High school football preview: Manti's young offensive line could spell trouble in 2A North
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Manti coach Cole Meacham always has high expectations for his team, but he believes the defending 2A state champion Templars could be in trouble this season if things don't unfold just right.
"We won it last year and we could end up fifth in region this year," he said.
Some of that is probably coach speak to motivate his players, but in the ultra-competitive 2A North region, it's not unrealistic.
Manti, South Summit and Millard were semifinalists a year ago and should be good again. Emery is loaded with returning talent and should challenge for the region title, while a healthy Gunnison is much improved. Even North Summit, which lacks experience and depth, could be a factor in the region race.
"It doesn't take much to go from second to fifth in region," said Gunnison coach Yori Ludvigson.
While most coaches agree that four to five teams are capable of winning region, those same coaches also believe that until someone beats Manti, it's still the team to beat regardless of internal question marks.
Manti's biggest concern is in the trenches. Almost all of Meacham's skill position players are back from last year's title team, but with the season just a few weeks away he's not sure who will block for them on the offensive line.
"We're going to be young, and a couple of the seniors that we could have are going to be inexperienced without any good quality varsity snaps. It will be interesting to see what they do in the first couple preseason games," said Meacham.
En route to the state title last year, Manti beat Emery 34-6 in the quarterfinals, South Summit 6-0 in the semifinals and Millard 37-9 in the championship.
In the regular season finale a few weeks before the title game, Manti narrowly beat Millard 20-14, and most were expecting a great rematch.
"We were just as surprised as anybody. We thought we were 100 percent prepared, emotionally ready to go," said Millard coach Marshall Sheriff. "In the state game, they were either a lot better than I gave them credit for, or we surprised them the first game and they decided to play to their potential the second game."
The manner in which Millard lost that game has served as motivation all offseason.
"We're letting that burn deep down inside of us and that's helping us work even harder," said Millard running back Jesse Rhodes, who led the entire state with 1,723 rushing yards last year.
Manti isn't the only team with holes to fill on the offensive line. Millard only returns two starters on the line, while South Summit only has one back.
South Summit coach Jerry Parker isn't too concerned about the inexperience, because the kids coming up are used to winning.
"This is the hardest-working group we've had as a group. Strength-wise, pound for pound, these kids work harder than any group I've had. I'm excited for this bunch," said Parker.
South Summit held Manti to just six points in that semifinal loss last year, and with five of those defensive starters returning, including three linebackers, the Wildcats will feature one of the better defenses in 2A.
The mystery team is Emery, and it has everything to do with experience. A year ago, coach Jim Jones' team started six sophomores and four juniors. All of those kids are returning, and understandably expectations are high.
"We're a lot further ahead at this time than we were last year. Last year, it was like starting from scratch," said Jones.
The schedule is very favorable for Emery with home games against Manti, Millard and South Summit. The Spartans struggled to stop the run last year, and it won't matter whether their tougher games are home or away if they don't get tougher up the middle.