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Note: Woods Cross finished with 4-6 overall record and was 2-3 in Region 6 in 2011. It lost to Timpview, 31-14, in the first round of the 4A playoffs.
WOODS CROSS — It’s one thing to say there’s hype heading into a new high school football season — an added degree of enthusiasm if you will. It’s a completely different thing to say the upcoming senior class is your best in school history.
Talk about pressure.
But that’s exactly the label attached to the 2012 Woods Cross squad despite finishing two games under .500 last year.
“I do,” Wildcats’ first-year coach Justin Spencer, who left his alma mater at West to pace the sidelines for Woods Cross, said when asked if he agreed this class was the best to ever walk the halls of his new school. “In 1989 (it) was the last time they really made a push for a state championship. This class has that kind of grounds for a run like that. They kind of have that expectation.
“I’ve never been around a group of players as dedicated to working hard and (who) are as extremely talented as they are,” Spencer continued. “That’s no disrespect to my West teams. We had great teams, too. But these kids — they have a special group. They expect to win it all and I have bought into that, I really have.”
Winning the state championship one year removed from a losing season is a lofty goal, especially considering the depth of the 4A classification and the talent in Region 6. Yet, for the Wildcats, it isn’t completely unreasonable.
In several games, Woods Cross folded late in the fourth quarter last year. In its opener at home against Viewmont, the Wildcats led 21-7 heading into the final quarter but ultimately were outscored 20-3 to lose in overtime.
Then, against Highland (Idaho), Woods Cross led 21-9 at the break but was outplayed 21-7 in the second half for another loss. Finally against Highland, the ‘Cats were outdueled in the final two quarters — surrendering a staggering 31 second-half points.
So tightening the clamps in the second half to close games has been the main priority throughout summer training leading up to this year's season-opener at Viewmont.
“That’s been a point of emphasis since I got (here) — is to find a way to finish games,” Spencer explained. “The kids know how to win. I’m not trying to teach them how to win. But, what they lacked maybe was the nastiness to finish a team off. Just getting complacent in a couple games, having the tenacity to finish a game has been a major point of emphasis.”
Woods Cross is nestled within the deepest region in 4A with East, Bountiful and Highland all vying for the same prize. Still, Spencer confidently picked his team to claim the region crown in his preseason questionnaire.
“I picked us first and I’m not going to change that,” Spencer said. “We have to beat three 4A juggernauts. I know that it’s not an easy task. I respect our opponents. But, I feel we have a really, really good team. If we can stay healthy and we can continue to progress and let (our) athleticism do what it’s capable of. ... I really feel we can challenge, if not win it all.”
If there’s a year to rewrite the pecking order, this is it for Woods Cross, as they will play the Leopards, Braves and Rams all at home.
Woods Cross Wildcats at a glance
Coach: This is Justin Spencer’s first year at Woods Cross after garnishing a career record of 18-15. He’s a graduate of West High.
(6 returning starters; Spread offense)
Woods Cross returns all but one skill player from last season’s squad that averaged slightly over 28 points per game.
There certainly is a boat load of talent intermittently scattered across the layers of the offense. Quarterback Skyler Farnes, named second-team all-state last year and primarily gaining interest from Utah State, threw for 2,598 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior. However, he struggled with forced decisions and late reads that correlated to 16 interceptions.
“He’s a true student of the game and he was put in a tough spot last year because the protection broke down a lot,” Spencer said of Farnes. “A lot of the picks came on late throws over the middle or scrambles where he was trying too hard to make the play and it got away from him. So, for him it’s been film study and in practice the emphasis has been ball security. He’s taken it to heart.”
During summer, Farnes has emerged as a field sergeant — adapting to the new offensive schemes quickly while taking command of the huddle.
Recent Stanford commit Sean Barton and Alton Brown, who’s also receiving interest from the next level, pace the backfield. Spencer describes the two sprinters as “the best tandem of running backs in the state.”
Barton is a freak athlete — there’s no other way to put it. Standing at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he’s been clocked at a sub-11 100 meters. As a junior, he rushed for 413 yards and nine scores while snagging 49 receptions for 903 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s just so big, so physical and so fast that he’s lethal,” Spencer said of Barton. “He’s going to rush for over 1,000 yards — no question in my mind. I don’t even have to worry about it because we’re going to try to get him 15 to 20 carries a game. If he gets 20 touches he’s going to score five touchdowns. I just think he’s that good.”
Filipo Mokofisi, already signed with Utah, is Farnes' main weapon at tight end, but is also readily complimented by other capable receivers.
The underlying concern about a potentially special offensive unit is the offensive line. It’s being built from scratch with many unanswered question marks still being worked out.
“It’s a concern,” Spencer said of the offensive line. “I know that we have the skill kids to be able to do damage. Our game is mostly going to be affected by the kids we have up front.”
(9 returning starters; Base 4-2-5 defense)
The defense was a major detriment last season, especially in the second half. Its inability to produce critical stops proved to be the disease of the 2011 season.
Spencer has implemented a base 4-2-5 defense tailored off Boise State and TCU. “With the flexibility with the base formations (we’ll) be able to defend the different styles of offenses that we see,” he said.
Barton, who will play linebacker for the Cardinal after returning from a planned LDS mission, is slated to inherit a different role this fall. He’ll rotate endlessly throughout the game at linebacker and safety to adequately allow him to survey the field. In 2011, he recorded 96 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions.
“Defensively is where he’s going to make his mark at the next level,” Spencer said of Barton when asked if he felt he was the best player in the state of Utah. “I’ve seen (Cottonwood QB Cooper Bateman) firsthand when he was sophomore — he torched us when I was at West. So, I know he’s legit. (But) I’ve never been around a kid like Sean Barton. He the most athletic, strongest, fastest kid I’ve ever seen in high school.”
Many of the players contributing on offense will also start on defense for the Wildcats. The lone exception is defensive end Jake Kocherhans, who is expected to impact substantially on the defensive side of the ball.
Coaches Region 6 straw poll: Fourth
Deseret News Region 6 prediction: Fourth
Bottom line: It shows the strength of Region 6 that Woods Cross is suiting up several next-level players this season but still remains outside the projected top three teams in the league. The fact of the matter is hype is just that — hype. Until results are proven on the field it’s easy to get caught up in commotion. It’s like buying a brand new cell phone because everyone wants it, but eventually it turns out to be a chronically defective model. It’ll be interesting to see if the Wildcats can live up to the expectations; the potential is certainly there — no one is arguing that. But for now Woods Cross is still unproven.
Aug. 17 — at Viewmont, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 — at Bonneville, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 — MOUNTAIN CREST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — SKY VIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — EAST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — at Cyprus 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — HIGHLAND, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at Clearfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — BOUNTIFUL, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 — OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.
Felts Facts for Woods Cross High School
All-time record: 124-214 (35 years)
Region championships: 1 (1988 co)
Playoff appearances: 13
All-time playoff record: 9-13
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-0
Most played rivalry: 34 meetings with Bountiful dating back to 1979. Bountiful leads 28-6. Meet on Oct. 12.
Felt’s Factoid(s): When Kitt Rawlings rushed for 423 yards in a game in 1989, no one knew if that was a state record or not — prompting research that led to compiling a history and records of Utah prep football. Incidentally, Rawlings missed the record by 11 yards and now ranks third.Comment on this story
Woods Cross coaching history
2012 — Justin Spencer
2011 — Nick Longshore (4-6)
2007-2010 — Fred Fernandes (18-20)
2005-2006 — Russ Jones (5-14)
2000-2004 — Alema Te'o (7-42)
1986-1999 — John Hanning (61-81)
1981-1985 — Larry Eldracher (18-29)
1977-1980 — Joseph Hawkins (13-22)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2011 — Sean Barton, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.