High school football: Desert Hills Thunder 2012 preview

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

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Note: Desert Hills finished with a 9-4 overall record and was tied for second in Region 9 with a 4-2 record in 2011. It lost to Hurricane, 21-0, in the 3A championship game.

ST. GEORGE — After coming up one victory short of what would’ve been a surprising 3A state title last year, it’s back to the drawing board for Desert Hills’ football program.

In fact, the majority of what made the Thunder recognizable last year will be different.

Jake Nelson resigned as head coach. Defensive coordinator Matt Roberts took the head coaching job at North Sanpete. The program graduated 27 seniors who’d been at the school since the doors opened in 2008, including dominant first-team all-staters Mike Needham, Peter Brown and Bud Pope.

Even the uniforms will have a different look as new coach Carle Franke is moving away from Desert Hills’ golden helmet look in favor of a sleek black in the mold of the Oregon Ducks.

For a program that increased its win total in each of its first four years — and one many believe has the potential to be an upper-echelon team for years to come — the question is: Will 2012 be a rebuilding year or a reloading year?

Returning starter Ty Rutledge is hungry to make it a reloading year as he shifts from wide receiver to starting quarterback this season.

“We’ve got to put in the work. It didn’t come easy (last year). We might not have been the most talented team but we worked pretty hard. We’ve got to focus on trying to do that again,” said Rutledge, who hasn’t played quarterback since his freshman season.

In many ways, Desert Hills is just as athletic as it was a year ago with the likes of Rutledge, Josh Anderson and Travis LaGrone returning.

The overall depth of the team took a big hit with the graduation of those 27 seniors, and Franke — the team’s offensive coordinator last season — said a bunch of players will have to start both ways as a result.

“For us to get back to where we were last year we’re going need a little luck, we’re going to have to put in a ton of hard work and we have to stay away from the injury bug,” said Franke. “Our goal is to always win a state championship, but the reality is we have a lot of work to get there cause we are so young and inexperienced.”

Not too much was expected of Desert Hills heading into last year’s playoffs with back-to-back losses to Hurricane and Cedar to end the regular season.

Quarterback Porter Harris and running back Needham rose to the challenge in the playoffs, however, leading the Thunder to three straight victories before falling to Hurricane in the championship. Replacing those two outstanding offensive threats won’t be easy.

Needham’s void is the biggest question mark. Realistically, senior Brock Johnson and sophomore Bridger Cowdin will end up sharing the workload as neither has the same downhill power running ability of Needham.

As a receiver last year, Rutledge hauled in 42 catches for 591 yards and eight TDs. Franke believes Rutledge’s understanding of the offensive should make for a smooth transition.

“It’s not going to be difficult cause he’s such a great athlete. He has such a feel for the game. He understands all the parts of the game. Even at wide receiver last year, he knew where everyone should be lined up,” said Franke.

Assuming Rutledge’s transition from receiver to QB is as seamless as advertised, he’ll have two outstanding weapons to throw to. First, tight end Josh Anderson is back after grabbing 34 catches for 378 yards a year ago.