Region 1, I think, is different than the rest of the state. I'm not trying to dismiss anyone else in the state, because I have utmost respect for all the coaches. —Erik Thompson
Erik Thompson certainly holds the rest of the state in high regard, and he definitely doesn't want to offend or infuriate anybody.
But the Northridge High head coach feels like Region 1 is a very, very special place to play high school football, and he feels blessed to be a part of it.
"Region 1, I think, is different than the rest of the state," he said. "I'm not trying to dismiss anyone else in the state, because I have utmost respect for all the coaches. But we never go into a game against a staff that's more prepared than the coaches in our region. Sure, a lot of it is familiarity — they know what we do, they're taking away the stuff we do the best, they know who our players are, and they know our weaknesses and our strengths.
"And then there's the kids in this region. I don't know if it's a chip on your shoulder or whatever, but the kids in this region, they hit hard, they play hard and they care.
"There's just that sense of a good old-fashioned high school rivalry and anybody can win on any given night," the Knights' coach said. "I think the fact that it's been so equal and there's been a different winner in the region almost every year for the last 5-10 years. There's usually that hope that, 'Hey, we can win this,' whereas maybe in the other regions in the state they know someone's got better talent than they have and it's going to be trouble beating those teams. So I think the competitive nature of this region is at an all-time high."
Ryan Bishop, his counterpart at neighboring Davis County rival Davis High, would certainly second that notion.
"As long as I have been in Region 1 — and guys from the south can argue with me, and guys from the north can argue with me — I don't feel like there's a more balanced region in the state," the Darts' longtime head coach said. "Since I've come here, I've thought that and, 12 years into it, that feeling hasn't changed.
"In the last 5-8 years, there's always been a Region 1 team in the state semifinals, and there's usually a Region 1 team in the state championship. Our last-place team will beat our first-place team, and our second-to-last team will beat our second-place team. You can argue about maybe some regions have two stronger teams than we do, but as far as competitive balance, I just don't know if there's another region that has more competitive balance than us.
"If people want to argue, just look who's been in the semifinals the last four or five years — there's always a Region 1 team there," Bishop said.
Indeed, the Region 1 schools — Davis, Northridge, Syracuse, Layton, Fremont and Weber — are located in communities that care deeply about their teams' success.
Combine that with the parity and intense nature of playing and coaching in Region 1, and Thompson says there's no better place to be — especially on the prep level.
"I really enjoy coaching in this region," he said. "I think every team, every year feels like they have a chance to win. For whatever reason, most kids don't transfer or try to go somewhere that they think the grass is greener. Kids grow up and they play where their big brother played, and there's that sense of community with these schools.
"And it's fun every week to have those rivalries and have that sense that hey, if we play well today, we're gonna have a chance to win this game. So it's a fun region to be in and I think it definitely prepares us for the playoffs and for close games. There's stress and there's utmost importance on every game. It makes it tougher but it sure makes for a fun season and a lot of memories. But it also can beat you up a little bit. We beat each other up, but we sure have a lot of fun doing it.
"Region 1 football is to be reckoned with," Thompson said, "and I think that's how it's going to be for a long time. I think it has to do with tradition and the fact the kids care and they play hard and there's a sense of community. College scouts might feel like there's more talent in Salt Lake or down south, and I know the kids in this region may not be playing for college scholarships as much as they are just to win a high school football game. I'll tell you what, I'll take a Region 1 team any day against the rest of the teams in the state, because of the tradition, the coaching and how hard the kids play. ... It's a good old-fashioned sense of high school football and how it should be here in Region 1, and I feel blessed to be in it."
Thompson sized up the 2012 league race this way:
"Maybe more than any other time, I think Region 1 is going to be knock-down, drag-out fight every week," he said. "If I had to pick a team, I was very impressed with Syracuse. I think skill-wise and talent-wise, they have probably more coming back than anybody else.
"But I think there's five other teams that are going to have something to say about it as well. Syracuse has got three or four kids that are phenomenal athletes and they always have big, strong kids. I think that they're going to be a really good team — but you could say the same thing about Davis, too.
"Layton could be a surprise team," Thompson said. "They have everybody back, they have a lot of talented kids over there that I think want to prove something to people, and I think they'll make some noise. Last year, Layton beat Viewmont, a region champion, and yet Layton couldn't even make the state playoffs from this region."
Bishop agreed with that assessment.
"Syracuse is as well-coached and has as much talent as anybody in the state, really," he said. "Getting a chance to see them every year and the opportunity to play them, those guys have done a great job in five or six years of building that program. They have a great coaching staff; they're well-coached and have a ton of talent coming back.
"Erick Thompson always does some great things at Northridge; we have Layton sitting just north of us, and Jim Batchelor was on my staff many years ago and he does a great job, you've got Weber High who's always sitting there and always looking to upset someone, and you've got Fremont and Kory (Bosgieter) playing for back-to-back state titles.
"To me, there's just not a more competitive, balanced region than ours. And it's always been that way," he said.
Region 1 projections
(Preseason rankings based on coaches' votes)
1. SYRACUSE: The Titans have a total of nine returning starters off last year's team that made a strong postseason push which propelled them all the way to the 5A semifiinals. They have plenty of offensive weapons in running backs Mason Woodward, Matt Kealamakia and Kavika Fonua, along with a strong receiving corps led by Jacob Garver, Diante Mitchell and the Mo'o brothers, Koa and Kiwa. DE Cardon Malan and linebacker Myles Naisbitt bring added toughness to a fierce defensive unit which has five returning starters and allowed just 10.6 points per game in the eight games the Titans won last season. They'll have to face two of the league's best teams, Davis and Northridge, both on the road, but since Syracuse won both of its state playoff games away from home last year, that might not even matter to this tough-minded bunch. 2011 record: 8-4 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Region 1 rival Fremont, 21-14 in overtime, in the 5A state semifinals.
2. DAVIS: Defense will be the Darts' calling card this season, with a group which features five returning starters and is led by linemen Luke Oja and Zac Guillaume, linebacker Jackson Peacock and defensive backs Kyle Godderidge and Chance Parker. Only two starters return on offense, but Davis is counting on new playmakers to step up and make the most of their opportunities this season. A favorable schedule with home games against Syracuse, Fremont and Northridge on the Darts' new artificial-surface field certainly won't hurt their chances. 2011 record: 5-4-1 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Jordan, 42-24, in first round of the 5A state playoffs.
3. NORTHRIDGE: Running back Davy Adams is one of the state's best big-play threats, either carrying the ball (1,217 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns last year) or catching it out of the backfield (785 yards and eight more TDs in 2011). But the offensive line is small and inexperienced. The Knights' defense features a strong secondary, led by Adams, Zach Hayes, Chaston Martinez, Hunter Johnson, Dayan Lake, Houston Lacey and Adam Wilson, and fullback/linebacker Dallin Isaacson adds toughness on both sides of the ball. but the D-line also lacks size and experience. 2011 record: 8-4 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak, 21-14, in the 5A state quarterfinals.
4. FREMONT: A total of just five starters, and only two on defense, return to a program that has reached the 5A finals in each of the past two seasons. The Tucker Tackle Twins — Tucker Hurd and Tucker Zanone — are three-year starters on the offensive line, and quarterback Jordan Preator is a proven playmaker at quarterback and safety. But a lack of experience on both sides of the ball could hurt the Silver Wolves' chances of a higher finish. And road games against Northridge, Davis and Syracuse won't help, either. 2011 record: 10-3 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak, 41-21, in championship game of the 5A state playoffs.
5. LAYTON: The Lancers boast nine returning starters on offense, including quarterback Hunter Evans, running back Willie Uasilaa and receivers Marcus Kemp and Tyler Fox. Zackery Wilding is a strength on both the O-line and at linebacker, and linemen Russ Gamolsen, Johnny Blackmon and Devin Hatch and veteran linebacker Daviaire Dickerson are strong contributors for a defense with six returning starters. Home games against Weber, Davis and Northridge should also help enhance the Lancers' chances of reaching postseason play. 2011 record: 3-7 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
6. WEBER: Quarterback Jason Mann and running back Austin Tesch are proven performers, but Weber's offensive prowess may depend on the progress of its rebuilt O-line. Eight starters return on defense for the Warriors, but they must improve on last year's performance when they allowed an average of over 41 points per game on the way to a winless 0-9 finish. A rugged preseason schedule will prepare Weber for a Region 1 campaign in which the Warriors will play what are likely the league's three best teams — Northridge, Davis and Syracuse — on Weber's home field. 2011 record: 0-9 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.