Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
LAYTON — There are a lot of question marks surrounding the 2009 Layton Lancers after two highly successful seasons for the program.
But one thing that won't be different for the two-time defending Region 1 champions is their hard-nosed play and the belief that they can keep the league-title trophy in Layton.
"We expect that we're going to go out and compete and try and beat everyone we play," said coach Jim Batchelor. "Our goal is always to win the region championship, and if we don't believe we can do that we've already defeated ourselves."
Although the expectations haven't changed, the Lancers know they have a lot of work to do in order to contend in Region 1.
Only four starters return from last year's team that advanced to the 5A quarterfinals and lost to Skyline. That's a big change from the last couple of seasons when the Lancers brought back a handful of all-state candidates each year.
"We lost a lot of 'blue-chippers' so to speak," Batchelor said. "We don't have a lot of kids who are real well known, but we have kids that work hard, and busted their tails in the weight room all winter long. They came out and had a good 7-on-7 (passing tournament performances) and summer camp. Hopefully they got the confidence in them that they can go out and compete with anyone in our league."
The Lancers' strength on their offensive and defensive lines should help them compete with the region favorites this season. On offense, guards Octavious Dickerson and Colton Odle are returning starters. At one of the tackle positions, the Lancers have a possible standout in Amjad Vongengxay, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 300 pounds.
Vongengxay is still developing, as he'll be playing just his second season of football.
"He's got good feet and moves well," Batchelor said. "He's new to football, so he's still a little bit trying to figure out what's going on. But physically he's strong, he's fast. Once he gets the game down I think he'll be a real force to contend with."
With the Lancers returning just a little experience, offensive line isn't a bad place to have some of those players.
"We have a couple returning starters," Dickerson said. "We just need them to be leaders and it'll be good."
Two players — senior Aaron Bunting and junior Derek Thomas — are competing to be the team's starting quarterback. Bunting has always been a quarterback and understands how to play the position. Thomas is bigger than Bunting, and only started playing quarterback last season.
Batchelor said the two players are neck-and-neck to be the starter. He would like to make a decision on a starter before the team's opener against Bonneville, but he may rotate the two during the team's preseason games before choosing one to go with.
Adam Bunting, Aaron's twin, will likely be the focal point of the offense at running back. He's a small back at 5-6, 150 pounds but can make defenses pay if they take him lightly.
"You've got to catch him first, that's the thing," Batchelor said. "He's got good open-field speed. If we can get him out in the open and let him do his thing, he's going to make people miss."
The Lancers are coming off two solid seasons, compiling a 21-5 record since 2006. Now comes the test to see if Layton can stay among the top 5A teams in the north, and Batchelor feels his team will be up to the task.
"I think most of the people in our league think we're going to be down a little bit this year," he said. "I think we might step up and surprise some people."
Layton Lancers 2009 prep football preview
Coach: Jim Batchelor is in his fifth season as the Lancers' head coach. He has a 28-19 record and has led Layton to two region championships and a second place finish in 5A in 2007.
Key Players: The offense will run through running back Adam Bunting, who is small but shifty and can make big plays. Two players — Aaron Bunting and Derek Thomas are competing to be the starting quarterback. Whoever wins the competition will have quality targets to throw to in receivers Brock Maestas and Josh Hadfield. The offensive line will be solid with Octavious Dickerson and Colton Odle back as returning starters, and may get a big contribution from Amjad Vongengxay. Middle linebacker Christian Kasyan anchors a defense that will feature almost all new starters.
Strengths: The offensive line will likely be the team's greatest asset. Adam Bunting is capable of turning in some big plays. The defense, although new and inexperienced, will be well-coached and hard-nosed.
Concerns: The Lancers' inexperience will be hard to overcome in such a tough and balanced league. Layton's senior class doesn't have a lot of depth, so some juniors will need to step up and keep the Lancers competitive.
Last year: 9-3, lost to Skyline in the quarterfinals
Predicted Region 1 finish: Seventh
Postseason possibilities: The Lancers are in somewhat of a rebuilding mode after two stellar seasons in Region 1. Layton may not contend for the region title, but it would be unwise for any opponent to overlook the Lancers. With five teams getting in the playoffs from Region 1, the Lancers realistically could reach the postseason and be a tough first-round opponent for a highly ranked 5A team.
Aug. 21 — BONNEVILLE, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — JORDAN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — at Northridge, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — VIEWMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Davis, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — FREMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Roy, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 — CLEARFIELD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 — at Weber, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — SYRACUSE, 7 p.m.