The COVID-19 pandemic first hit sports in Utah when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, sending a ripple effect as leagues all across the country halted their seasons.
It didn’t take long for high schools in the state to feel the effects of the pandemic. The Utah High School Activities Association ostensibly canceled the spring prep season twice — once initially in April when schools went to at-home learning, and again a month later despite calls from athletes and parents to figure out a solution.
The fall season was also in jeopardy with the uncertainty of the pandemic, but the UHSAA decided to start on time. Meanwhile, a football player from Herriman High had gotten COVID-19 and news of other football programs grappling with positive tests soon followed.
But coaches are looking forward to starting their seasons on time. And in football, Utah’s most followed prep sport, there are still plenty of story lines that will unfold during a season that is not guaranteed to finish as normal.
Here are 10 high school football teams to watch, in no particular order, during the 2020 season, which kicks off with a game between Herriman and Davis on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Herriman High.
Corner Canyon (6A, Region 4)
Any conversation about Utah high school football has to start with the Chargers. The team won back-to-back 6A titles in the previous two seasons and boasts a 37-1 record the last three seasons. Corner Canyon will be without graduated quarterback Cole Hagen, but a slew of seniors — for instance, Oregon commit Jackson Light — and coach Eric Kjar make it difficult to pick against the Chargers on any given night.
Orem (5A, Region 7)
Any team that has the top recruit in the state is worth following. Senior offensive tackle Kingsley Suamataia is a four-star recruit, per 247Sports, and, according to the website, has offers from nearly three dozen universities. Add the fact that the Tigers have won three consecutive state championships — two in 4A, one in 5A — and Orem could be the favorite for a fourth title in as many years.
Sky View (4A, Region 11)
Park City went into last season’s 4A championship game undefeated. But that didn’t matter to the Bobcats, who trounced the Miners en route to the title. And they did it in a season where many of their most productive players would not graduate. That means they’re back for 2020. Among them is quarterback Kason Carlsen, who ran for three touchdowns in last year’s title game. Sky View could very well be the 4A favorites to win its second state championship in school history.
Beaver (2A South)
The 2A classification should not obscure the greatness this team has exhibited in recent years. The Beavers won last season’s 2A title, and played in the championship game in 2017. Coach Jon Marshall, who has led Beaver to a gaudy 31-6 record over the past three seasons, is getting back several starters on both sides of the ball this season. Beaver already has 12 state titles in the program’s history, and is in prime position for a 13th.
Timpview (5A, Region 7)
The Thunderbirds have two high profile players that will be looking to put them over the top this season. Logan Fano and Raider Damuni are both three-star recruits, per 247Sports, with Damuni already committed to Brigham Young. Timpview lost in the 5A title game to Orem, so there’s motivation to win that trophy in 2020. And with the return of Targhee Lambson, who led the Thunderbirds in total offense last year, they’ll have a fighting chance.
Morgan (3A, Region 13)
The Trojans won the 3A title last season behind a 12-1 season. It was their first since 1997 after two seasons of impressive but ultimately disappointing playoff runs. The most intriguing aspect of Morgan’s 2020 season, though, will be adjusting to new coach Jared Barlow, who replaced long tenured Kovi Christiansen. Barlow was a longtime assistant of Christiansen, who had been at the helm since 2007.
Mountain Ridge (5A, Region 7)
The Sentinels lost all 11 of their games last season as a first-year program in Herriman. But every program experiences growing pains, especially when it competes in a 5A classification with the likes of Orem and Timpview. But Mountain Ridge is returning a slew of starters, including running back Feliti Liti and receivers Logan Bennet, Jordan Day and Luke Johnson. With a full season under their belt, the Sentinels should improve in 2020.
Bingham (6A, Region 3)
A coaching legend will retake the sidelines for Bingham once the season starts. Dave Peck returned to lead the team after a five-year stint away from coaching. He previously coached the team for 15 years. The Miners won state titles in 2016 and 2017 without Peck. But his football legacy is legend at Bingham. There are already high expectations for the Miners this season. But with Peck back in the fold, they’re that much higher.
East (6A, Region 3)
This 2020 season could be East’s year. After bowing out in the first round in 2018 and losing in the semifinals in 2019, the Leopards return their best rusher in Amini Amone, who was only a freshman last year. East also has top recruit Voi Tunuufi, who committed to the University of Washington. There’s plenty of talent on the Leopards’ roster to make a good run in 6A.
American Fork (6A, Region 4)
The Cavemen had the one of the top passing quarterbacks in the state last season in Maddux Madsen, who threw for nearly 3,700 yards and 42 touchdowns. But he’s the only one in the top three that wasn’t a senior. Madsen will be a junior in 2020 and continue with an American Fork team that lost to Corner Canyon in the 6A title game last year. That class is loaded this season, but the Cavemen will be right up there again.