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)
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