Last season was a banner year for Region 9, with Southern Utah teams claiming state titles in the big four — football, basketball, baseball and soccer.
The collective 3A dominance started in football as three teams advanced to the semifinals, with Hurricane ultimately defeating Desert Hills for the state championship.
Heading into the 2012 season, as many as four Region 9 teams believe they have a legitimate shot to not only win the league title, but the 3A state championship as well.
"It will be just as tough, maybe tougher," said new Desert Hills quarterback Ty Rutledge. "I believe there will be two teams in the state championship again this year."
Rebuilding Desert Hills would love to be one of those teams again, but Hurricane, Dixie and Pine View all have what it takes to win region and make a similar march in the playoffs.
Dixie coach Blaine Monkres said the bottom tier teams can't be discounted either in the ultra-tough region.
"Even the guys that finish on the bottom, I'm not sure they couldn't go and beat some of the top 3A teams in other regions," said Monkres.
Chris Homer, the coach of the reigning state and region champion Hurricane Tigers, believes the "what ifs" for every team in the region is what makes the upcoming season so exciting.
For Hurricane, the question marks are primarily on the offensive side of the ball as the Tigers replace four linemen, MVP fullback Brian Scott and all-state running back Weston Yardley.
For Desert Hills, there's a ton of uncertainty following the graduation of 26 seniors and several significant coaching changes.
A year after missing the playoffs, Pine View is loaded with returning starters on offense, but only time will tell how sophomore Kody Wilstead handles his lofty expectations at quarterback.
Dixie features three-year starting quarterback Blake Barney and quality receivers for him to throw to, but most of the guys protecting him on the line have no varsity experience.
"I think Region 9 is super tough again. I think we'll be in the mix, but I really think Pine View is going to be great and Dixie is going to be great," said Homer.
Snow Canyon, Cedar and Canyon View round out the conversation in Region 9, but all three are capable of playing spoiler to the perceived big four this year. Cedar proved last year an unheralded team can do damage by advancing to the 3A semifinals, while Snow Canyon and Canyon View are both improved from a year ago.
Canyon View hasn't won a region game since 2005 and is hungry to change its reputation as the perennial doormat of Region 9, which isn't easy against the giants in Region 9.
"Football's a game of leverage. It's hard to establish leverage when you don't have enough lead in your shorts," said Canyon View coach Alex Huxford.
No one had more lead in its shorts than undefeated Hurricane last year. This year, however, some have suggested complacency might set in now that the program has shed its label as unlucky loveable losers by winning the elusive state championship.
Coach Homer hasn't sensed that from his team at all.
"I think our leadership is strong enough that I'm not worried about it right now," he said.
Hurricane's recent dominance makes it the slight favorite in Region 9, but on paper Pine View might be the team most suited to dethrone the champs.
The Panthers return four starting offensive linemen, 1,100-yard rusher Prentiss Miller and arguably the strongest arm in 3A with Wilstead. Coach Ray Hosner doesn't want the expectations going to his players' heads, and is quick to remind them they missed the playoffs with similar ambitions last year.
"We haven't proven anything yet. We have to come out and work hard. We have two great games coming out of the chute to make sure we're ready for region," he said.
That's the sentiment around the entire region this year, with every team — even Canyon View — in the mix.
More preps online
Be sure to log on to deseretnews.com to read previews for Weber, West Jordan, Westlake, Tooele, Spanish Fork, Emery and Rich.REGION 9 PROJECTIONS
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. HURRICANE: Following a perfect season that saw the Tigers finally get over the hump, this year's team is hungry to start a dynasty of its own. Outside of returning running back Adam Thompson, this team lacks star power but has great depth and balance according to coach Chris Homer. Zach Prince takes over at QB this season, while Jared Edwards takes over at fullback after racking up 130 tackles defensively last year. Defense was Hurricane's biggest strength a year ago, and with five returning starters that should again be a strength. Sean Hafen will anchor the nose guard position. 2011 RECORD: 13-0. PLAYOFFS: Beat Desert Hills in 3A championship.
2. PINE VIEW: Kody Wilstead was a part-time starter at QB as a freshman last year, but the job is all his now. The strong armed 6-foot-6 QB is a big reason expectations are so high at Pine View. The offense he's leading features seven returning starters, including Division I commits Cody Boyer (Utah State) and Logan Stott (Arizona) on the line, and 1,000-yard rusher Prentiss Miller. Defensively, Pine View needs to be tougher and more disciplined to secure a playoff spot after last year's hiatus. Four-year starter Wes Moeai is back to anchor the defensive line. 2011 RECORD: 4-5. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
3. DIXIE: Blaine Monkres is entering his fifth year as Dixie's head coach, and this year figures to be his best yet. The return of Blake Barney at QB is a big reason why after he threw for over 2,500 yards and 23 TDs as a junior. Dixie returns solid skill position players like Lukas Hildebrandt and Kyle Hansen for him to throw to, but the lack of experience on the line is a concern. Gavin Graff is the only returning starter in the trenches. Dixie was totally overmatched in games against 3A's elite last year, but the return of Taylor Berry and Jesse Lambert at linebacker should help close that gap. 2011 RECORD: 7-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juan Diego in 3A first round.
4. DESERT HILLS: The graduation of 26 seniors, not to mention the resignation of coach Jake Nelson, makes this an interesting year for the Thunder. Carle Franke takes over as head coach, and he'll be counting heavily on senior Ty Rutledge, who makes the transition from receiver to QB. The offensive line graduated four starters, and is the biggest question mark. Franke feels like his team has an array of skill position players to lean on, they're just unproven. Speed will be Desert Hills' top weapon defensively this year. Travis LaGrone will anchor things at linebacker. He's good enough to play wide receiver as well, but Franke said he wants the senior healthy and rested for defense this year. 2011 RECORD: 9-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane in 3A championship.Comment on this story
5. CEDAR: Following a surprise march to the 3A semifinals last year, it's back to the drawing board for Cedar with only a handful of returning starters. Easton Weaver takes over at QB as he tries to the fill the shoes of highlight-reel QB John Ursua from a year ago. Fullback is a big question mark heading into the season, which is a legitimate concern in the option offense. Kaylor Smith is the lone returning starter on the offensive line, but Cole Dotson was a part-time starter and Ryan Armstrong saw some time at tight end. Cedar's defense only returns one starter, but last year's team only held two teams under 20 points, and this year's group is hungry to change that. 2011 RECORD: 6-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Desert Hills in 3A semifinals.
6. SNOW CANYON: After missing out on the playoffs last year, the Warriors return seven offensive starters and should be more competitive this year. Among those returning starters are three on the line, Austin Best, Bowman Loo and Cesar Bautista. The team must replace QB Brayden Linde, but Mitchell Phillips returns this year after leading Snow Canyon with 561 rushing yards last year. Taylor Johanson and Brandon McFarland are also back after receiving a fair amount of carries last year. The Warriors conceded nearly 27 ppg last year, but only four defensive starters from that team are back. 2011 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
7. CANYON VIEW: The defense gave up 44, 49, 54 and 44 points respectively in its final four games, and unless it figures out a way to get stops it won't matter how improved the offense is. Anchoring the defense are returning starting linebackers Karson Connelly, Jesse Johnson and Bailey Pederson. Offensively, Stetson Deardon rushed for 501 yards last season after taking over the starting role in Week 3. He's expected to take an even bigger role this year. With an undersized line though, Canyon View will likely throw more than run this year, which puts pressure on returning starter Koy Huxford. He's got several quality receiver targets this year though. 2011 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.