Prep football: Region 6 preview
A coach doesn't get a field named after him and stay around for 30 years at one school without experiencing some success.
But that's what has happened to veteran Bountiful head man Larry Wall. It's a rare year when his Braves aren't in the thick of a hunt for a state or region title despite playing one of the state's most difficult schedules year in and year out.
"We are going to be a typical Bountiful team," Wall said as he prepared for the 2014 season. "I am optimistic. We have several good returning starters and leaders coming back. The kids are working hard right now. They believe in the tradition and things that have been established here. There are always high expectations."
Part of the optimism revolves around the return of running back and captain Houston Heimuli, who has verbally committed to Air Force. He was a team captain as a junior and, at 6 feet and 225 pounds, is a difficult back to stop.
The fact that he will be running behind an experienced line, which Wall said may be the strength of this Bountiful team, shouldn't hurt either.
The Braves usually run a traditional I-back under-center offense, but experimented with some spread and shotgun sets last year to open things up. Wall said establishing the run and controlling the line of scrimmage is a priority which, in tough Region 6 that features teams with big lines, isn't easy to do.
If Bountiful has a weakness, it is lack of experience on the defensive side.
Last year • 5-6 overall (3-3 in Region 6; lost in first round of state playoffs)
Key returners • Running back Houston Heimuli could be one of the best players in the state at that position. Center Ben Fowers and offensive lineman Brady Christensen anchor a strong line.
Players to watch • Bountiful will share quarterback duties between Austin Parkinson and Jake Lindsay.
Biggest hole • The defense lacks experience and will need to improve quickly against a tough schedule if Bountiful is to make a run at the league title.
Need to know • Bountiful plays on a field named after its head coach, Larry Wall, who enters his 30th year at the school. "They thought I died one morning, so they prematurely put that up," quipped Wall.
Clearfield alum and former NFL and Utah star Andre Dyson seems to be starting from scratch as he takes over the struggling Falcon program.
The Davis County school was once a top program in the 1990s, winning the 4A state title in 1992 and being relevant when Dyson and his brother Kevin were stars. But it has fallen on hard times in recent years. Last season, the Falcons finished 2-8 overall and 0-6 in Region 6.
"When I was there and my brother was a senior, they took state," recalled Dyson. "Two years later, we were in the semifinals. When I was a senior, we won region. We were good until early in the 2000s. We are trying to bring that back and get these guys back. We have good players who deserve to win games. Hopefully we can do that."
Dyson is installing a new defense and offense. When interviewd in July, he wouldn't name any players or talk about returning starters from last year's squad, and said he hadn't even started putting in a depth chart. He had no idea who the team's starting quarterback would be, but said there was open competition for every position.
"We haven't been in pads," said Dyson. "We have a lot of good kids, but there is not one kid who has stood out."
One of the first-year coach's biggest challenges will be changing what has been a losing culture.
"The biggest thing is the mental part of it and believing in yourself," said Dyson. "Everything is not going to be easy and it's not going to be perfect. Mentally, we need to get over that. At Clearfield, we are supposed to lose, instead of having a positive attitude and thinking we are supposed to win."
Last year • 2-8 overall (0-6 in Region 6)
Key returner • New coach Andre Dyson declined to name any players who might be standouts, simply saying that competition for all positions is wide open, and that he expects to have between 70 and 80 players on the sideline when the varsity season begins.
Player to watch • N/A
Biggest hole • N/A
Need to know • Dyson was an assistant coach at Weber High a year ago, is a Clearfield alum and played in a Super Bowl.
Third-year Cyprus football coach Scott Woolridge has come to love Magna's community spirit and would like nothing better than to reward the old mining community at the base of the Oquirrh Mountains with a winning team.
When the Pirates play, the large "C" at the top of the mountain that overlooks the scenic stadium is lit and can be seen from much of the Salt Lake Valley.
"That community is awesome," said Woolridge, who came to Cyprus from Nampa, Idaho. "When I first got the job, I learned that win, lose or draw, the stands are full all the time. The Fourth of July in Magna is an amazing thing. The town is packed with people. â¦ The kids we have are a tough group of kids who are respectful and reflect that old blue-collar work ethic."
Cyprus, though, plays in rugged Region 6, perhaps Class 4A's most competitive football league. And, in this era of open enrollment, the school has sometimes lost athletes to other schools. For example, Woolridge said the Pirates' starting left tackle from a year ago recently transferred to Skyline.
That said, Woolridge is cautiously optimistic. He has a great all-around player in A.J. Semeatu, a good receiver in tight end Dallas Garreaud, and a solid defensive line. The offensive line, though, could be an issue with only one starter returning.
"Our motto is to compete every day," said Woolridge. "In the classroom, we want our kids to be the best student. We want them to compete in the weight room and out on the field. If you can compete, it gives you an opportunity to win a game."
Last year • 3-7 overall
Key returners • Strong safety and slotback A.J. Semeatu may be the Pirates' most talented all-around athlete.
Players to watch • Tight end Dallas Garreaud, cornerback Andre Orantes, and running back/middle linebacker P.J. Loui should all play big roles.
Biggest hole • The offensive line could be an issue due to inexperience and the transfer of a starter to Skyline.
Need to know • Magna is kind of a community within a community, a distinctive part of western Salt Lake County. The town is noted for supporting its teams no matter their record. And Cyprus' stadium is one of the more enjoyable and scenic places in the state to watch a game.
Since taking over the East football program, Brandon Matich has coached the Leopards to the point where they are all but expected to compete for region and state titles. Last year was a perfect example. The team's only loss came in the state 4A title game against Timpview.
"Our expectation is that success is part of the program," Matich said as he prepared for the coming football season.
That said, the coach readily admits that the team is not as close as it was last year to being a state title threat. But it could be good.
"We've got a talented young squad, but we have guys who have to earn varsity time," said Matich. "We've got a lot of good young talent and some returning starters. But last year we were returning just about everybody."
The coach savors the pressure of being expected to be in the state title mix, saying it's much more fun to face that kind of pressure than it is trying to rebuild a program.
East might also be helped by playing in Region 6, which Matich regards as the toughest league from top to bottom in Utah.
"Look at the success Highland, Bountiful and Woods Cross are having now," he said. "There is a new guy from Idaho at Cyprus, and Andre Dyson is in the mix at Clearfield. I don't know what to expect there. But the first four teams the last four years have been physical, no-nonsense teams that run the option with a downhill running team and beat the hell out of each other."
Last year • 13-1 overall
Key returners • Lorenzo Manu, a first-team all-stater at free safety, will also be the starting quarterback. University of Nevada commit Hausia Sekona returns at defensive tackle. Sione Mafua, who Matich said is the best offensive lineman he's coached at East, returns at center. Middle linebacker Christian Folau has committed to play football at Stanford, and tight end Loa Kafusi has offers from Utah, BYU and Utah State.
Player to watch • Soni Fonua, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound wide receiver, could be a major find.
Biggest hole • East's safeties graduated last year, so Matich needs to find replacements to a key element in the 4-2-5 defense the Leopards run. And the run-oriented team needs to replace its running backs from a year ago.
Need to know • The players who are seniors at East are used to playing on the turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where they have either played in the semifinals or finals during their careers.
Many high school football teams would be thrilled with a 7-4 record and a state tournament appearance.
But, for a Highland team used to winning, last year's first-round state tournament to loss to Sky View was viewed as a disappointing season. After all, it was the first time the Rams were knocked out of the tournament in the first game since 2007.
Veteran coach Brody Benson is optimistic that his 2014 team will be competitive.
"We lost a lot of seniors, and we were pretty talented last year," said Benson. "We didn't reach our expectations on the season. â¦ What we have coming back are a lot of kids really working hard. We've had kids that have taken over that leadership role and are taking it very seriously. Our seniors have a lot of expectations."
Benson said he felt as though the Rams never fully came together as a team last season, finishing third in tough Region 6 behind East and Bountiful.
Highland will be physically smaller this season but, in the triple-option flexbone offense run similar to Air Force and Navy, that could be an advantage.
"I like what we have as far as offensive linemen," said Benson. "They are athletic and fast, two things that help our offense. We don't need a whole lot of size. We were big up front last year but, at times, we weren't that effective in running our offense."
A key could be the play of new quarterback John Hunter, who didn't get a lot of varsity playing time last year.
Benson said he is excited about his team this year, calling the players a bunch of "tough, blue-collar kids. That's what Highland is all about. We have that worker mentality where we go out and wear you down."
Last year • 7-4
Key returners • Brandon Jones, a defensive end who plays wide receiver and tight end on offense. Thomas Penbroke is a fine strong safety and running back.
Biggest holes • The offensive line, which lost four of five starters, in a concern. New quarterback John Hunter is inexperienced. And Stanley Sitani, the team's most experienced fullback, moved to Ohio with his family this summer.
Need to know •Last season was the first time since 2007 that Highland has been eliminated in the first round of the state tournament. Highland's flexbone offense is an option-oriented attack similar to Air Force, Navy and Army.
Second-year Kearns football coach Matt Rickards thinks that teaching life skills along with gridiron basics is the best way to turn around what has traditionally been a struggling program.
He said providing athletes with lessons on such topics as teamwork, discipline, academics, character and toughness can be a big part of establishing a winning program.
"I made it clear to the administration and the community that my goal was to teach kids to have character, responsibility and empathy for others," said Rickards, whose team plays in perhaps Utah's toughest 4A region. "We do some study hall things where we get them in the classroom. Our grades are up [3.2 during football a year ago]. Our team goal is a 3.0. We don't want to be average."
With more than 100 kids out for football, it appears many parents and students are buying into the coach's philosophy. But, on the field, the Cougars are very young and could be a year away from challenging Region 6 powers East, Highland, Bountiful and Woods Cross.
That doesn't mean that Rickards isn't optimistic.
"We're getting better every day," he said. "We have a younger group of kids. We only have one senior returning as a starter. Some young guys will contribute quite a bit. Hopefully, the juniors will step up and take a leadership role. â¦ Our young classes are really talented."
Kearns runs a power offense out of multiple formations, searching for a 50-50 mix of run and pass. The team will rely heavily on receiver and strong safety Sherwin Lavaka, who has been a starter since he was a sophomore, and junior quarterback Bailey Floyd.
Last year • 3-7 overall (2-3 in Region 6)
Key returners • Receiver and safety Sherwin Lavaka has been a starter for the Cougars since he was a sophomore.
Player to watch • Quarterback Bailey Floyd is one of many juniors on the team expected to take a leadership role.
Biggest hole • The Cougars lack experience with only one senior starter returning off last year's team. Coach Matt Rickards is also working on the team's toughness and teamwork.
Need to know • Despite football struggles, Kearns creates a fun atmosphere. Some fans tailgate before games and recent growth in youth football is keeping star players at home and creating interest.
Woods Cross Wildcats
Woods Cross could make a strong case that it was the third-best football team in Class 4A last season. After all, the Wildcats lost only two games, including a semifinal state tournament game against eventual champion Timpview and a Region 2 contest against East, which lost the title game to the Thunderbirds.
If Woods Cross can fill a few offensive holes, it could be a major factor in the championship race again this season.
"We have high hopes," said Justin Spencer, who is beginning his third year as the Wildcats' coach. "We return nine starters on defense and made it to the semifinal round last year. We are hoping to compete at that level, see if we can make some adjustments and make a run at it."
The defense could be among the best in Utah this season. It will be led by Deion Saumalu, who has started for four years and has played on the defensive line, linebacker and even some safety. Defensive lineman Mason Newton is another four-year starter.
The big question is offense.
Spencer said Woods Cross will be trying to add some new wrinkles to its spread offense. But the team is inexperienced on that side of the ball, is breaking in a new quarterback and has yet to develop much depth.
Running backs Masi Giles and Braxton Gunther could help the offensive situation.
"We are evolving in our scheme and replacing a lot of key kids who played offensively last year," said Spencer.
Spencer said that playing in one of the state's most challenging Class 4A leagues is a positive.
"I love that we go through a gauntlet of teams in the season," he said. "It is making us better."
Last year • 11-2 overall
Key returners • Defensive star Deion Saumalu, a four-year starter, is back, as is Mason Newton, another four-year starter.
Player to watch • Masi Giles, who played defensive end last year, will be seeing more time at running back. Look to junior Braxton Gunther to get some quality carries as well,
Biggest hole • The team is inexperienced on offense, where it will be using a new quarterback and lacks depth.
Need to know • Woods Cross lost only two games in 2013, to Class 4A champion Timpview and runner-up East.
By Tom Wharton
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