Prep football: 2A North preview

Published August 21, 2014 1:05 pm
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American Leadership Academy Eagles

American Leadership Academy has never won more than three games in a season.

It's a fact, but not one that haunts new coach Billy Nixon. It's a hurdle that Nixon is ready to take the Eagles over and he feels that ALA has nothing but potential this season.

"Everything is coming together. We're hoping to win at least six games this year," Nixon said. "We have great players, coaching staff — if we don't have a winning record, we definitely fell short."

Senior Hunter Smith will be under center. Forced to sit out last year after breaking his hand during the summer, Smith is chomping at the bit to air out the ball in the new Eagles' offense. Nixon said that Smith has the strongest arm on the team and can connect with ALA's high-flying slot receivers, Taylor Negus and Dallon Short.

"He might have the best arm in 2A football," Nixon said. "With targets like Taylor and Dallon, Hunter is going have a good season."

Junior Negus is described as having a college-ready body at 6-foot-3 with good hands and natural power. Short has filled in at running back during scrimmages between Tooele and Salem Hills.

Nixon's only concern this year is on the defensive side of the ball. Lacking senior leadership, he'll be leaning on freshmen Jackson Shockley and Owen Huff to anchor the linebacking corps.

"We definitely have some freshmen that like to hit," Nixon said. "We should be able to put this together."

Last year • 3-7

Key returner • Quarterback Hunter Smith is taking his first high school snap this year. With a strong arm and good leadership, Nixon expects Smith to put up big points for ALA.

Player to watch • Wide receiver Taylor Negus is a big strong slot receiver with good hands. Negus was described as a quarterback's best friend in making good catches and getting yards after catch.

Biggest hole • Senior leadership on defense. With only one senior returning, Nixon is relying on hard-hitting freshmen Jackson Shockley and Owen Huff to handle defensive responsibilities.

Need to know • ALA has never won more than three games in a season. Nixon said there is talent both on and off the field that can make for a winning season for the Eagles.

Gunnison Bulldogs

When Gunnison's Hunter Whitney steps under center, the junior won't be worried about how his O-line will be defending him — they were there all last season. Where most 2A football programs struggle with maintaining players, the Bulldogs are returning Jaden Lyons, McCoy Roberts Morgan "Chippy" Harris and Braden Burrell.

"We're real happy about our line," defensive coordinator Trent Halliday said. "These guys work hard to provide protection, and have an excellent work ethic."

Halliday is expecting a breakout season from Whitney. While he didn't start last year, he took enough snaps to be ready for varsity. Halliday compliments his leadership, toughness and being a true pass first, run second leader.

"Hunter is smart, tough and a good leader," Halliday said. "The kids really got behind him with his attitude and example.

Defensively, corner Austin Francis and linebacker McCade Cobbs are expected to make big plays in the backfield. With new defensive schemes being implemented, Halliday trusts Francis and Cobbs to execute and lead the Bulldogs.

"They work really well with each other — hitting hard and flying throughout the field," Halliday said.

Losing in the quarterfinals of the 2A tournament, Halliday said the team is ready to give some payback with some games they should have won and they're working hard in the preseason to be ready.

"We're looking forward to getting revenge on some games that slipped away, • Halliday said. "Everyone is looking forward to this season."

Gunnison travels to South South on Aug. 22 to open the season.

Last year • 4-7

Key returners • Jaden Lyons, McCoy Roberts, Morgan Harris and Braden Burrell are all returning from last year's offensive line. Strength and chemistry will help protect QB Hunter Whitney.

Player to watch • McCade Cobbs will be leading the defense at middle linebacker and starting at running back.

Biggest hole • Depth and health. Keeping players injury-free is a top priority.

Need to know • Last year's defensive coordinator, Trent Halliday, is applying for the head coaching position.

Layton Christian Eagles

Doyle Holt preaches the same message the first day of camp at Layton Christian: great players make the people around them better — go make your teammates better. Holt thinks this year's Eagles squad has the capacity to make everyone look good.

Stability in the quarterback slot is key for the Eagles. Junior Grayson Jackson returns under center, providing the necessary experience to execute the offense and lead his teammates. Holt praised Jackson for grasping the offense and being able to execute it on the field.

"He knows the routines and the intricacies for the whole team," Holt said. "He's ready to have a big year."

Layton Christian will have running back by committee, but the fullback slot is filled. Markiece Gross-Gibson lead 2A last year in the fullback spot, and the hard-nosed runner is expected to have another big year. Holt said Gross-Gibson's toughness earned every one of those 600-plus yards considering Layton Christian only runs three plays through him.

"He's a special kid — a real Friday night lighter," Holt said. "People have to make schemes to try and stop him."

The offensive line is returning three of five starters.

Defensively, shutdown corner Brock Rawlings is a four-year starter. With excellent speed and coverage, Rawlings also returns kickoffs.

"A real tough kid. He has a sense of senior leadership that feeds the other boys," Holt said. "He definitely knows what it is all about."

Layton Christian hosts Duchesne on Aug. 21.

Last season • 5-5 overall

Key returner • Quarterback Grayson Jackson takes the helm for the second year. The junior has an excellent knowledge of the offensive schemes and can make good decisions.

Player to watch • Fullback Markiece Gross-Gibson rushed for more than 600 yards last season. Expect big runs and hard tackles on the other side of the ball.

Biggest hole • Staying healthy. With a tough schedule, the Eagles need to make sure injuries don't halt a run at a state title.

Need to know • Returning three starters on the offensive line will be a big advantage for Layton Christian. Holt expects pass protection to give Jackson more options in throwing the ball.

Millard Eagles

Millard coach Marshall Sheriff didn't have to worry motivating his team over the summer. After losing in the first round of the 2A tournament to South Sevier in double-overtime, the Eagles have been practicing and working with a chip on their shoulder.

"Honestly, we're a little embarrassed, it's the first time we haven't been in the quarters in 19 years. We felt like we were a better team than that," Sheriff said. "I don't have to do any rah-rah to get them to have a successful season."

Quarterback Skyler Cranney will return under center, and Sheriff said that the left-hander will use his legs to lead Millard. Running the option, Cranney can elude defenders as well as air it out.

"When he makes the right read, he does a great job for us," Sheriff said. "We're counting on his rushing, but passing enough to keep people out of the box."

Fullback Jeda Ruvalcaba will not only be passing blocking for Cranney, but captaining the defense. A thick 190-pounder with good speed and a nose for making hard hits as strong safety, Sheriff sees a breakout year for the senior.

"He's been working really hard in the weight room, doing what we've asked of him," Sheriff said.

Expect junior Derrick Brunson and sophomore Austin Wardle to have their names called at the running back position. Sheriff is excited to incorporate the underclassmen into his offense.

"Good speed on both Derrick and Austin. They should help keep defenses off balance," Sheriff said.

Millard opens the season at rival Juab on Aug. 22.

Last year • 5-5

Key returner • Southpaw quarterback Skyler Cranney is returning to run the option for Millard. The senior has excellent speed and is able to make good decisions with the pass.

Player to watch • Jeda Ruvalcaba will be leading the defense as strong safety/linebacker. Good hitter, Ruvalcaba will also play fullback to block for Cranney.

Biggest hole • Offensive line. With no returning seniors on the line, Millard will be using juniors and sophomores to provide pass blocking.

Need to know • Sheriff said that 2A North is a tough, deep region with no "gimmie games" on the schedule. Expect the team that stays healthy to lead the region.

North Summit Braves

Third-year starter Ryan McMichael is the perfect package.

The senior North Summit quarterback is a great athlete, solid leader and has the trust of his teammates. Respected and well-liked, McMichael carries the responsibility of helming the Braves with poise and a desire to win.

"He's one of those kids that comes around once in a lifetime," coach Devin Smith said. "He's really developed into this position, and we're expecting a lot out of him."

Operating the option offense, McMichael is a run-first QB but has been working over the summer to improve his passing game. Smith believes with targets like Cameron Smith, Jason DeForest and Balthazar Martinez, North Summit is going to be a force on the gridiron.

"Their goal is to win a state championship," Smith said. "That's what drives them. They play knowing that this is their last shot."

With 8 starters returning on defense, Smith believes that the Braves defense can make the necessary stops. Along with last season's top tackler, Carson Richins, Smith named Jason Lowe and Corbin Ros as players who can change games.

"They have a focus in the weight room and on the practice field. All the guys have shown to be willing to do the hard work."

Depth is not a problem for North Summit, with 83 students coming out for the program. Smith credits the winning tradition and hopes his seniors can finish the year with a state title.

"We have a good football tradition here and our kids want to a part of it," Smith said. "They push each other and hold each other accountable."

North Summit hosts Altamont Aug. 22.

Last season • 8-3 overall

Key returner • Quarterback Ryan McMichael. The third-year starter has developed his passing game to add to a good running attack.

Player to watch • Carson Richins brings back his love of making big hits. Richins led the Braves last year in tackles. Expect solid defensive work.

Biggest hole • Execution. Smith has been working on getting North Summit to master the playbook. He is confident they'll be ready for the home opener.

Need to know • Though North Summit has just 285 total students, the Braves' football program has 83 players. Nearly 1 in 3 students play football.

South Summit Wildcats

There's unfinished business for South Summit's Ty Jones.

Even after leading the Wildcats to an 11-1 season and the 2A state championship title last year, Jones has aspirations of playing at the next level. So nothing short of repeating is acceptable to the pugnacious senior who has worked relentlessly to pursue his dream.

Jones is not alone.

Coach Jerry Parker said there is a focus on South Summit that all the players share, and they are ready to defend their title.

"Everyone is kind of edgy. We're not complacent — we all want more," Parker said. "We're ready for this season."

Running the option, Parker calls the plays but trust Jones to make the right read. Jones has attended camps to improve his arm and work on making the right decisions.

"Ty will have big opportunities to switch it [on the field]. I trust him," Parker said. "He's taken ownership of this team. He's not expecting anything but the best."

2A MVP Colby Averett is returning as linebacker and running back. A quiet leader, Averett set the tone in the weight room and the field. Parker expects Averett and Hunter Angel to do some damage on the field. Both players like hitting guys hard and have high football IQs.

With talent on both sides of the ball, Parker expects a dominant performance from the Wildcats.

"We're trying for a perfect season — that's what we're gunning for," Parker said.

South Summit begins its title defense at home against Park City Aug. 22.

Last season • 11-1 overall

Key returner • Last season's 2A MVP Colby Averett will return as linebacker and running back. Look for him to top last season's 1,404 yards rushing with 20 TDs on 167 carries.

Player to watch • Quarterback Ty Jones attended multiple QB camps, improving his passing game. His focus and demand of the Wildcats give South Summit an excellent chance to repeat.

Biggest hole • Not much. If South Summit's O-line falters, it could make Jones' job more difficult.

Need to know • South Summit's only loss last season was against North Summit, 26-24. Circle Oct. 10, as the Wildcats host the revenge game.

Summit Academy Bears

In Summit Academy's third year of existence, coach Scott Gorringe finally has something that's been missing the first two seasons — seniors. Returning nine starters on both sides of the ball, the Bears are looking to be more than competitive in 2A North.

They're looking to win.

With returning quarterback Hagan Hines running a hybrid wildcat, the stocky pass thrower will be trying to confound defenses with both his legs and arms.

"He's got good speed and moves his feet really well," Gorringe said. "With the offense we're running, Hagan will have to make good decisions, and I think he can."

Closing out games was a problem last year. Gorringe said his team has the ability to run with anybody but sometimes forgets to put them away. With Steve Harp running in the slot, Gorringe thinks Summit Academy can get through those tough matches.

"We have to have better intensity, be able to rise to the challenge," Gorringe said. "As a new school, we need to gel as a team."

Defensively, linebackers Colby Beard and Ireland Forbes will be bringing toughness and physicality. Gorringe said that Beard is a brute that can stop the opposition.

"He'll make more than contact with you, he's going to hit you," Gorringe said.

Returning five of the six offensive linemen will give Hines more opportunities to make plays and provide the stability needed for a competitive season.

"We're doing some good things and moving in the right direction," Gorringe said. "Once we get these concepts down pat, we're going to be doing all right."

Summit Academy opens the season hosting Emery on Aug. 22.

Last season • 2-9 overall

Key returner • Quarterback Hagan Hines will lead the Bears out of the shotgun. With a 60/40-split run/pass gameplan, expect Hines to make big yards with his feet.

Player to watch • LB/FB Colby Beard is a hard-hitting defensive player with the toughness to give proper pass protection.

Biggest hole • Intensity. As a newer program, Gorringe is working to get his players to finish games.

Need to know • Summit Academy is returning nine players on both sides of the ball. Five of the six linemen will be starting this season.

By Benjamin Raskin



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