Prep football: 3AA South preview
After finishing fifth in the tough 3AA South last year behind four Washington County schools, Cedar City enters this season determined to make a move up.
With experienced players such as three-year starters Austin Obering, Bracken Lewis and Dallin Brooks, the Iron County school could be ready to challenge.
"We are hoping and expecting to have a very good year," said coach Todd Peacock. "Our strengths are speed and experience. We are in a very tough region, but we feel like we can compete with all the other great teams."
Cedar City finished 5-7 a year ago and lost in the first round of the state tournament.
Jeff Rogers, a senior who is the team's kicker, wide receiver and free safety, is the team's big-play threat this year. Brock Oldroyd, a junior fullback who played fullback as a soph before breaking his ankle, could give Cedar a boost as well.
"My biggest concern is that we don't have a lot of depth, especially with our linemen," said Peacock.
"A few injuries could really hurt our season."
Last year • 5-7 (lost in first round of state)
Key returners • Three-year starters Austin Obering, Brecken Lewis and Dallin Brooks should give Cedar City experienced leadership.
Player to watch • Sophomore quarterback Mason Fakahua, who has good size and speed, could add an important dimension this season.
Biggest hole • Depth, especially on the line, could be a problem.
Need to know • Cedar plays in tough 3AA South, which sent three teams to the state semifinals a year ago.
Desert Hills Thunder
Ever since Desert Hills opened its doors in 2008, the Thunder have been a fixture in the state playoffs. The Thunder have accomplished this with hard work and discipline. They are fast and physical on offense and defense. They don't always put up big numbers, but they usually find a way to get the job done.
After losing a good amount of impact players from last year's 3AA championship team, the Thunder will look to repeat by relying on everyone, not just a couple stars.
"It takes all 11 guys doing their job at all times, and that's what's so great about our team and the kids that have come through," Thunder coach Carl Franke said. "They're really supportive of each other and they know they're only as good as their weakest link."
Placing a heavy emphasis on the team as a whole is nothing new to Desert Hills, They are still a young school, but they have done their best to ingrain a "family" theme into their culture.
That being said, they still have plenty of star power with Gabe and Boogie Sewell, Bridger and Tucker Cowdin, Nick Warmsley, and Justice Alo. Their biggest question will be at the defensive end position.
Franke's guys are so focused, he says, they have long since on from last year's championship.
"We know how difficult it is to get to a championship game nonetheless win one but our kids â¦ when February came around and the weight room started to open up again," he said, "that's when the kids started to forget about [last season]."
Last year • 11-2 (3AA state champions)
Key returner • Gabe Sewell is described by many as the heart and soul of the Thunder. Not only is he a big-time playmaker, he is the team's emotional leader.
Player to watch • Nephi Sewell Gabe's younger brother is only a sophomore, but he will be a starter and someone that Franke believes will be a force to be reckoned with.
Biggest hole • Brock Doman solidified the defensive line as a three-year starter. Now his position is a question mark the team is hoping gets answered, fast.
Need to know • Six years may be a short time, but Desert Hills has never missed the playoffs.
The Dixie Flyers just graduated a senior class that had a lot of experience and a lot of success. The 2014 squad may be short on starting experience, but that is through no fault of their own they were just stuck behind really good upperclassmen.
Like any of the smaller schools, depth is an issue, so injuries must be avoided. However, because a winning foundation has been set, what those coming up through the program lack in experience, they make up for with a winning mindset.
The Flyers recently competed in 7-on-7s as well as a camp at Southern Utah, so according to coach Blaine Moncres, they have seen first-hand the level of competition they will be up against.
"They know now what it takes," he said. "They're working hard to be strong, physical, and mentally tough enough to play at the varsity level."
With some key returners back on offense, the most pressing need to take care of will be on the defense.
"Our defense is going to have to come along quick," Moncres said. "We lost a lot of starters there. We've got some guys returning in the secondary that are good players, that played for us last year, but we lost all seven up front. So we're going to have to fill those shoes."
Despite their lack of starting experience, the senior-laden Flyers are ready to show that they have waited their turn and learned from some of the best. "I think they're kind of excited and looking forward to showing people what they can do," Moncres said.
Last year • 9-3
Key returner • Returning starting quarterback, Ammon Takau, has had a promising summer as he looks to build off a solid junior season.
Player to watch • Four-year starter Jaxon Davis is not a big kid, but he gets the job done and is a stabilizing force on the offensive line.
Biggest hole • Dixie has a big void on defense, with last year's entire front seven gone. Former middle linebacker Taylor Strehlow perhaps will be missed most.
Need to know • The Flyers return a senior-laden team that does not have a lot of starting experience. However, they are not short on talent.
If it's not broke, don't fix it. While the Hurricane Tigers had a disappointing season in 2013, the program is built for winning. At season's end, coach Chris Homer stepped down, but the Tigers believe they already had the right replacement on their staff, 14-year offensive coordinator Steve Pearson.
While it was difficult to see his longtime friend step down, Pearson is excited for what lies ahead.
"It's really neat," he said. "We've got a great program here, we've got a great staff, and we've been together a long time. When coach Homer made the transition over to administration, that was a really tough time because we're certainly going to miss him."
With continuity on the staff and a solid core of players returning, Hurricane will look to return to its winning ways by being physical and wearing teams down. So just what does that mean?
"I like to tease around and tell people, 'Well now we're going to go with 10 wide receivers and the quarterback's going to snap the ball to himself.' People love to say, 'Well, they only throw the ball like five times a game,' so I tell them we're going to throw it 65 times," Pearson joked.
In reality, he knows what has laid the foundation for the team's past success.
"We're going to carry on with what we've been doing," he said. "We feel comfortable with it, we feel confident in it, and we think our body of work kind of speaks for itself."
Last year • 2-10
Key returner • Highly touted linebacker Jeremiah Ieremia is fast, agile, and extremely strong. He is a talent that comes around only once in a while for a small school like Hurricane.
Player to watch • Despite a heavy rotation due to the wing-T offense, Tyson Yardley is expected to have a breakout year.
Biggest hole • Due to the fast pace of Hurricane's offense, the depth at tackle will always be a big hole to fill.
Need to know • More than half of the kids on both side of the ball are three-sport athletes.
The 2013 season did not go quite as the Payson Lions expected, but that's football. You need health and a lucky bounce every now and then. The game is often won or lost by the slimmest of margins, and Payson coach Jeremy Chapman is optimistic that luck will now be on their side.
"I knew last year we're on a razor's edge every single game, whether we could win it or lose it," Chapman said. "There was only one game we struggled offensively last year, and the other games, we had our chances we just fell short."
The key to the season will be staying healthy. Last year, the team was banged up. So the players put in extra effort in the weight room this offseason. Chapman is preparing his guys for being in hard-fought games, but he hopes their hard work in the offseason will change their fortunes.
"This year, it's the same thing," he said. "It's a razor's edge, and I'm hoping the experience we had last year gets us over the edge this year, where we fall on the right side of that razor and get some W's this year."
The Lions return a senior-heavy roster and, Chapman says, they're just football players.
"They love the game, they love the work that goes into it, and they love to compete," he said. "I'm excited to watched the kids play and finish up their high school career because they're great kids and fun to coach."
Last year • 1-9
Key returner • Payson returns its starting quarterback, Easton Smith, who looks to build off of a strong junior season.
Player to watch • Tight end Dalton Baker spent a lot of 2013 hurt, but that did not keep the Utah State Aggies from offering him a scholarship which he accepted.
Biggest hole • The Lions will be replacing all five of their starting offensive linemen from a season ago, leaving a gaping hole to fill.
Need to know • Payson will look to snap a nine-game losing streak when it faces Provo on Aug. 22 the lone team it beat in 2013.
Pine View Panthers
Pine View may be the best Utah high school football team over the past 14 years that has never won a state championship.
Veteran coach Ray Hosner always has his Panthers in contention. He has lost four times in the state championship game, including to Desert Hills last season on the final play of the game. Pine View has lost to powers such as Timpiew, Riley Nelson-led Logan, Cottonwood, Bear River and Highland while making deep runs in the state tournament.
With one of the best quarterbacks in the state in Kody Wilstead and a number of veterans returning from that runner-up team from a year ago, optimism at Pine View is high.
The 6-foot-6 Wilstead has committed to play for BYU and has been tutored by former Cougar and Pine View quarterback James Lark.
Players such as wingback Bladen Hosner, receivers Colton Miller, Gage Afatasi and Blake Ence, linemen Harrison Gobel who has an offer to play at Colorado and Raymond Fiame and defenders Dillan Robertson, Tyler Heaton, Mike Long, Drew Hansen, Brooks Barney, Pioneer Asaasa and Christian Braaten, Pine View has a veteran team that should challenge for the title.
In fact, Hosner's team looks so good that he couldn't find a third team to join Lehi and Judge in playing Pine View this preseason.
"I have to be honest," said the veteran coach, "every group of seniors is different. If these guys come together and do the things they are capable of doing, they should be fun to watch."
One of the reasons is that Pine View likes to throw the ball a lot out of a spread offense. When Wilstead gets a hot hand, the Panthers can be difficult to stop.
Pine View was one of the first Washington County schools to get artificial turf, and the original field has worn out, so the Panthers will be playing on new turf this season.
Last year • 9-3 overall (5-1 in Region 9; lost in 3AA championship game)
Key returner • Quarterback Kody Wilstead, who has committed to BYU, is one of the state's best quarterbacks.
Player to watch • In the tough Region 9, many games will be close. Veteran kicker Ethan Baer may be called upon to win a few games.
Biggest hole • Finding the mental toughness to finally win a state championship for Hosner might be the biggest obstacle this talented team has to overcome.
Need to know • Scott Anderson, Pine View's offensive coordinator, is the artistic director at nearby Tuacahn Center for the Arts, where he directed The Little Mermaid this year.
Snow Canyon Warriors
The Snow Canyon Warriors had a taste of success last year, with a senior-laden team. Now in 2014, they are back for more. While their team may be younger, they do not lack experience.
"We had a good summer," coach Marcu Matua said. "It's just a matter of right now understanding our schemes and what we want to accomplish. We have a good team, we have an opportunity to be a great team, and I believe our boys have bought into our philosophies and our systems to make sure we can be a good team.
The team is showing good chemistry and they are a tight-knit group. Matua asks his players to live by the acronym W.A.R.R.I.O.R. (Will, Attitude & Accountability, Responsibility, Respect, Integrity & Inspire, Overcoming obstacles, Resiliency, Service & Success), which he believes has made them grow stronger as a unit.
With a solid foundation and a winning mindset in place, Snow Canyon will look to improve off of its successful 2013 season.
"For the season to be a success, it's just making sure every aspect of the game, we're a lot better," Matua said. "I mean, in regards to wins and losses, obviously we want more wins than losses, but â¦ I think for us to be successful, the gauge would be to make sure we're top three in our region. We want another home game here, in the playoffs."
Last year • 7-4
Key returner • Last year's leading tackler, Brady Sargent, is the heart and soul of Snow Canyon's defense.
Players to watch • Quarterback Jacob Frei and tight end Chance Thorkelson have great chemistry on the field and should connect often.
Biggest hole • The Warriors are searching for a capable defensive tackle, after a kid they expected to slot in there transferred from their program.
Need to know • Snow Canyon made the playoffs last season for the first time in seven years.