Christmas may be the most wonderful time of year, but fall camp is definitely the most hopeful moment in a football season.
Sure, there may be residual pressure or pain from the previous season. But the optimism that abounds in every locker room is unmatched in the weeks leading up to that first kickoff.
The goals may vary slightly from team to team, but whether a team returns most of last year’s starters, as Roy does, or whether most of the line-up is new to the varsity squad, as Box Elder’s is, the expectations to compete are the same.
It is both the challenge and the beauty of high school football.
“The expectation for every team is always to win the region,” said Logan head coach Mike Favero of his mostly new line-up. “I’m sure every team feels that way. The beauty of high school is that there is turnover. You have different puzzle pieces every year, and each year’s team is trying to put that puzzle together.”
The Region 5 race will be tough this year as the teams that have traditionally struggled are improved and will compete with those teams with traditions of success.
Which may be why Box Elder head coach Robbie Gunter isn’t offended that his team was selected both by coaches and the Deseret News staff to finish fourth.
“That’s at least getting into the playoffs if that comes true,” he said. “Our region is loaded this year. The Cache Valley schools are always good, Roy, man, do they have a team, and Bonneville is going to be a heck of a team. There are a couple of good teams in our region who will be staying.”
The depth doesn’t mean Gunter is tempering his expectations — regardless of what preseason polls may predict.
“We play football to win,” he said. “Our goal is to win the region championship. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re going to do the work. We’re trying to put ourselves in a position to be successful.”
Gunter can take heart in knowing that last year’s region champion, Logan, was picked fourth in the 2013 preseason polls. The Grizzlies went on to have an undefeated region season, losing in the quarterfinals to Olympus.
While he only returns nine of last year’s starters, he expects the Grizzlies to compete for top honors this fall.
“The expectation for every team is always to win the region,” Favero said. “I’m sure every coach feels that way.” He isn’t flattered or bothered by preseason hype.
“As coaches, we know those preseason polls carry zero weight,” Favero said. “They’re really just a compliment.” The key is convincing their teenage players not to believe the hype or not to be discouraged by the lack of respect. Every coach sees the Grizzlies and the Royals as the region’s top dogs.
“I think Logan and Roy, those are the teams to beat,” said Mountain Crest head coach Mark Wooten. “They’ve got some really good players, really good skill kids. Those are the teams you’ll have to play very well against to be (successful).”
Roy head coach Fred Fernandes has been rebuilding the program at his alma mater for the last four years. This season promises to be an exciting one as he returns 15 of last year’s starting line-up.
“This is gonna be that once-in-every-20-years year for Roy,” he said.
But even he acknowledges the talent in Region 5 mean nothing is guaranteed.
“Logan is gonna be a real question mark,” Fernandes said. “They’ve got a whole bunch of really good receivers if they can get them the ball. Sky View’s going to be really tough; Box Elder’s got a couple of really special kids; and Mountain Crest should be fairly solid, too. Bonneville is going to be better and really impressed me this summer.”
If Roy has a weakness, it’s numbers.
“Other than the fact that our numbers are way down, we’re pretty solid all across the board,” Fernandes said. “But we’re not deep. I think we’ve got enough talent to compete with anybody, really. I’ve got some guys that will be going both ways this year, but if we stay healthy, we’ve got a shot at being pretty good.” While a number of coaches said their best athletes would compete on both sides of the ball, Favero said very few of his players would do so.
“Just a handful of them,” Favero said of two-way players. “My personal take on playing two ways is taking 22 potential starting positions and reducing them to 11. It’s fewer spots to keep your players passionate and hungry.”
Sky View head coach Craig Anhder is excited about the players he has back — and the passion with which they’re approaching this season.
“We will be young with some very good athletes,” Anhder said of returning six varsity players. “We have a chip on our shoulder with something to prove.”
Bonneville’s new coach has that team turning heads, while Ogden’s head coach is hoping to surprise some teams.
“This is a very good region and we are looking forward to making a statement this season,” said Ogden coach Kent Taylor.
Region 5 team by team:
- ROY: The Royals may not have depth, but they have talent. That’s earned them the preseason respect of the region’s coaches, and it has expectations for the team the highest they’ve been in years. The team is senior-laden with a legitimate shot at region and state titles. Led by quarterback Tyler Skidmore, a four-year starter, the Royals have 15 starters returning. David Dorber, a senior defensive end, will lead the defense. RECORD: 6-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round to East 65-14.
- LOGAN: Logan returns some talented players including Chad Artist, wide receiver; Bracken Williams, linebacker; Kinkade Wildman, weak safety; Max Parsons, offensive lineman; Garrett Wright, cornerback; Kegan Oldham, defensive tackle; and Hartman Rector, wide receiver. The Grizzlies have a tradition of success, and that should help them in tough situations and as the season presents challenges. RECORD: 11-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the quarterfinals 23-21 to Olympus.
- SKY VIEW: Region 5’s second-place team will be young this season. Its coach said the players are motivated and feel they have “something to prove.” They have some great leadership returning, including: Tyler Downs, senior offensive lineman; Colton Durrant, junior offensive and defensive lineman; Max Christiansen, junior defensive lineman; Alex McRae, junior wide receiver and defensive back; Levi Hammer, senior linebacker; and Bryce Mortensen, junior wide receiver. RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the 4A quarterfinals to Timpview.
- BOX ELDER: The Bees know they return enough experience to be one of the region’s playoff teams. The squad is led by senior quarterback and defensive back Connor Udy, senior running back and defensive back Riley Burt, senior offensive lineman Zak Kaleikini, and junior tight end and defensive end Darius McFarland. RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round to Woods Cross 42-14.
- MOUNTAIN CREST: The Mustangs might be the most inexperienced team in the region with just a single senior returning on the offense. While the uncertainty of youth makes coaches nervous, it is also pretty exciting. The young players have always been successful, and they bring a winning mentality and great work ethic to the high school program. RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
- BONNEVILLE: With an alumni at the helm, the Lakers hope to change both the expectation and the outcome for the program. Jantz Afuvai played at Bonneville when it was one of the state’s best, and he hopes to return the program to its former glory. RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
- OGDEN: The Tigers will be young, relying on a talented sophomore class to help them compete. Ogden only lost four starters from last year’s squad, and they hope the team will build on last year’s experiences. The upperclassmen have experience, but they will need to have consistency and confidence if they hope to compete in the deep, tough region battle. RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.