Note: South Sevier finished with a 3-9 overall record and an 0-5 record in the 2A West region last year. It lost to San Juan, 37-0, in the 2A semifinals.
Two very, very, very unlikely playoff victories last year have completely changed the attitude surrounding South Sevier football.
Following a 1-8 regular season, South Sevier stunned 2A by beating North Summit and then Enterprise in consecutive weekends to advance to the semifinals. The Cinderella run came to an emphatic end against heavyweight San Juan, but that loss in no way detracted from what the Rams had already accomplished.
There was a steep leaning curve both offensively and defensively under first-year coach Weston Zabriskie last year, but South Sevier demonstrated what it's capable of once it figured things out late in the season.
"We've got talented kids and we've got good athletes. That's evident with the success of our basketball team. It's just a matter of convincing them of that and kind of changing the mentality to be a football mentality, to get the kids to be a little more physical," said Zabriskie.
Despite the extra buzz in the community following last year's playoff run, building off that momentum won't be easy. South Sevier will be extremely young this year, with Zabriskie anticipating that only four seniors will start.
With a very large freshman and sophomore class, Zabriskie anticipates that he might start as many as five sophomores on each side of the ball. That isn't necessarily a recipe for success.
"They're all great leaders and they're all two-way players that can offer a lot to the team," said Zabriskie.
Fellow senior Kaden Dustin may contribute eventually, but he broke his pelvis at team camp in the first week of July and may not be healthy enough to contribute until October. Realistically though, that's when things started to get interesting a year ago.
When Zabriskie took over last year, he made some big changes both offensively and defensively. He wanted to change the culture of the program to be a run-first, defense-first team. After routinely giving up 30 to 40 points during the regular season, everything finally clicked in the playoffs.
South Sevier beat North Summit 20-14 in the first round and then Enterprise 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
Even though there's still a learning curve with Zabriskie's offense, he said the players have been much more comfortable with the schemes this summer and the focus has been more about fine-tuning.
How quickly the young players pick up the nuances of the offense and defense will ultimately determine whether or not South Sevier suffers through another miserable regular season, or if it makes the jump to a competitive team week in and week out.
South Sevier Rams at a glance
Coach: Weston Zabriskie is entering his second season as a head coach at South Sevier following a 3-9 inaugural season. He is a graduate of North Sanpete.
(4 returning starters; two-back offense)
South Sevier scored more than 14 points just three times last year, a trend that will need to change if the Rams expect to compete near the top of its region. Having Palmer back at quarterback could make a big difference. Palmer struggled through long stretches last year, but he has a much better understanding of the offense now. There's definitely some concern on the offensive line where sophomore Wyatt Anderson is the lone returning starter. Another underclassman, junior Garrett Johnson, will be counted on for big things at running back. In JV last year he had eight rushing TDs of 60 yards or more. Zabriskie is trying to convince him he's capable of similar production at the varsity level.
(5 returning starters)
South Sevier lost to Enterprise 42-0 in the regular season last year but won the rematch in the playoffs 6-2. If the defense can continue that progression into this season, the Rams should be much more competitive. Leavitt is a big physical presence defensively who will anchor things at linebacker after leading the team with 107 tackles last year. Patrick Baker, a second-team all-state safety as a sophomore last year, should have a big season as well after leading the Rams in tackles for loss last year. Defensive lineman Bryce Bair is a big, strong kid with a motor that never stops, according to his coach.
Coaches preseason 2A South straw poll: Sixth
Deseret News 2A South prediction: Seventh
Bottom line: South Sevier graduated a lot of players from last year's team, which quite frankly wasn't that good except for two weeks in October. With underclassmen expected to fill most of those voids, the program could very easily struggle early on like last year. Last year's two playoff victories can't be disregarded entirely though, and a .500 season seems reasonable to expect in 2011.
Aug. 19 — at Gunnison, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — N0RTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — ENTERPRISE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — GRAND, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Beaver, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — at Kanab, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at San Juan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — Parowan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — at Richfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — Playoffs, TBD