've got to avoid injuries, find and develop some depth to spell some of our guys who will be needed to play both ways."
The No. 1 example of that is BYU commit Dayan Lake. The jack-of-all-trades who lined up at cornerback, wide receiver and running back a year ago will shoulder much more of the offensive load from the tailback position, Thompson said. Which leads to the transformation of the Knights' offense, expected to be led by senior quarterback and dynamic athlete Ben Jackson.
"Ben's different than anyone we've had in the past," Thompson said. "We have to implement some new things, and it was nice to have an offseason to do that. Ben is an electrifying runner, he's really quick and fast and does a grab job with the zone read. Our offense would be throwing it at least 40 times a game last year. Hopefully that number will get reversed this year."
Defensively, Thompson said his group may have to play a bit differently. The strength on that side of the ball comes in the defensive backfield, where three of last year's four starters return, highlighted by Lake.
"Football starts in the trenches, and you have to have good offensive and defensive lines, but we might have got it backward," Thompson said. "We don't have a great amount of numbers returning, so hopefully our secondary can be so good that we're allowed to bring more pressure and use that to stop the run."
Thompson, like other coaches in Region 1, expects 2014 to be a toss-up. He said it will likely be another year in which the last game of the season could either decide who's out of the playoff picture, or who hoists the region crown.
Last season • 4-6 overall (4-2 in Region 1)
Key returner • Dayan Lake (RB/CB). The BYU commit has been dubbed a shutdown corner since his sophomore year and will need to stay healthy in order to have a large impact on both sides of the ball for the Knights in 2014.
Player to watch • Noah Kramer (NGL/OL). At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, the junior is expected to have a breakout season. He just picked up an offer from BYU and is starting to come into his own, Thompson said.
Biggest hole • The trenches. Between both the offensive and defensive lines, coach Erik Thompson said the team may start seven juniors, who either chipped in briefly in 2013 or who don't have much experience at all. But Northridge's head coach said that group is progressing nicely and are picking things up as fall camp goes along.
Need to know • Jackson took over for an injured Nate Kusuda last year and nearly had identical numbers to the former Northridge quarterback, but will likely be spearhead a run-first, zone-read offense in 2014.
Syracuse, a football team that is usually near the top of the Region 1 standings, might be a bit of a mystery this season.
While the Titans have a good corps of skill players returning, they have little experience on the offensive and defensive lines. That, according to veteran coach Russ Jones, means it might take the team a few games to gel.
"Our kids are progressing well," said Jones, who is preparing his team for its opener against Box Elder. "We've got some young kids on our line. We have our most experience in the backfield and wide receivers. Our line is progressing and making strides."
Quarterback Kole Tracy, who was pressed into action as a sophomore in the state Class 5A title game two years ago to replace an injured senior starter, brings needed experience. And returning All-State kicker Romney Harker offers a dependable scoring threat.
Add to that Dante Atkinson and Colten Yardley, who both play wide receiver and cornerback, and Syracuse could be a threat in Region 1.
"Region 1 is going to be a pretty good dogfight," said Jones. "Everyone is fairly equal. There is not a dominant team. That will play out once we start playing. But what we know from camp is that all of us seem to be pretty equal in Region 1."
Last year • 8-2 overall (5-1 in Region 1; lost in first round)
Key returner • All-State kicker Romney Harker provides a dependable scoring threat.
Player to watch • Quarterback Kole Tracy was pressed into action as a sophomore two years ago when Syracuse played for the state title, and provides experience on a team where a lot of younger players are getting their first taste of varsity action.
Biggest hole • The Titans don't have a lot of returning players, especially on the lines. For them to be successful, younger guys are going to have to come along quickly.
Need to know • Harker has a good leg, having drilled a 47-yard field goal a year ago.
When a Viewmont alumnus called Scott Ditty, the then-defensive coordinator at Alta knew football would be the topic of conversation. On the other line was former Wisconsin Director of Football Operations Zach Nyborg, who'd recently taken the same position at BYU. Nyborg, a former Viking, told Ditty to look into the head coaching vacancy at Viewmont. But comfortable and content at Alta, Ditty wasn't in any hurry to leave.
It'd take the right fit, with the right administration, supporting staff and community.
"Taking over a program that has been struggling has never scared me off," said Ditty, who takes over a Viewmont program that has won three games in its last two seasons. "You've got to have those basic things in place and have basic support across the board, and Viewmont has that here."
However, Ditty knows there's work to be done a lot of work.
First things first: The program must establish and emphasize its identity. Ditty says it starts with discipline, mental toughness and sacrifice. The basic laundry list that goes into establishing a foundation for a program.
"We don't talk about wins, we don't talk about championships we try to live off the motto of winning the day," Ditty said. "If we can win that day, tomorrow will take care of itself."
The Vikings have returning talent, including three players who saw time at quarterback in 2013 when the program finished 1-9. Ditty said Hunter Anfinson, Max Hadlock and Cole Huish are in the running to earn the starting not, adding each brings his own varied set of skills at the position. Anfinson, a senior, remains in the lead, but as Ditty reiterated, the staff hasn't hung its hat on anyone quite yet.
The ground attack will likely a by-committee effort, with returner Jared Barnum starting at tailback in the team's various rushing sets along with Chase Beckman and Jaden Lindquist.
The 2014 season will provide Ditty, the new staff and the new era of Viewmont football the chance to flip the script back to when the Vikings contended for region titles and were postseason regulars. It starts with Week 1 at Bonneville on Aug. 22.
"There's no place for lethargy or complacency on the football field," Ditty said.
Last season • 1-9 (0-6 in Region 1)
Key returner • Tate Burt (LB). The Viking defense will need an anchor in order to turn things around in 2014 and Ditty said Burt, the leading tackler from a year ago, will be able to be the quarterback of the defense.
Player to watch • Max Hadlock (ATH). Hadlock can line up anywhere from quarterback to linebacker to tight end. He remains in the mix to start at quarterback, but will be asked to utilize his versatility.
Biggest hole • Ditty didn't specify a hole or a group that needs to step up in fall camp. His answer was simply: "The whole team, not one group more so than any other."
Need to know • Outside of football, Ditty was once an actor based in Southern California, and played a correctional guard in the film "Con Air" featuring Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Dave Chappelle and John Cusack.
They'll always have that night in downtown Salt Lake City, the night the Weber Warriors screamed in elation, rather than despair. The 2013 season was about finding the course and sticking to it, and under first-year coach Matt Hammer, the Warriors snapped their 24-game losing streak that stretched across three seasons in the season opener last year at West.
Weber, in fact, made more of its season a year ago than just one win, it started 4-1 and was in the thick of the hyper-competitive Region 1 race for the first couple months, but struggled down the stretch, going 1-4 and missing out on the postseason.
In 2014, Hammer's Warriors know 5-5 won't cut it.
"We've got to be a team that's playing in November," said the second-year head coach. "We want to compete for region championships, but we want to be a playoff program."
Weber will certainly have the opportunity to do so in a wide-open Region 1 this fall. In order to reach its goal, the onus will rest in large part on senior quarterback Cole Dean. He started every game a year ago and helped the Warriors' turnaround. This season, Dean's skill set could be a defining factor in how the Warriors stack up against their familiar rivals up north.
"He has to take charge and get us going in the right direction offensively," Hammer said. "I think he's earned a lot of respect from the other coaches in the region. He just can't have that slump in his second year, coming and then going backward and trying to do too much. His growth as a football player is needed."
As most programs have to do each fall, Weber has to find answers to replace the likes of Auston Tesch, Mike Baker, Huston Wade and Ryan Beal. Tesch, the team's leading rusher and tackler, signed with Weber State, but senior Hunter Bell is expected to shoulder the load.
"Downhill guy, and he's probably one of the hardest-working kids we have on that team," Hammer said. "Question is: Can he handle carrying the ball 20 times on a Friday night? We think he can."
Year 2 under Hammer and his staff is going to entail the chasing of a postseason berth. Can the upstart Warriors continue what they started in 2013?
"I definitely think it's a situation where we can compete, but it's how we play, it's not just going to show up and happen for us," Hammer said. "We've got to do the right things every single snap and every single play."
Last year • 5-5 (2-3 in Region 1)
Key returner • Cole Dean (QB). The senior signal-caller will be leaned upon to carry the Warriors toward contending for a region title. The tall, strong-armed QB has the make-up to do so, Hammer says.
Player to watch • Braxton Beck (S/LB). A playmaker in the back for the Weber defense as a junior in 2013 with more than 45 tackles and three picks, Beck will be asked to float between safety and linebacker this year.
Biggest hole • Offensive line. As Hammer noted, the game is won in the trenches, and the Warriors are returning just one offensive lineman from a year ago. With Hunter Bell replacing Tesch, the new crew of linemen will have to come together in fall camp.
Need to know • Former Weber defensive coordinator and NFL cornerback Andre Dyson moved to be the head coach at Clearfield High School, his alma mater.