Prep football: Region 8 preview

Published August 21, 2014 1:05 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Maple Mountain Golden Eagles

There's little doubt the Maple Mountain offense will be true to its mascot this season.

These Golden Eagles will take to the air.

With so much talent returning at the skill positions — specifically quarterback and receiver — it would be foolish to consider any other plan of attack.

"The goal is to always be balanced, but clearly our strength is going to be our passing game," Maple Mountain coach Brad Burtenshaw said.

That's because junior Jaren Hall is back under center, after throwing for nearly 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago.

Hall's added almost 20 pounds since then, which will make him more difficult to drag down, but it's his confidence and experience that should hurt opponents most.

"He had offers from BYU and Utah during summer camps," Burtenshaw said. "The jump he'll make will come from being physically stronger, but also the confidence he has after being the starter all last year."

The Golden Eagles also return receivers Jake Dixon (four TDs) and Jake Mafi (five TDs) as well as top running back Cole Casper (600 yards, five TDs).

Clear the air space in Spanish Fork.

Last year • 3-7

Key returner • Quarterback Jaren Hall is just a junior, but he threw for 16 TDs and almost 1,400 yards last season.

Player to watch • Senior Jake Dixon plays on both sides of the ball — on offense, as a top receiving target for Hall, and on defense as a ballhawking defensive back.

Biggest hole • Gotta be the defensive line, where only senior Mitch Holmes returns to the starting front.

Need to know • The Golden Eagles failed to make the playoffs last season for just the second time in five years of existence.

Provo Bulldogs

The cupboard certainly wasn't as bare as maybe the record indicated when Tony McGeary took over as the head coach at Provo.

The program that has won just one game in the past two seasons returns speed, size and a fair amount of experience in 2014.

McGeary will look to build up the rest and thinks a .500 season is a possibility.

"I'm optimistic," said McGeary, who coached Lone Peak to the 2011 state title. "I haven't put an emphasis on winning. But if we can develop some toughness, the wins will come.

"I'm personally shooting to be .500 or better."

Toughness will be the key. The Bulldogs struggled on defense and allowed more than 40 points per game in 2013.

"We're going to put the 'P' back in Provo … and that stands for Physical," McGeary said.

The addition of safety Kyle Unga, a senior transfer from Trinity, Texas, and defensive lineman Connor O'Neil will help. Junior Mike Maio returns at linebacker and sophomore lineman Chandler Mitchell will be counted on as well in defensive coordinator Saia Pope.

Still, the Bulldogs have some rebuilding to do. McGeary said the program has nearly doubled the total number of players, and the varsity roster is near 50 — about a 20-percent increase over a season ago.

In numbers, they hope, comes excitement. And, eventually, results.

Last year • 1-9

Key returner • Junior quarterback Viliami Iongi showed well in 7-on-7 tournaments in the spring and has taken quickly to the new offense.

Players to watch • On offense, it'll be returning wideouts Chase Heiner and Brayden Hinckley. On defense, it's newcomer Connor O'Neil, the basketball team's starting center, on the line, and safety Kyle Unga, a transfer from Trinity, Texas.

Biggest hole • Physicality on defense. Scoring points hasn't been a problem for the Bulldogs, but keeping teams out of the end zone sure has been.

Need to know • Provo hasn't played a first-round playoff game since 2009, and hasn't won a postseason game since 2006.

Salem Hills Skyhawks

Everyone from head coach to waterboy is expecting Salem Hills to turn in its best season ever.

No pressure, really.

"Our goal is to be the best team in school history," coach Joel Higginson said. "Our mentality has shifted and guys have a high level of belief. That will help us be a better team than last year."

All the Skyhawks did last year was win eight games — the most in the school's six-year history. But with eight or nine starters back on each side of the ball, the bar is being raised to new heights.

Staying injury-free will be the key. Senior quarterback/linebacker Porter Gustin didn't take snaps during the second half of the 2013 season because of a broken thumb. If he stays healthy, he will be one of the top players in Class 4A, if not the state.

He threw for 13 TDs and just three interceptions as a junior, and Higginson said his velocity has increased and he has developed touch on his passes heading into his second season at the marquee position.

To whom Gustin will throw has yet to be determined. The Skyhawks graduated their top five receivers from 2013 and have four starting wideout spots to fill. Two of those likely will be seniors Chad Peterson and Nate Wilson, both of whom have also played quarterback in the past.

If they can catch it, the Skyhawks might be tough to catch in Region 8.

Last year • 8-4

Key returner • Porter Gustin is going to be a load to bring down at quarterback, and a force at middle linebacker.

Player to watch • Nose guard Jaxon Bowden is bigger and stronger as a senior. He had 6.5 sacks and 73 tackles a season ago.

Biggest hole • The loss of the top five receivers from 2013 is the only real weakness in the starting lineup.

Need to know • Chad Peterson, who started six games at quarterback last season after Gustin broke his thumb, is moving to wide receiver to catch passes from Gustin this year.

Spanish Fork Dons

This is the year. This should be the year. Could this be the year?

There's an air of cautious optimism at Spanish Fork's football camp, and for good reason. The Dons are loaded with senior experience and return their top performers on both sides of the ball.

"We're apprehensive, excited and confident," said Spanish Fork coach Kirk Chambers, whose senior class will push 30 members. "We're a lot like every team at this time of year. We have some young players we are going to need to step up."

The offense returns a slew of talent, starting with quarterback Jason Money, who amassed 3,000 yards and accounted for 24 touchdowns last season. Also back on offense are top rusher Taylor Noles, top receiver Joey Anderson, top tight end Ryan Golish.

Defensive end John Leilua and linebacker Heber Shepherd are among the five returning defensive starters.

There are holes to fill on the line of scrimmage, but the addition of junior Solofa Funa from Southern California, and the emergence of 6-foot-4 junior Tanner Parker will help.

"He fell into our lap," Chambers said of Funa, a 230-pound defensive end who has received interest from BYU. "Our defensive ends are going to wreak havoc on teams this season. But we are looking at everyone — from freshmen to seniors — to fill the spots on the line."

Last year • 5-6

Key returner • Senior quarterback Jason Money has accounted for more than 3,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.

Player to watch • Junior defensive end Solofa Funa (6-foot-3, 230) moved to Utah after playing at Servite High School in Fullerton, Calif.

Biggest hole • Funa and senior John Leilua bookend the defensive line, but the Dons need others to emerge as starters along both the offensive and defensive line.

Need to know • Spanish Fork has finished .500 or better in the regular season in each of the past 11 seasons.

Springville Red Devils

With age doesn't necessarily come experience.

Case in point: the Springville Red Devils, who have a senior class nearing 40 members, but lost nearly every top producer on both sides of the ball.

Quite the conundrum for a team that has proven in recent years that a fast start is critical to a successful season.

"We've got a lot of good kids who didn't get a lot of experience last year," Springville coach Willy Child said. "We've got some nice guys at receiver, quarterback and running back."

A fast start is key for Springville; the Red Devils began 4-0 last year and made the playoffs, after starting each of the previous two seasons 0-6.

Seniors Brayden Swanson and Thomas Slack return on the line, as does defensive end/tight end Leni Neiufi.

"But we're excited about our offensive line," Child said. "We'll be able to block up front, and let everything else take care of itself."

The Red Devils return just one other starter on offense, and are still searching for a starting quarterback.

Child said it's a competition between senior Zach Gordon, who "makes plays with his athletic ability," and junior Tristan Swensen, who transferred from Salem Hills. Each threw just one pass last season.

Last year • 7-4

Key returner • It's all about the big boys up front — seniors Leni Neifui, Brayden Swanson and Thomas Slack play both ways on the line, which should be a strength for the Red Devils.

Player to watch • Garrett Clark (WR, CB) and Jackson Stepp (RB, LB) combined for just six touches last year, but the departure of so many top performers at the skill positions create an opportunity for the two-way seniors.

Biggest hole • With last year's top passer, rusher and receiver all graduated, the Red Devils need to find new big-play threats.

Need to know • Springville's first three opponents (Dixie, Corner Canyon and Stansbury) finished first or second in their respective divisions last season and combined for 22 wins.

Timpview Thunderbirds

Timpview coach Cary Whittingham isn't looking for sympathy when he talks about how many starting position he needs to fill.

It's a good thing, because the coach of the two-time defending Class 4A state champions isn't likely to find any from opposing teams.

The Thunderbirds return just four starters, including three on the defensive side. But Whittingham is the first to admit that the one returner on offense — quarterback Britain Covey — in many ways counts as more than just one starter.

"Covey's worth several returning starters," Whittingham said with a smile. "So that's good."

It's more than good. Covey accounted for more than 3,000 yards through the air and on the ground last season. Whittingham said he'd like to lighten the senior's load, but so much of it is impromptu play.

"We're going to try not to run him, because we know with the ability he has he's going to pull that ball down and run without his number even being called," Whittingham said.

The defense returns three starters — one at each level. Defensive end Gabe Reid had 17 sacks last season, and will be back in front of linebacker Kainoa Tuua and defensive back Isaiah Holloway.

Timpview is favored to win its third consecutive state title, a feat only 15 teams have ever done, including the 2006-09 Thunderbirds.

Last year • 13-1

Key returner • Gotta be quarterback Britain Covey, who accounted for 44 touchdowns last season.

Players to watch • Senior Tristan Bradley and junior Asten Aspinall will carry the load at running back.

Biggest hole • Timpview lost a ton of talent on the defensive line, and needs to find quality starters to push alongside Gabe Reid.

Need to know • The Thunderbirds have won 22 of their past 23 games, but open with a tough test Aug. 22 at Sky View.

Wasatch Wasps

Get bigger. Get stronger.

Wasatch appears to have done just that in the offseason, hitting the weights hard so the Wasps can hit opponents even harder.

It's been coach Steve Coburn's goal for three years and he believes the added bulk will pay dividends this season.

"We're starting to see the results of our offseason strength program," Coburn said. "We're a lot stronger than we have been the past couple of years."

It's true all over the field. Up front, junior Ben Bos has added more than 30 pounds. At wideout, Carson Law is bigger and stronger than a season ago. Same is true for linebacker Tate Cloward.

Will bigger mean better? The Wasps hope so, after failing to make the postseason last year for the first time after 12 consecutive appearances.

Having junior quarterback Garrett Davis back is a good start. He started the final four games in 2013 after senior starter Zack Reiss went down to injury.

That experience should help the Wasps right from the start in 2014.

"We get to start where we left off," Coburn said. "Garrett was close with Zack last year, and we rotated him in the preseason. When Zack went down, Garrett was ready. That experience is very valuable."

Last year • 4-6

Key returner • Senior receiver Carson Law is a three-sport star who is bigger and stronger than a season ago. "We can't cover him in practice," coach Steve Coburn said.

Player to watch • Junior OL/DL Ben Bos has added more than 30 pounds of muscle and now tips the scales close to 250.

Biggest hole • Running back may be by committee, led by juniors Matt Tate and Hunter Pella.

Need to know • Junior kicker Skyler Southam has committed to BYU and is considered one of the top kicking prospects in the nation.

By Jon Clifford



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