High school football: Union Cougars 2011 preview

Published: Thursday, Aug. 18 2011 12:13 p.m. MDT

Note: Union finished with a 3-7 overall record in 2010 and a 2-2 record in Region 10. It lost to Juab, 35-16, in the first round of the 3A playoffs.

American Leadership, Canyon View, Carbon and Ben Lomond — teams who combined for a 2-35 record — were the only 3A teams to score less points than the Union Cougars last season.

There were numerous reasons for the struggles, including simply being outmatched most Friday nights. A toxic environment in the locker room with numerous jealousies didn't help either.

Coach Sam Elliott expects much more from his team last year.

"We'll be better than last year, that's for sure. We have a real good group of seniors, not many of them, but the ones that we have are the ones we want," said Elliott. "Attitude is so much better than last year. Unity so much better. We just had jealousies last year."

Those jealousies created a lot of inner turmoil, including the occasional play being changed so certain kids wouldn't get the ball near the goal line. Despite it all Union still won three games, one more than the year before.

Elliott said it still felt like the program took a backward step because of all the drama.

A re-commitment to the weight room could help get the program back on track. Roughly 35 kids came out and lifted weights throughout the summer, nearly double the number from the year before. Elliott would've liked to see even more of his players getting stronger, but it's still been a positive step for the program.

Union will be smaller than just about every team it faces, particularly in what could be a very tough region with Juan Diego, Park City, Wasatch, Uintah and Judge. That's why staying healthy will be so important.

"We play ironman football. If you get one guy hurt you actually lose two starters a lot of time," said Elliott.

There's enough returning starters in key spots both offensively and defensively that Elliott believes the Cougars can compete for a playoff spot in Region 10.

EMAIL: jedward@desnews.com

Union Cougars at a glance

Coach: Sam Elliott, a graduate of Cedar High, is entering his fourth season as Union's head coach with a 10-20 record. He spent three years at Tooele prior to that. His overall coaching record is 26-35.

Offense

(5 returning starters; Spread offense)

If Steven Welsh, the lone returning starter on the line, gets some quality help in the trenches, there are enough weapons that Union might actually average more than 15 points like last year. Coach Elliott might have a platoon situation at quarterback. Junior QB Jayde Bertoch is the better thrower, ?but senior Mitch Hall — who had a fantastic camp at Southern Utah at tailback— is a much better runner. Both should see time. Wide receivers JJ Morley and Hunter Hullinger are very athletic weapons who should help the offense as well.

Defense

(4 returning starters)

Union's secondary was small and undisciplined last year, and teams exposed that weakness all the time. "Last year we got beat every other series it seemed like," said Elliott, whose team surrendered 28.4 ppg. With Morley and Hullinger — who each stand 6-foot-2 — starting in the secondary, Union's defense should be vastly improved. Welsh will be a key contributor on defense as well at linebacker.

Coaches preseason Region 10 straw poll: Sixth

Deseret News Region 10 prediction: Sixth

Bottom line: With as much as the program has struggled the past two seasons, it's hard to believe Union is only four years removed from a 3A semifinal appearance. There's optimism around the program that 2011 could be a bounce back year, but that might be a bit ambitious with a small team competing in a very tough region. Union has a favorable preseason schedule though, which could help generate some momentum heading into region play.

2011 Schedule

Aug. 19 — at Ben Lomond, 7 p.m.

Aug. 26 — NORTH SANPETE, 7 p.m.

Sept. 2 — JUAB, 6 p.m.

Sept. 9 — CARBON, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 — at Payson, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 — at Park City, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 — JUDGE MEMORIAL, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 — at Wasatch, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 — at Juan Diego, 7 p.m.

Oct. 20 — UINTAH, 7 p.m.

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