Prep football: Region 4 preview
American Fork Cavemen
The American Fork Cavemen have been waiting for this season for a long time: "This group has been very successful for a lot of years," coach Aaron Behm said. "So they expect to be successful, this being their senior year."
Armed with star players James Empey, Zach Katoa, and Nate Heaps who all won All-Poly MVP awards this summer the Cavemen could be a force to be reckoned with in 2014.
"We've got some great athletes coming back, some that have contributed at the varsity level for two years, so this will be their third," Behm said. "We have a great group of core guys returning that are very talented, and we also feel like we have a good supporting cast around those guys who can make us a really tough football team this fall."
The Cavemen reside in a stacked Region 4, and despite not winning the region in 2013, many coaches see them as a threat in 5A. They will find out just how good of a team they might have, starting the first game of the season as they the talent-laden Brighton Bengals.
"I think it sets a bar," Behm said. "We know where we're up against one of the best teams in the state. It helps identify the things that we're going to need to do to be successful."
Last year • 6-4 (3-3 in Region 4)
Key returner • Zach Katoa is a multi-faceted running back that goes is going into his third season being the Cavemen's lead back.
Player to watch • The strong-armed Tanner Smith started is back at quarterback for his junior season and he's armed with solid playmakers around him.
Biggest hole • The most trusted members of the secondary safety Jonah Trinnaman and cornerback Jade Luker are gone, leaving a young group needing to step up.
Need to know • In 2013, Region 4 finished in a four-way tie, at 4-2. The Cavemen beat two of the top teams, but finished 3-3.
Coming off of a .500 season in 2013, hopes are high for the Herriman Mustangs. It is Year 5 of the school now, and coach Dustin Pearce believes they are close to being a consistent contender.
"I feel like if we stay healthy and camp continues to go as it has, we're going to be in good position to control our own destiny," he said.
The Mustangs will boast one of the best players in the state, in Andre James a dependable anchor for their offensive line.
"It makes coaching real easy when you have good players like Andre," Pearce said. "You know, there's no secret to that."
Rather than make a bold statement, Pearce chooses to let his team's play do the talking as they take the season one game at a time and he hopes it leads to a region championship. "I'm not a guy with a lot of words, man," he said. "I let my team speak for itself. We're just going to come out and compete and put the best players on the field to represent our high school and our community."
While Pearce might not be one for many words, optimism is high for the Mustangs.
"We think we're on track to being a very competitive football team," he said.
Last year • 6-6
Key returner • Andre James is a three-year starter on the offensive line and recently committed to play for Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins.
Player to watch • Kody Jarvis is a three-year starter and a valuable piece to the Mustangs' secondary.
Biggest hole • Herriman will look to find a dependable running back for the 2014 season.
Need to know • The Mustangs return eight starters on the offense and five guys on the defense.
After moving over from Timpanogos, new Lehi coach, Ed Larson is up for the challenge of building up a program and sustaining it. Last year's Pioneers squad finished at .500, so the potential is there. Now, Larson will look to create a culture that prepares his guys to win at anything they do.
"I came in and I challenged the seniors, I challenged the juniors to be prepared to win," Larson said. "That means that they have to prepare to win in everything up to the game, and then when the game starts, prepare to win there."
The foundation that Larson and his seniors are looking to set will not just happen. Therefore, this year's senior class will need to instill that mentality by being good examples to the underclassmen.
"We're going to try and set a culture where there's an expectation of work, commitment, and concentration," Larson said. "These seniors have to set that [foundation] and then transfer it down. The programs that win consistently in the state, they set that culture."
Building a program can take some time, but the Pioneers will continue to be the same. They will expect to win.
"The beautiful thing about athletics is, you have to play the game, so on paper, people are going to say, 'Aw, you guys don't have a shot,' but you've got to play the games," Larson said. "We're going to try and instill that positive attitude and let them understand that a lot of this game in high school is mental."
Last year • 5-5
Key returner • Kaden Calton, one of the state's leading rushers from 2013.
Player to watch • Brackin Stringgam. A solid athlete, he's expect to be a big contributor on the offensive line, while occasionally playing on the defensive line.
Biggest hole • The Pioneers lost nearly their entire defensive line from a year ago, which was a strength of last year's squad.
Need to know • From 2008-2012, the Pioneers won six games. Last year they won five and a good core from that team is returning.
Lone Peak Knights
One year after finishing in a tie for the Region 4 championship, the Lone Peak Knights find themselves returning only one part-time starter, TE/DE David Flake. While there is a lot to be sorted out by Knights coach Mike Mower and his staff, optimism still surrounds their proud program.
"We've got a lot of work to do," coach Mower said. "We're just trying to keep things simple and execute well. I'm excited though our excitement level is really high and we've got some really good skill kids."
Priority number one will be to find their starting signal-caller in what appears to be a three-man race. In past years, the Lone Peak offense has relied heavily on its quarterbacks' running ability, but this year looks to be different. "I think the key for us is to get the running game going with the running backs," Mower said. "We've got some good ones."
With such a young and inexperienced team, there will be no lofty goals, although they expect to keep building off of their tradition. Instead, the Knights will attack their season with a week-to-week and practice-to-practice approach.
"We're young, but we're very optimistic about our capabilities," Mower said.
Last year • 8-5
Key returner • David Flake will be looked upon to provide leadership as everyone else will be starting on varsity for their first time.
Player to watch • Sophomore running back Jackson McChesney will have to fight for playing time against two seniors, but he'll be too talented to keep off the field.
Biggest hole • Dual-threat quarterback Baron Gajkowski has graduated, and no matter which quarterback steps up, it will be hard to replace his throwing and running ability.
Need to know • With the quarterback race wide open, another Hansen will look to stake his claim to the position, with the possibility to lead the team for the next three years.
Pleasant Grove Vikings
Pleasant Grove will hit the gridiron this year with a young team, noteworthy for its strong junior group. One year after finishing in a four-way tie for the Region 4 title, the Vikings will be looking to take that next step.
"Each year that I've been here at Pleasant Grove, we've tried to improve on the season before," coach Les Hamilton said.
This year the Vikings will look to win their region once again and host a home playoff game. Due to the 2013 tiebreaker, the Vikings found themselves on the road.
Despite being young, they will have several starters returning. Six of the 2013 starters were sophomores. "We're going to be very young this year with a lot of juniors, sophomores, and possibly even a freshman starting for us," Hamilton said. "It's kind of tough. We want to take the next step forward for us, which is to win our conference and to get home playoff games."
When the season kicks off, Pleasant Grove will open on the road against a familiar foe, the Alta Hawks.
"It's an emotional game for me, obviously going back," said Hamilton, a former Alta coach. "I spent six seasons up there and won a couple state championships, so to go back to my old school, it's going to be emotional."
As they take the field, one of their top goals will be to improve defensive efficiency after allowing 25 points per game in 2013.
Last year • 9-3
Key returner • Demetrius Davis is a soon-to-be three-year starter, who will be anchoring the Vikings' line as he moves over to tackle for his senior season.
Players to watch • Junior Jacob Doman is Pleasant Grove's playmaker on both offense and defense. He'll start at both receiver and cornerback. Linebacker Dallin Pili is also expected to contend for all-state honors.
Biggest hole • The Vikings will have to find a replacement for all-stater Jeremiah Evans, who threw for over 2,500 yards in 2013.
Need to know • The Vikings are expected to be good in 2014, but they're also expected to start 16 to 17 underclassmen.
The good news for the Riverton Silverwolves they return all six running backs that they rotate in their successful wing-T system. The bad news they need to revamp their offensive line.
Regardless of how depleted they are in the trenches, though, coach Mike Miller has high hopes for his team. "They're a great group of young men," he said. "They work so hard and they're extremely competitive. They've been a fun group to coach, so going into region, my expectations are actually quite high although I feel like we still have a lot of work [ahead of us]."
Once again, Region 4 will be one of the most hotly contested in the state, but the Silverwolves' key to winning should lie with their skill players.
"I think our region is one of the toughest in the state," Miller said. "We're a great group of young men who [just] play together, and we've got speed, so we've got to utilize our speed if we're going to be successful."
Miller has a unique take on what would make for a satisfying season: "Their success, to me, will be if they play above and beyond their capabilities, stay together and stay unified as a group," he said.
If Riverton can do that, Miller said, all the other accolades will follow.
Last year • 8-3
Key returner • A starter since his sophomore year, running back Cam Christensen will be looked at as a focal point in the Silverwolves' vaunted wing-T attack.
Player to watch • Cayden Jones will be another talented athlete to watch coming out of the backfield for Riverton.
Biggest hole • The Silverwolves' offensive line returns just one starter and only one other player with varsity experience.
Need to know • Riverton won the Dixie State camp over the summer, where it faced off against some talent schools fro the Las Vegas area.
Westlake is still a relatively new school, so the transition to being competitive in football is not that easy. Combine that with being moved to 5A last year the first year for coach Steve Clements and becoming a threat is going to take some time.
The good news the Thunder graduated only 16 seniors last year and they will take the field with 32 this year.
"We're 10 times ahead of where we were last year as far as knowledge of myself, my system, knowledge of the offense, knowledge of the defense, and special teams," Clements said.
While the lack of seniors hurt last year, it did allow the Thunder to give younger players some on-field experience, which will help this year.
"Although we have some young kids in certain positions, we're more of a veteran team," Clements said.
The coach knows there will still be struggles, but chooses to look on the positive side of things. Like everyone else, he wants to win, but just seeing his program progress is a win in his eyes.
"We don't look at wins and losses because we're in the second year of our infancy, and I really think that we kind of started from scratch," he explained. "Actually, even below scratch last year, when I came in [and] making that jump to 5A."
Whether it is one to two years, or if they surprise their Region 4 foes with their young talent in 2014, the depth in order to be constant winners is almost in place for the Thunder program.
Last year • 3-6
Key returner • Chaz Ah You started at free safety as a freshman in 2013. In 2014, he'll see at least some reps at quarterback, still play defense, and return kicks.
Player to watch • 6-foot-7 wide receiver Braden Holker is a star basketball player for Westlake, but this year, he'll add football to his rÃ©sumÃ©.
Biggest hole • The Thunder's defensive line was inexperienced already last year, and this year's team returns only one of those starters.
Need to know • A 5A school with 4A numbers, the Thunder say they're getting closer to establishing sufficient depth.
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