The 2013 high school football season ended with Bingham hoisting the 5A state championship trophy.
For those keeping track at home, that is the seventh title won in the last eight seasons by a team currently aligned in Region 3.
The Miners have four of those trophies; Alta earned back-to-back championships in 2007 and 2008; and Jordan won in 2012. Add to that the Brighton Bengals’ second-place finish and the Jordan Beetdiggers’ semifinals appearance at the end of last season.
With all of those trophies heading to the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley, it is safe to say Region 3 — made up of Alta, Bingham, Brighton, Copper Hills, Jordan and West Jordan — is once again loaded with talent.
“I don’t think there’s any question we play in the best region in the state,” Copper Hills coach John Teuscher said, echoing thoughts similar to those he shared at the beginning of last season when he called the league the SEC of Utah high school football.
“I don’t think you can argue that,” Teuscher said. “We’re going to play against the best middle linebacker in the state. The next week, we’re going to play the best quarterback in the state. The safety over at Alta, Bingham’s got great players — it’s a really competitive region and there are no off-nights.”
Coming off of their undefeated championship run, the Miners once again enter the 2014 season as the Region 3 favorite in spite of returning just two offensive starters.
“We might struggle a little bit offensively early while we get some things figured out,” said Bingham coach Dave Peck, who noted the distinct advantage his team has in returning senior quarterback Kyle Gearig.
Gearig guided the Miners into the championship game last November but suffered a concussion in the final play before halftime and spent the remainder of the victory off the turf. Up until that point, he had totaled 1,876 passing yards for 29 touchdowns along with 648 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
“I think he’s the best quarterback in the state,” Peck said. “I know there are some other great QBs in the state, but I think Kyle is the best of them all.”
That is high praise considering the Beetdiggers return senior quarterback Austin Kafentzis. The 6-foot-1, Wisconsin-bound player won a state title and was named Mr. Football his sophomore season, has never finished lower than the semifinals, and already owns the state record for the most yards of total offense across his career with 13,919.
Otherwise, Jordan returns seven total players on offense, enabling head coach Eric Kjar to feel as if the squad is simply picking up where it left off last season. The defense returns five starters, including senior lineman Soloman Matemate.
Brighton and head coach Ryan Bullett, on the other hand, return six offensive starters, none of which are linemen.
“I think we’re going to score some points and we’ll be pretty good on defense,” Bullet said, “but there’s a lot of inexperience and youth on the offensive line.”
Still, the Bengals do have senior running back and linebacker Osa Masina as well as junior utility player Drew Jensen returning to both the offensive and defensive lineups.
Down the road, Alta returns just two kids on offense — Don Wilkinson and Josh Soifua — and four on defense — Quinn Fabrizio, Soifua, Zack Moreton and Joe Tavo — as the Hawks negotiate a significantly smaller roster with the opening of Corner Canyon.
In spite of the change, teams around the region are confident that head coach Bob Stephens and the consistently powerful Hawks will enter the season ready to play.
“Alta’s a little bit of an unknown right now, but they know how to win,” said West Jordan coach Danny DuPaix. “They have a winning tradition and they are going to find a way to win.”
Both DuPaix and Teuscher are beginning their second seasons with their respective teams, and each continues to focus on growth and improvement within the program. Last season, Copper Hills took a step forward, defeating the Jaguars for the first time ever, snapping an 18-game losing streak to the crosstown rival.
“We are the largest high school in the state and we play the best teams in the state because of that,” Teuscher said. “We made some strides, so a focus for us this year is to catch whoever’s next.”
West Jordan, meanwhile, has added depth to its coaching staff. During the offseason, DuPaix recruited the assistance of a legend in Utah high school football: his dad and former Skyline coach Roger DuPaix.
“It changes just about every facet, because you have a coach who has been there, who has seen every situation,” Danny DuPaix said of his dad. “He’s pretty hard on me and the other coaches, too. He expects a lot of us because that’s how he’s always been.”
Deseret News projections for Region 3 football teams in 2014
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. BINGHAM: Senior quarterback Kyle Gearig highlights a group of nine total returning starters for the Miners. Wide receiver Colton Livingston is one of those returners, as is Utah-bound kicker Chayden Johnston. Linebackers Daniel Langi and Daniel Gasio; defensive backs Kade Cloward, Chase Messervy, and Dominieke; and defensive lineman Soni Ofahengaue will lead a traditionally strong Bingham defense. RECORD: 14-0. PLAYOFFS: Beat Brighton in the championship.
2. BRIGHTON: The Bengals are recreating their offensive line, which will protect quarterback Drew Jensen. Jensen will need to stay healthy as he also often serves as tailback, receiver, free safety, corner, defensive back, linebacker and punter. Senior standout Osa Masina, a running back and linebacker, will also return to elevate the play of everyone around him. RECORD: 12-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham in the championship.
3. JORDAN: Austin Kafentzis is back for his senior season, and is looking to build on the marks he has already made on Jordan and high school football. He will be surrounded by much of the same offense, a key to coach Eric Kjar’s strategy moving forward. Receivers A.J. Townsend and Spencer Curtis will be key targets for Kaftenzis, and Soloman Matemate will anchor a defense that returns five starters. RECORD: 7-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Brighton in the semifinals.
4. ALTA: With just two returning starters on offense and four on defense, the Hawks are striving to find consistency and depth with a much smaller roster than usual. Seniors Don Wilkinson and Josh Soifua will anchor an offensive line that has yet to announce a starting quarterback. Meanwhile, Soifua and Quinn Fabrizio will highlight the defense. RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak in the semifinals.
5. WEST JORDAN: Brandon Gregg will move into the starting quarterback role, where he will work with returning running back Vai Jaeger. The majority of the offensive line filled starting roles a year ago, while two players return to the defensive line. The greatest addition, however, is that of legendary Skyline coach Roger DuPaix to the West Jordan coaching staff. RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
6. COPPER HILLS: The Grizzlies have a total of 16 guys, many of them freshmen and sophomores, who started varsity games last season, lessening the impact of the bright Friday night lights on new players. The coaching staff is excited about Will Unutoa, Karl Kumpin, Drew Fagatele, and a host of young players. RECORD: 1-9. 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.