Don't try and convince Duchesne coach Billy Hoopes that his team is the team to beat in 1A football this sure.
Sure, the Eagles beat Rich twice last year — including in the 1A state championship game — and return twice as many starters, but Hoopes just isn't buying the notion that his team is the favorite.
"I still think Rich is still the team to beat. I think our kids are great kids, and we have good kids coming back, but we haven't been able to beat Rich enough in my career to ever say they're not the favorite to win it," said Hoopes.
It might sound a bit like sand-bagging, but Duchesne was 0-3 against Rich in Hoopes' first two years as a head coach before the Eagles returned the favor last season with a pair of overtime victories.
Regardless of who the favorite is now and who emerges as the favorite once the playoffs role around, the consensus is that Duchesne and Rich are the teams to beat in 1A.
Nine teams will participate in 1A football this year, including a new UHSAA-sanctioned school out of Hurricane, Diamond Ranch Academy. With the Diamondbacks joining the mix, an ambitious coach in Milford, and better things expected out of Monticello and Altamont this year, 1A might not be as cut and dry as Duchesne or Rich.
"I think 1A football is in good shape," said Hoopes.
Like last year, the teams will be divided into a North and South region. Diamond Ranch has been placed in the northern region, creating a five-team league with Rich, Duchesne, Altamont and Layton Christian.
Because of the unbalanced regions, a state tournament play-in game will be held the Tuesday before the first round of the playoffs between the No. 5 seed from the North and the No. 4 seed from the South. The winner will face the North region champion. The rest of the playoff games will be crossover games between the regions.
While there are some intriguing games on tap in 1A this year, the game worth circling is definitely Rich at Duchesne on Oct. 7, which figures to be another nail-biter like last year's two overtime games.
"Beating them twice last year was huge for our kids. Before that, I don't think they believed that they could beat Rich," said Hoopes.
Duchesne should be favored in that Oct. 7 game, as it returns six offensive starters and seven defensive starters compared to just two offensive starters and three defensive starters for Rich.
"We're going to have to have some kids step up; we lost a good senior class last year. If they do that then, hopefully, we'll be there," said Rich coach Ashley Brown.
Diamond Ranch is the x-factor this year. The school is a residential treatment center for troubled teens around the country. Kids usually only attend the school for eight to 12 months before moving back home.
As a result, from year to year, Diamond Ranch will have a completely new group of players. Last year, the Diamondbacks played some games against 2A junior varsity teams and fared very well. The only player back from that team, though, is quarterback Kyle Atchison out of Ohio. Interestingly enough, he's being looked at by the University of Utah and might be the best player in 1A.
On a team where roughly 75 percent of the kids have never worn pads prior to Diamond Ranch's first practice, there's no guarantee Atchison will have much of a supporting cast. If he does, though, the D-Backs could be a factor in their first year in 1A.
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. DUCHESNE: The defending state champions are loaded for a run at a repeat. It starts at running back with Braiden Despain, who rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 TDs last year. Macoy Young is another capable running back coming off a season in which he rushed for 389 yards and six TDs. Quarterback Shiaba Allen is also back and his experience will be critical as the offense adjusts to several new lineman. Defensively, linebacker Kane Nealley is returning after an impressive season in which he racked up 72 tackles.
2010 RECORD: 11-1. PLAYOFFS: Beat Rich in 1A championship.
2. RICH: The Rebels' only two losses to 1A teams last year were to Duchesne in overtime, including a loss in the 1A title game. Most of those contributors graduated, as Rich only returns two offensive starters and three defensive starters. The only returning two-way starter is Wade Andersen, a key contributor at receiver and defensive back. Big things are expected of Kaden Thomson this year after he rushed for 760 yards and seven TDs a year ago. Defensively, Brady Meek is moving to linebacker, while big contributions are also expected from defensive back Austin Groll and defensive end Bracken Pinter.
2010 RECORD: 8-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Duchesne in 1A championship.
3. MONTICELLO: Even though last season ended with a 34-16 semifinal loss to Rich, the team headed into the offseason with a positive mentality after forcing eventual state champion Duchesne into overtime toward the end of the regular season. Five starters return on each side of the ball, and second-year coach Lee Chadwick is optimistic about building on that momentum. Clayton Dee and Adam Black are seniors who will be two-way starters on the line. Terek Esplin is a returning starter in the secondary and someone who will also contribute at running back.
2010 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Rich in 1A semifinals.
4. ALTAMONT: The Longhorns lost quite a few seniors, but they still have about five or six returning starters on each side of the ball and still should be plenty competitive. Jordan Benson is a returning starter at quarterback, while Kyle Foy is back at running back after rushing for over 1,200 yards last year. Dathen Panas is another quality running back. Even though Altamont graduated some key linemen, Cassidy Smith, Denver Knight and Ty Brinkerhoff gained experience last year, and that position could be a strength this year.
2010 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Duchesne in 1A semifinals.
5. DIAMOND RANCH: The 2011 season will be Diamond Ranch's first as a sanctioned UHSAA team. Coach Robby Dias believes his team has what it takes to compete despite just one returning starter. That one starter is a dandy, quarterback Kyle Atchison from Ohio. He's received interest from several schools, including the University of Utah. Anthony Atlwood is a talented tailback who could have a big season in the Diamondbacks' spread offense as well. The Diamondbacks won't be that big on the line, but that will likely always be the case for the residential treatment center for troubled teens. Safety Joey Fischer and defensive end Tommy Milic should anchor the defense.
2010 RECORD: N/A.
6. MILFORD: Second-year coach Brian Williamson is committed to turning the program around, and the process started this summer by taking Milford to a few camps, something that's been lacking for quite some time. With only four senior starters and countless freshmen expected to contribute, Milford is likely several years away from competing near the top of 1A. The Tigers won't be a pushover, though. Mauricio Hernandez is an athletic quarterback and has a good arm for the spread offense. His favorite target will be Jared Ihde.
2010 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Altamont in 1A quarterfinals.
7. LAYTON CHRISTIAN: A year after missing the playoffs, execution will be the key to making some noise in 2011. Layton Christian returns four offense starters and six defensive starters. Leading the way offensively will be junior quarterback Kyle Yockey. One of his main receiving threats will be Brandon Faison, who had seven TDs a year ago. David Farley is the lone returning starter on the offensive line. Colin Greenhill will lead the defense at middle linebacker, while Quincy Mason will make big contributions as well.
2010 RECORD: 4-5. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.Comment on this story
8. MONUMENT VALLEY: With only three or four seniors this year, the Cougars will be very young. In fact, up to nine sophomores could be starting this season. The program took some positive steps under first-year coach Powers Whiskers last year, and he's hoping that continues this year. Quarterback Lawrence Atene is one of those sophomore starters after he started as a freshman. Junior Anthony James will be a quality receiver. Defensively, linebackers Evan Chief and Trevor Fowler will be the heart of the team.
2010 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Rich in 1A's first round.
9. WHITEHORSE: Coach Fernando Fonseca has a fair amount of returning starters at his disposal this year, and he's got a new assistant coach helping from Colorado, Roger Andreason. He's been working with the kids in the weight room and conditioning them this summer to hopefully help the Raiders challenge for a playoff spot this year. The team will be switching to the Pistol offense. Tyler Dee will anchor the defense at linebacker, and he might play some running back as well. Edgar Haskin is another player who should see time at linebacker as well as receiver.
2010 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.