Realignment will have a big impact on the landscape of high school football, and that's definitely the case in the revamped 2A North region. Four teams are dropping down from 3A this year, and three of the four have been placed in this region.
The addition of Manti, Emery and American Leadership to a region that already includes traditional 2A powers Millard and South Summit should make for some exciting football most Friday nights this season.
"You feel like there's never a down week. If you run into a team sometimes that doesn't have as good a program, your kids might have a tendency to let down. But in this region, I really think if we let down we're going to lose," said Millard coach Marshall Sheriff, whose team was the near-unanimous choice as the team to beat in 2A North this year.
Unlike recent years in which every 2A team made the playoffs, that won't be the case this year. The top two teams automatically receive byes in the first round of the playoffs, while the No. 3-6 seeds will cross over with the 2A South region. The No. 7 and 8 seeds won't qualify for the playoffs.
From top to bottom, teams are going to be in a dogfight for those playoff seeds.
"I think it's great. I think it's the way it should've been," said South Summit coach Jerry Parker, whose team lost to San Juan in the 2A final last year.
En route to the championship, South Summit beat Millard 38-7 in the semifinals.
South Summit graduated most of its starters from that game, while Millard returns just about everyone, including 10 of 11 on offense. That's a big reason why expectations are so high for Millard this year.
"We're way excited about our returners and our experience. Whether they pan out or not you never know, but you'd like to think they live up to the experience they have," said Sheriff.
Millard isn't necessarily that big on the offensive and defensive line, which Sheriff admits is a bit of a concern knowing his team must get through Manti to win a region title. The Templars are regarded as the biggest team in 2A, and they've got plenty of athleticism to compliment that size.
It's why many 2A coaches believe Manti is the biggest challenger to Millard for the league title. Knowing his players might be overconfident with Manti dropping from 3A to 2A, coach Cole Meacham has been quick to remind his players about some important details this summer.
"The last time we played North Summit, they beat us. The last time we played Emery, they beat us. The last time we played Richfield, they beat us," said Meacham. "Some games might be supposedly a little bit easier if we come out and play well, but there are a lot of games that are going to be just as tough."
Even though there are some clear-cut favorites to win the league, North Summit first-year coach Devin Smith believes realignment and fewer playoff spots will help make every region game meaningful this year.
"Region is going to be tough. I really feel like we have a good team with a lot of experience back, but the Catch 22 is we have a tough schedule," he said.
Deseret News projections for 2A North football teams in 2011
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. MILLARD: The Eagles are regarded as one of the early favorites in 2A this year. Pancho Alcala and Jesse Rhodes combined for over 2,000 yards and 27 TDs last year, and the duo will be running behind the same five starting offensive lineman as last year. In fact, quarterback Tanner Slavens is the only new offensive starter this year. Defensively, Millard returns its two leading tacklers from last year, linebackers Jeremy Aleman and Trey Ashton. Nose guard DonE Fullmer was a beast during summer scrimmages and should be a great run stuffer. 2010 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to South Summit in 2A semifinals.
2. MANTI: With four returning starters on the offensive line, Landon Carter, Aaron Austad, Blake Schiess and Koleton Moon, Manti's offense should be good right from the get go. Three-year starting QB Brady Aste should benefit from that experience as Manti expects to throw the ball more this year. Delta's two preseason games are against 3A contenders Juan Diego and Delta, which will test Manti early. Chris Lauti will use his 285-pound frame to anchor the defensive line, while Carter will be the heart of the defense at linebacker. There's a bit of concern in the secondary with all new starters. 2010 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juan Diego in 3A first round.
3. SOUTH SUMMIT: After two straight runner-up finishes in 2A, this will be an interesting season for the Wildcats who returns just two offensive starters and none defensively. Despite the lack of experience, coach Jerry Parker is excited about his team's ability to compete, with good size in his senior class and then good speed with the junior class. The two returning starters offensively are Bonner Mitchell on the line and Haden Packard, a second-team all-state running back. Matt Rydalch is taking over the reigns at QB. Mitchell, Kyle Pitt and CJ Metcalf will be two-way starters on the line, and Parker believes they have the potential to make those two areas the strength of the team. 2010 RECORD: 10-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to San Juan in 2A championship.
4. EMERY: With only a handful of returning starters, a relatively experienced offensive line will need to be sharp early if the Spartans are to start the season on a good note. Cory Cox will anchor the always important fullback position in the Wing-T offense, while Jesse Winn will hold down one of the running back spots. Throughout the summer, junior Spencer Labrum and sophomore Bailey Faimalo have competed for the starting QB job. Defensively, linebacker will be the strength of the team, with Cox and Winn being joined by Geren Payne and Brett Sorensen. There's some concern and uncertainty about the defensive line. 2010 RECORD: 7-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane in 3A quarterfinals.
5. NORTH SUMMIT: After serving as an assistant for eight years, Devin Smith is taking over the head coaching duties from Jerre Holmes. He has a big task in front of him. The Braves were the fourth-lowest scoring team in 2A last year at 17.2 ppg. Only four pieces of that offense are back, but one of them is QB Keegan McQueen. Nathan Rees is back at running back after leading the team with 690 yards and six TDs last year. The big question mark is in the trenches, where left guard Dalton Wright is the only returning starter. Collectively, North Summit isn't that big this year, but Smith says his team can make up for it with athleticism. 2010 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to South Sevier in 2A first round.
6. AMERICAN LEADERSHIP: The Eagles are thrilled to be back in 2A where they have a realistic shot of competing most Friday nights. Briggs Fulton is taking over at QB this year and he should get some protection with a strong offensive line that includes Oaks Morley, Zane Napier and Allen Hopper. Running back Josh Silva could also benefit from the strong offensive line. ALA gave up 38 or more points in all but three games last year. Hooper will help strengthen the linebacker corps this year and coach David Lewis expects the defensive line to be better as well. 2010 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
7. GUNNISON: The Bulldogs will be much stronger this year now that they've gone through a legitimate offseason with second-year coach Yori Ludvigson. Gunnison only averaged two touchdowns per game last year, but with five returning starters, that production should go up. Rylan Anderson is moving from running back to QB, while Braden Harris will see a big chunk of the carries at running back. Both should benefit from an experienced offensive line. Defensively, Harris will anchor things defensively at linebacker and he's being recruited by most of the state's in-state colleges. Jarrett White is another linebacker who could be poised for a big season. 2010 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Kanab in 2A first round.
8. NORTH SEVIER: The Wolves were the lowest-scoring team in 2A last year at 8.5 ppg. Only time will tell if the production picks up this year. Even though most of the skill-position players are back, including three-year starting quarterback Joey Edwards, there's virtually no experience on the offensive line and most of the starters will be underclassman as well. The lone senior is Dakota Sorensen. The defense should be much better this year with Nic DeGraffenried, Spencer McCutcheon and Trent Hampton anchoring the defensive line, and Reed Udy, Cory Johnson, Sorensen and Edwards at linebacker. 2010 RECORD: 0-10. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Beaver in 2A first round.