With six of the last seven 5A state championships belonging to teams currently in Region 3, a consensus has formed among coaches of that league: Competition is going to be extremely fierce.
“With all due respect to every other region in the state, this is the best region. Period,” said first-year Copper Hills head coach John Teuscher.
Along with the Grizzlies, the league features Alta, Brighton, Jordan and West Jordan — and gains Bingham in exchange for Cottonwood.
“Bingham, everybody in the state knows what they’re about; Coach (Dave) Peck has done an unbelievable job. Coach (Bob) Stephens also does great job, and when anybody hears the name ‘Alta’ you know what they’re about,” Teuscher said. “Jordan, they are the defending state champs, and that’s the third name most people bring up when they talk about Region 3. They are not the third-best, but you know our league is good when people talk about a region and don’t name the state champ very first most of the time.”
With the exception of Lone Peak's title in 2011, the Salt Lake County teams in Region 3 have won every championship since 2006. Bingham owns three of them; Alta has two; and Jordan was crowned most recently. That amount of history sets a high bar moving forward.
“It’s cliche, but this is the SEC of Utah high school football,” Teuscher continued. “There is no week off.”
The Miners are the preseason favorite to win Region 3, and for the fourth-consecutive year enter the season as the top-ranked team in the Deseret News Top 25. They return six starters on both offense and defense, and every single person on the roster expects to bring home a state title.
But while Bingham’s veteran leadership is on the offensive line, Alta and Jordan return experienced quarterbacks.
The Hawks return Chipper Lucero, a senior who gained experience after fighting for the starting spot a year ago and then went on to record 3,414 passing yards and 37 touchdowns.
Although the Beetdiggers lost all five offensive linemen, the defending champions do welcome back 2012 Mr. Football Austin Kafentzis, a junior who threw for more than 2,800 yards, ran for more than 1,600 yards, and accounted for 54 total TDs en route to the title a season ago.
Both teams, and their coaches, are looking forward to an exciting region schedule.
“It’s a crazy alignment,” said Jordan coach Eric Kjar. “I think it’s good to always see what you have, and to be tested against good competition. I feel like, going through our region, you’re going to be prepared for whatever comes your way in the postseason.”
Brighton, a team that earned its spot in the playoffs with a play-in victory last year, has high expectations for the upcoming season, including setting sights on a region title.
“Everybody wants to compete for a region championship, and I’m sure every team in the league is saying the same. That is obviously our goal,” head coach Ryan Bullet said. “I don’t think anybody will go undefeated in our league. I think it’s going to be rough, and you’re probably pretty darn good if you can do undefeated in this league.”
Masina, a junior, gained valuable on-field experience last season filling in for his older brother, Uaea Masina, who was hit with injuries for much of the year.
West Jordan and Copper Hills, picked to finish fifth and sixth, respectively, by the coaches in the league, are both under new leadership. Danny DuPaix, the son of legendary Skyline coach Roger DuPaix, is in his first year with the Jaguars, while Teuscher is stepping in to give a new look to the Grizzlies football program.
“There’s going to be a lot of new life, new energy given to those programs,” Stephens said. “They’re really going to step up, I think, and anything can happen.”
Deseret News projections for Region 3 football teams in 2013
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. BINGHAM: With six starters returning on offense, the Miners are poised to be successful — especially because they retain experience and size on the offensive line. Center Riley Culley, guards Noah Taeatafa and Aaron Amaama and tight end Dalton Schultz started every game last season, while Austin Bunkall was a regular starter as well. Defensively, Bingham also returners six starters, including Sky Manu, a three-year starting safety, and junior Daniel Langi. 2012 RECORD: 10-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Syracuse in the semifinals.
2. ALTA: Alta’s participation numbers are down by about one-third due to the opening of Corner Canyon High School; however, at least for this year, the Hawks still have a lot of talented players with a lot of experience returning this season. The team returns five starters on offense, including Mack Richards and Logan Harrison, who are key targets for quarterback Chipper Lucero. Jaden Johnson and Quinn Fabrizio lead the defense, which returns six starters and prepares to take on a ranked team or an out-of-state team in seven of nine games this season. 2012 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
3. Brighton: Once again, the Bengals ended in a three-way tie last season, this time finishing third and forcing a play-in game for a playoff berth. That's a trend they are planning to change this season. Brighton returns five players on offense, including a young quarterback in Drew Jensen, who is now both more experienced and more comfortable in the pocket as he enters his sophomore season. Three players return on defense, including junior Osa Masina, who can fill any role for the Bengals. 2012 RECORD: 8-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak in first round.
4. Jordan: The defending champions were the top-scoring team in 5A last season, averaging 47.5 points per game while allowing just 17.9. However, they have had some work to do in the offseason in picking a new offensive line to protect returning starting quarterback Austin Kafentzis, a junior who has already been turning heads for two years. The Beetdiggers return just four players on offense, including Kafentzis and star running back Clay Moss. Jordan is in a much better position on defense, returning seven starters from a strong crew, including standout Cooper Clark. 2012 RECORD: 12-1. PLAYOFFS: Beat Syracuse in the championship game.
5. West Jordan: The Jaguars are the newest beneficiaries of the legendary DuPaix football minds. Danny DuPaix, son of former Skyline coach Roger DuPaix, is the new head coach of the West Jordan squad, and is excited about the community that surrounds the program. Offensively, the Jaguars return three players, including quarterback Colton Michaelson as well as a couple of basketball and lacrosse athletes who opted to play football this season. Meanwhile, DuPaix has six returning starters on defense, including team captains Ryzen Bensen and Sath Gardner. 2012 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Brighton in a region play-in game.
6. Copper Hills: New head coach John Teuscher is revamping the Copper Hills program to take advantage of the great number of athletes at the large 5A school. Senior Sam Taylor will take on the roles of starting quarterback and team leader as the new-look Grizzlies assimilate into their new offensive scheme. The defense, looking to improve on allowing 40.1 points per game a year ago, will be aggressive against its tough competition. 2012 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.