“I think it helped a lot,” Miller said. “The freshman that played last year compared to the kids that stayed down in little league — they’re light years ahead. They know the schedule, the plan. They understand high school football.”
Hillcrest Huskies at a glance
Coach: This is Casey Miller’s second year as the coach of the Huskies. He’s a graduate of Cyprus High and played college quarterback at Benedict College in Kansas.
(3 returning starters; I-back/pro-set offense)
Hillcrest switched from a gung-ho pass heavy offense to a more traditional pro set offense. Miller described the offense as a combination of two elite collegiate programs.
It is “a mix between Wisconsin and USC’s offense,” he explained. “You see Wisconsin running the zone out of one back — with one back we basically run Wisconsin’s offense. With two backs, USC — when they had Reggie Bush — ran power-counter and play-action.”
Bailey Ammons is a three-year starter on the outskirts, but with the majority of the offense being untested opposing defenses may blanket the 6-foot-3 receiver.
“Teams are going to start drifting towards Bailey. We need (the sophomores) to do well enough that defenses can’t cheat,” Miller said.
That bodes well for sophomore quarterback Tanner Thompson. The 5-foot-10, 150-pounder is still undeveloped and learning the intricacies of the game. Keeping him off the turf is crucial to speeding up his learning curve.
(2 returning starters; Base 4-3 defense)
Hillcrest has three sophomores hunting the secondary and two more on the defensive line. It could be a long season for the Huskies if the underclassmen don’t adapt to the varsity game at light speed.
Jake Fife, an imposing 6-foot-4 225-pound senior linebacker, tallied 103 tackles last season. His responsibilities increased significantly, and the Huskies will rely on his leadership this season immensely.
Hillcrest will employ a conservative approach on defense. Blitzing — similar to a Solar eclipse — will be a rare sight, but when it happens it should be special.
“It’s hard for a high school team to put together 11 good plays in a row — really hard,” Miller said. “So, my philosophy is bend but don’t break. If they’re good enough to bleed us out, they’re probably going to win anyway.”
If Hillcrest expects to lower its opponents' scoring after coughing up 35.1 points per game last season it has to get opposing offenses off the field.
In a game against eventual region champion Olympus, the Huskies were down 14-7 with five minutes to go. The Titans scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, however.
“The wheels fell off. The defense ran out of gas ‘cause they were on the field the whole game. The defense just wore down,” Miller said. “Our defense was on the field twice as much as our offense. The defense will automatically get better if they only have to tackle the other team 60 times instead of 80 times.”
Coaches’ Region 7 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 7 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: It’s hard to imagine that a team mostly comprised of sophomores can legitimately challenge for a playoff position. Hillcrest in years past was complacent with losing, but that attitude has begun to dissipate. This year could be rough at times, but in the long run it could serve the Huskies tremendously. For now, Hillcrest is still looking up at the top four teams in the region.