This fall, Zach Wilson will quarterback the New York Jets.
The former BYU star and No. 2 overall NFL draft pick might not have gotten there if not for his time at Corner Canyon High School in Draper.
“I would say just it all stemmed from the head coach,” Wilson said recently. “We still have a great relationship, me and coach [Eric] Kjar. Just the way that he pushes those guys to work hard in the offseason. They have 6 A.M. lifting every day, he has everyone running track, they get after it. And then he calls a great offense as well. It’s a very explosive offense that takes shots down the field.”
As high school football gets under way this week, Corner Canyon is No. 1, and has a Top 25 ranking on MaxPreps to boot.
“I know they’re the best right now and I know they’ve been the best the last couple years, and I don’t think it’s going to slow down because Corner Canyon, they got a lot of talent that flows through that program,” Wilson said. “They’re going to keep improving and those guys work hard over there. So I think they’re going to be successful for a while.”
How have the Chargers reached such heights so quickly?
Utah is no stranger to prep dynasties. In the 1950s, East ruled the state. In the late ′60s, ′70s and ′90s, it was Skyline. At various points during the last 20 years, Bingham, Timpview and Juan Diego have set the standard.
But all of the aforementioned schools have been around for at least a decade and, in many cases, much longer. Generally, once a school opens, it takes time for a program to build up numbers and attract the requisite talent it takes to win consistently.
That doesn’t seem to be the case, however, for Corner Canyon. The school has been open for less than 10 years, and its football team has already won three consecutive state championships — 2018 when the school was in 5A, 2019 and 2020 in 6A.
“They are the premier football program in the state right now,” former Juan Diego football coach John Colosimo said of the Chargers. “There’s no doubt.”
But has Corner Canyon done enough to call itself a “dynasty”? Many around high school football in Utah say the Chargers may need a little more time.
Corner Canyon’s started in earnest with the arrival of Kjar, who took the head coaching job in 2017 after a stint at Jordan High that included a state title in 2012. That first season, his Chargers went 11-1 overall, but fell in the 5A semifinals to Skyridge.
They haven’t lost since.
Corner Canyon has the chance to break the state record in consecutive wins, set by Duchesne with 48 from 2010-2014. The Chargers have won 40 consecutive games heading into this season, which starts Aug. 13 at Farmington.
“Corner Canyon has definitely set the tone for the program for the rest of us to keep up to,” Bingham coach Dave Peck said. “I think we were that program for a long time, and we’re definitely doing everything we can to try to get back on top.”
One of the ways the Chargers have stayed on top is their ability to either attract or develop top talent.
Wilson graduated from Corner Canyon in 2018. Three years later, after a stint at BYU, the New York Jets picked him No. 2 overall in the NFL draft.
Dart spent just one season in a Chargers uniform after transferring from Roy. But he rose faster than mercury to the sun, winning a 6A championship and being named the MaxPreps National Football Player of the Year and also the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year. He now holds state records in touchdowns and total offense for a season, and plays at USC.
Cole Hagen played quarterback before Dart arrived. His prowess on the field and in the classroom led him to Yale. Hagen’s wide-receiver brother, Cody, graduates in 2022 and is being recruited by schools like USC, Stanford, BYU and Utah, per recruiting website 247sports.com.
And now Devin Brown, a senior who transferred from Arizona and is committed to USC, will helm the quarterback position for the Chargers.
Patrick Thurman, Corner Canyon’s athletic director, said much of the reason for the school’s relatively quick rise is what Kjar and his coaching staff bring.
Aside from being the football coach, Kjar also coaches track, where many of his players cross-train. Students that compete in basketball, track and girls’ soccer all train and condition with him during summers and winters, Thurman said. Wilson said Kjar gets his players to lift weights every day at 6 a.m.
“Certainly he’s played a role with a number of our athletes and helping them to get better and that is manifest in how they do on the field,” Thurman said.
Corner Canyon also benefits from an effective feeder program that funnels young football players into the high school. And because the school only allows a limited number of out-of-boundary students, most athletes end up playing together for years before they reach high school.
“The thing that’s cool about our school is our programs are doing this with our kids,” Chargers basketball coach Dan Lunt said.
Thurman considers Lone Peak the “gold standard” from an athletics standpoint because “their teams, their athletes are always among the best.” When Shane Hill, an assistant principal at Lone Peak who helps oversee athletics, heard that, he said it was “kind” that Corner Canyon tipped its hat toward his program and called the Chargers “elite for sure.”
Corner Canyon is on a long list of schools in Utah that have won three consecutive state championships. A win in 2021 would vault it to a list of just four other schools that have won four straight — Orem, Duchesne, Timpview and Millard.
Dynasties, in many ways, are in the eye of the beholder. But Dart thinks the Chargers are already there.
“I think even now, Corner Canyon can be in the discussion of dynasties and they’ve only been open for under 10 years,” Dart said. “I think that you strive to be a dynasty, to be a school that’s known around the state or known around the country as just being a dominant force and just a solid group of players and people.”
Colosimo, though, won’t refer to Corner Canyon as a dynasty just yet.
“I think it might be a little premature,” Colosimo said. “But they’re certainly on that path. … I can see them being considered a dynasty as long as they continue this. And there’s no reason to believe that they won’t continue this.”
Peck said he expects Corner Canyon’s dominance to continue as long as Kjar and his coaching staff remain at the school. And while he said dynasties can be measured by multiple things such as the number of titles or a significant amount of years at or near the top, he might be close to considering the Chargers a dynasty.
“If they’re not a dynasty,” Peck said, “they’re right on the verge.”