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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.