Prep football: Region 2 preview
After a highly successful career as football coach at what was then Dixie College, Greg Croshaw moved back to the high school ranks two years ago when he took over a Cottonwood program with strong players that was struggling with controversy.
The veteran coach has found the change different but enjoyable as he enters his third season.
"Coaching is great fun," he said. "That's what I do. It's a whole new set of circumstances. I was successful at Dixie because when I needed a running back or a quarterback, I could go out and recruit one. If you weren't successful, it was because I didn't recruit. They kind of frown on that in high school."
Croshaw took Cottonwood to the first round of the state tournament the past two years with a team that made up for what it lacked in quantity with quality. Cottonwood's boundaries stretch well into the west side of the valley, sometimes making it difficult for athletes who might like to play football to find a way to get home without an activities bus.
"Depth has been the weakness for the two years I have been there," said the veteran coach. "We are lucky to have 50 or 60 kids out, and that counts freshmen. We are not going to have 120 guys on the sideline, like some of those programs."
What Cottonwood does have are quality players. For example, quarterback Cooper Bateman who played for the Colts two years ago is competing for the job at Alabama this year. T.J. Fehoko, a defensive lineman on this year's team, has already committed to Colorado. Crowshaw says Fua Putupai, a defensive end, has received offers from Oregon, Oregon State and Utah.
The problem is simply lack of depth. If any of the frontline players get injured, replacing them will be a challenge.
That said, the Colts certainly should be competitive in Region 2 again this year.
Last year • 5-5 overall, 3-2 in Region 2. Lost to Brighton in first round of state tournament.
Key returner • Defensive lineman T.J. Fehoko will soon be plying his trade in the Pac-12, having committed to Colorado.
Player to watch • Defensive end Fua Putpau could be a Pac-12 player too, with offers from Oregon, Oregon State and Utah.
Biggest hole • The team has good frontline players, but lacks depth. Injuries could create some major problems.
Need to know • The Colts play in an evenly-matched region that didn't fare well at state last season. All four teams lost in the first round. Cottonwood has never won a state football championship.
When it comes to football, new is the operative word at Granger this year.
The Lancers have added a new coach to go along with their relatively new school.
Veteran Utah prep coach Mike Morgan is the new head man who plans on bringing a new coaching philosophy to a team that struggled last year in Region 2.
Morgan has had coaching stints at Riverton, West Jordan, Brighton and Murray, including 14 years as the head coach at West Jordan. As he takes on his newest challenge and gets to know what he calls a young team, Morgan seems more than a little optimistic.
"We have a really good young group," said Morgan. "There is a ton of potential there. I am excited about that. They are buying into the system right now. Our spring went well. We installed what we wanted to run."
The Lancers operated out of a spread system last year. Morgan is installing a new offense that combines several different attacks, including some option and wing-T. But, with good receivers, expect the Lancers to go to the air as well.
If there is a major concern for Morgan, it has to be Granger's youth. There are only six returning seniors on the team.
But the new coach enters the season with great optimism.
"Our challenge is to get them to all buy into what we are doing so that it means something to them," said Morgan. "We want to play as a team, have camaraderie and buy into a system. I know we are making progress. We have a good nucleus of leaders."
Last year • 2-8 (1-4 Region 2).
Key returner • Top Lancers returning include wide receiver and defensive back Sulu Tukimoeatu
Players to watch • Quarterback Robert Lienr; running back and linebacker Sione Tauataina; running back Jacob Miles; running back and defensive back Moano Finau, and linebacker J.R. Manuo.
Biggest hole • Granger returns only six seniors, so this is going to be a young group.
Need to know • In an effort to see how his young team responds, new coach Mike Morgan has booked a tough preseason schedule that includes Riverton, Bingham, Brighton and small-school power Morgan.
Hillcrest hasn't experienced a winning football season since 2003, and the Huskies' return to Class 5A a year ago proved difficult, as the Midvale team managed just one win.
With a senior-heavy team returning, first-year coach Travis Mehlhoff said his biggest challenge may be turning that culture around.
"A lot of it is the culture and tradition there," said Mehlhoff, who was assistant head coach at Lehi last year. "There needs to be a changing of the mindset. We have a lot of really good kids who are doing what we have asked of them since February. Their commitment to the weight room as been huge. That translates to mental toughness and the ability to finish. That translates to what we ask for them on the field."
Mehloff said the Huskies' performance at 7-on-7 competitions at camps at BYU and Utah might have helped Hillcrest's confidence. They tied for first in the linemen challenge at BYU and took third in similar competition at Utah.
"We're asking a lot of our kids to go on belief when they haven't experienced a lot of success," said the coach. "Our main offseason focus is trying to get them to believe and to have little successes on a daily basis."
Last year • 1-9 overall
Key returners • Quarterback Tanner Thompson, the Region 2 offensive MVP a year ago, will run Mehlhoff's attack, which is balanced between run and pass.
Players to watch • Linemen Cade Roemmich and Mitch Mortimer, are part of a group that fared well in summer camp competitions. Tight end Andrew Olsen is expected to have a big role in the offense.
Biggest concern • The Huskies haven't experienced a winning season since 2003 and need to learn how to win.
Need to know • Hillcrest's stadium, situated in a bowl-like setting, is one of the nicest in Utah. The addition of artificial turf last year makes it one of the best places in the state to watch a game.
Since it opened in 1990, Hunter has been one of the stronger football programs on the west side of Salt Lake County. The Wolverines did capture the state title in 2003 and usually challenge for a region championship and often send players on to college.
That shouldn't change this year.
"We've got a good shot with a lot of returning starters back," said Hunter coach Scott Henderson as the team prepares to battle for a Region 2 title. "We had a good sophomore group. Those kids should step in and replace the kids that we lost. We always have high hopes. On paper, we look pretty good."
Something new this year will be the fact that ninth-graders are attending Hunter. Henderson said he and his staff are working hard to incorporate the younger players into the program.
He said he expects Region 2 to be improved from a year ago, when Taylorsville claimed the title with a win over the Wolverines. Henderson said Hillcrest and Granger each have new coaches and he expects both to be improved.
As is almost always the case, Hunter has some college prospects. Noah Togiai, a tight end and outside linebacker, has committed to the Utah basketball team in 2015, though he could also play football for the Utes. And lineman Tevita Tauteloi is mulling three options.
Hunter likes to play power football out of an I formation, though junior quarterback McKay Mielinger broke all of the Wolverines' passing records last year as a sophomore.
"Our biggest concern is that we can't get complacent," Henderson said. "In the last two years, we got to the playoffs, and then kind of like fizzled. We need to stay hungry every week. I am preaching to them to play every down like it's your last, regardless of the score."
Last year • 6-5 overall (4-1 in Region 2; lost in first round of state tournament)
Key returners • Tight end and outside linebacker Noah Togiai, at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, is one of the state's top athletes. Lineman Tevita Tauteloi will anchor both defense and offense.
Player to watch • Junior quarterback McKay Mielinger broke nearly every Hunter passing record last year.
Biggest hole • Some key players are underclassmen, and the team had a tendency to become complacent a year ago.
Need to know • Noah Togiai has committed to play basketball for the University of Utah, but could also be a football prospect for the Utes.
Sometimes God acts in strange ways.
Just ask Taylorsville football coach Rod Wells, who isn't shy in saying he thinks the deity played a role in the Warriors' breakout 2013 season when they won just the second region title in the school's history.
When Wells took the head job of the then-moribund program two years ago, he did not know anyone in the area. He said that his staff consisted mostly of anybody who might want to coach.
Then, his church home teachers introduced him to a man named Pala Vaitu'u, who was coaching at Jordan when the Beetdiggers won their 5A football title. Vaitu'u brought along his brother Junior, as well as a new attitude at Taylorsville.
"Our biggest thing was our offseason additions," Wells said as his team begins preparations to defend its Region 2 title. "We hired some new coaches who are people with the same philosophy about how you teach, coach and treat kids."
Wells took over the weight training while Pala Vaitu'u worked on speed. Junior Vaitu'u took over as the offensive coordinator.
"That turned out to be a tremendous experience for the kids," said Wells. "We have a positive environment. There is no swearing, using cuss words or yelling at a kid. We make our points, but don't demean or degrade kids. We've got more response that way."
Going into the 2014 season, Wells admits to being a bit nervous. He said his team is really young and, in seven-on-seven games in the offseason, tended to get a little overconfident and lose to teams with less talent.
Last year • 6-4 overall, Region 2 champions, lost to Alta in first round of state tournament.
Key returner • Wells calls quarterback To'a MauMau the team's best athlete. He played running back last year, but is needed at signal-caller this season.
Player to watch • Matthew Sterzer will anchor the defense from the zone safety position and play some fullback.
Biggest hole • Inexperience on the offensive line. Only one starter returns from last year.
Need to know • Interest in Taylorsville football is apparently on the rise. When Wells took over two years ago, depth was an issue, with 40 athletes on the team. This year, around 110 athletes are trying out, giving the Warriors more depth at every position than they have had in the past.
West High football coach Keith Lopati has been building toward this season since he took over the head job at Utah's oldest high school four years ago.
The Panthers own the state's proudest football tradition. Their 21 state titles are the most in state history. That said, the last championship came in 1992 and West has fallen on hard times in recent years, losing many of its top players to other schools during a time of open enrollment.
Lopati said that watching potential teammates leave for other schools has taken a mental toll on his team, but he thinks some of the top athletes are beginning to stay at their home school. The Panthers have good depth this year with about 80 kids out for football.
The Panthers should be able to compete for a title in evenly matched Region 2 this season.
"The kids that are going to be seniors bring with them a lot of experience," said Lopati, who uses a triple-option system similar to that utilized by legendary coach Roger Dupaix, whom Lopati played for at Highland. "Hopefully, that will come through this year."
Perhaps the key to West's success will be quarterback Chandler Wiley, who was thrown into the fire last year as a starter. Lopati said Wiley has great feet, a big help to a player operating out of the run-oriented option. But Wiley can pass as well.
Lopati likes his team's chances during league play.
"There is a lot of parity among the different programs in our region," he said. "It's not the typical one team is good and everybody is fighting for second and third place. For us, we're seeing a lot of our own kids stay at West, which helps us out tremendously. We are taking care of that situation as the years go by."
Last year • 4-6 overall (2-3 in Region 2; lost in first round)
Key returner • QB Chandler Wiley has the feet to excel in the option, and the arm to keep defenses honest.
Players to watch • RB/WR/S Tyrell Jones, OG Irvin Peni, and MLB/FB Azia Seei will all play big roles for the Panthers.
Biggest hole • Since West loses a number of top stars who live in the area to other schools, finding some strong team leadership might be the key to a successful season.
Need to know • When head coach Keith Lopati played high school football, Roger Dupaix was the head coach and his very young son Danny often came to practice. That son is now West Jordan's head football coach and Lopati and his Panthers scrimmaged with the Jaguars on the last day of camp. The West coach called it a nice mini-reunion.