Scroll to bottom of story to see Layton Felt's Facts
Note: Layton High finished with a 3-7 overall record and went 1-4 in Region 1 in 2011. It did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.
LAYTON — Last year wasn't much fun for the Layton High football team.
Sure, the Lancers got off to a decent start, winning three of their first five games. But they were decimated by several key injuries that eventually took their toll. And when some inner turmoil and selfishness struck the squad midway through last season, well, it's no wonder Layton lost its last five games to finish 3-7 overall.
But head coach Jim Batchelor feels like he has a much more unified team this year and, with a bunch of returning starters back to lead the way, he's "guardedly optimistic" about the Lancers' chances of turning things around in a rugged Region 1 campaign.
"With this group, the whole attitude and atmosphere around practice is completely different than it was a year ago," said Batchelor, beginning his eighth season at the Layton High helm. "It was just not a good environment last year.
"But with this group of kids ... every one of them has said, 'We've got to be closer as a team,' and they are closer as a team. They like hanging out with each other. And you can feel a different atmosphere with these guys. They work harder and they're much more willing to work harder. They go the extra mile.
"It's fun; they're fun to be around," he said. "...They respond pretty well. None of them want to go through what we went through last year. And they're pretty determined not to let that happen again. They have a very good attitude and a good feel. I'm hoping. ... I'm guardedly optimistic — let's put it that way."
Layton's fortunes will be bolstered by a total of 15 returning starters — nine on offense and six on defense — who are being counted on to carry the load this season.
At quarterback, junior Hunter Evans returns. He took over the starting role in the fourth game last season — getting his baptism by fire — and Batchelor is impressed by what he's seen so far.
"He grew and matured a ton for us last year. It was sink or swim, and he did a great job for us," Batchelor said. "He had a nice growth spurt over the last year — he grew 2 inches and put on 30 pounds — and he's got good arm strength. He has got great poise and he doesn't fluster real easy. He's a very even-keel kid; it's hard to get him flustered."
Senior running back Willie Uasilaa, who broke his leg in the third game of last season, returns and looks healthy again. "He's moving pretty well," Batchelor said, "and his ability to cut and accelerate looks pretty good right now."
Promising sophomore Atlas Armstrong — "He's one to watch out for the next couple of years," said Batchelor — and junior Davis Marriott also will see playing time at running back. Senior fullback Daviaire Dickerson can also play the tailback position when called upon, and senior fullback Alex Astle adds depth.
"Once we lost Willie last year, our running game suffered and we weren't very explosive offensively," Batchelor said. "So there was not a big threat of run.
"This year, with all those kids coming back in those skill positions, I think if we can get in front of a guy for four seconds, we might be able to do some things. I've got a pretty good expectation of these guys. I think our prospects are pretty good, and the critical parts have a year of varsity experience."
The team's top receivers are senior slotback Tyler Fox, senior wide receivers Marcus Kemp, Preston Brown and Ryan Hernandez, along with junior Jordan Jaramillo and senior tight end Nate Vandegraff, who could also play some wideout.
Zackery Wilding, a senior and three-year starter, anchors the O-line where he's joined by senior guard Joe Randall, senior center Zach Bigler, junior tackles Stetson Wood and Landon Brown, senior tackle Johnny Blackmon and sophomore center Spencer Davis.
Over on defense, the Lancers have switched to a 3-4 scheme to suit their personnel better, and it all starts with senior nose guard Russ Gamolsen.
"He's short, squatty and quick — very, very strong, very, very quick," Batchelor said. "Centers and guards have a very hard time with him if he gets by them on the snap of the ball. He's tremendously strong and very quick."
Wilding and Armstrong are the top two middle linebackers. At outside linebacker, Dickerson is a returning starter "who's a good one. He's been playing well for us for three years," Batchelor said. Senior Curtis Turner also has the ability to make plays at the outside linebacker position.
The Lancers' cornerbacks are Fox, Uasilaa and Jaramillo, with Kemp at free safety and senior Cayden Mangum and Davis Marriott at strong safety.
"Our front seven were very, very good in summer camp and are the strength of our team," Batchelor said. "Our weaknesses were in the secondary. In summer camp, that was our Achilles heel.
"We had five offensive starters who missed summer camp, but we have more depth than we did a year ago, even though our numbers are small for a 5A school."
Sizing up the Region 1 championship chase, Batchelor looks at Syracuse as perhaps the top team in an evenly balanced race.
"It's pretty even," he said. "Syracuse, I think, will be at the top. Their skill kids are pretty talented. Northridge will be tough with the (Davy) Adams kid at tailback. Davis will be Davis — always right there competing. I'm not sure about Weber, but I think they're going to be improved."
Two-time 5A finalist Fremont lost a ton of talent off last year's team, but Batchelor expects Fremont coach Kory Bosgieter will field another solid squad.
Layton Lancers at a glance
Coach: Jim Batchelor begins his eighth season as Layton's head coach. He has compiled a 40-38 record in seven seasons at the school. He is a graduate of Layton High.
(9 returning starters; Pistol offense)
Hunter Evans was pressed into service at quarterback in the fourth game of last season as a sophomore, and he has put on 30 pounds and grown 2 inches taller since then. He has good arm strength and great poise. Willie Uasilaa returns at running back after suffering a broken leg in the third game of last season. Marcus Kemp and Tyler Fox will be the top targets through the air, and Zackery Wilding anchors the offensive line and is one of several experienced players on that side of the ball.
(6 returning starters; 3-4 defense)
Russ Gamolsen anchors the D-line at nose guard, flanked by Johnny Blackmon and Devin Hatch at the end positions. Daviaire Dickerson, Wilding and Atlas Armstrong are strong at linebacker, with the defensive front seven looking strong in summer camp. Fox and Kemp spearhead a secondary that looms as the big defensive question mark heading into the season.
Coaches preseason Region 1 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 1 prediction: Fourth
Bottom line: With a total of 15 players who saw starting duty during the course of last season back, the Lancers are loaded with varsity experience. Team unity is a strength this year, along with the front seven on defense. If Evans, Uasilaa, Kemp, Fox and Vandegraff can combine forces to put some points on the board behind an O-line led by Wilding, then the Lancers appear capable of climbing back into playoff contention. Having home games against Weber, Davis and Northridge should help their cause in the Region 1 race.
Aug. 17 HUNTER, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 at Jordan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 VIEWMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Bingham, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 WEBER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 DAVIS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 NORTHRIDGE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Fremont, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 vs. Bountiful (at TBD), 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Layton High School
All-time record: 215-236-1 (44 years)
Region championships: 10 (1969 co, 1971, 1974 co, 1977 co, 1978 co, 1979 co, 1987, 1993 co, 2007, 2008)
Playoff appearances: 25
All-time playoff record: 19-24
State championships: 1
State championship record: 1-3
Most played rivalry: 44 meetings with Clearfield dating back to 1968. Clearfield leads 23-21. Last met in 2010.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Layton ended Skyline’s state-record 262-game scoring streak (1986-2007) by whitewashing the Eagles 49-0 in a quarterfinal game in 2007. ... Layton played in the highest non-overtime tie game when it tied West 27-27 in 1970.
Layton coaching history
2005-current — Jim Batchelor (40-38)
2000-2004 — Steve Smith (14-39)
1996-1999 — Carter Cook (10-30)
1991-1995 — Curtis Page (26-23)
1987-1990 — Tom Moore (13-24)
1985-1986 — Joe Wood (10-8)
1984 — Brad Hawkins (1-8)
1972-1983 — Gary Hansen (68-54)
1968-1971 — Dick Bubak (33-12-1)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2008 — Dallin Powell, OL
2008 — Thomas Bryson, DL
2007 — Gavin Green, QB
2007— Tyler Christensen, OL
2007 — Chad Wilson, LB
2004 — Austin Curtis, DL
2002 — Brody Flint, DL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.