High school football preview: Teams in new 3A North are loaded with experience

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7 2013 8:10 p.m. MDT

Juan Diego/Judge Memorial in the 3A football semifinal game in Salt Lake City, Utah, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

FRIDAY: 3AA South Preview

Thanks to the UHSAA's latest realignment, there’s a buzz surrounding numerous football programs around the state that’s been missing for a while.

Morgan hasn’t advanced to the state semifinals since 2008, but in the smaller 3A classification the Trojans have been tabbed the group's preseason No. 1.

Grantsville (2005) and Union (2007) have even longer semifinal droughts, but they head into the 2013 season knowing anything is possible now that the larger 3A schools are no longer in the playoff equation.

“I think we have as good of athletes as the other teams. We just don’t usually have the depth. This will even things out. I don’t think it will be any easier,” said Union coach Matt Labrum.

That’s especially the case in the 3A North region, a league where everyone has ample experience returning.

Judge, which last appeared in the semifinals in 2010, returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense. Grantsville returns eight starters from last season’s stellar defense. Preseason favorite Morgan returns six starters from a team that advanced to the 3A quarterfinals last year.

While Morgan, Judge and Grantsville enter the season with loftier expectations, Emery and Union are certainly capable of crashing the top three, and even Carbon is capable of making some noise with more than half of last year’s starters returning and a new offense.

“We have high expectations for all our returning starters. Last year left a bad taste in our mouth,” said Carbon coach Jeff Blanc, whose team went 1-9. “Collectively we are excited about this upcoming season. If we can stay injury-free, I think that we’re going to be competitive in football games. I think we will be battling for a playoff spot this year.”

Carbon hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2000.

Morgan, on the other hand, has been a perennial playoff team the past decade, and that tradition is a big reason the Trojans were voted by coaches as the region favorite. There are question marks though, particularly on the offensive line with only one returning starter.

“We’re going to spend most of our fall to get our linemen aligned out. In the past we’ve been deep for us as far as linemen goes, but we have one returning starting lineman,” said Morgan coach Kovi Christiansen.

Grantsville is in a similar situation. It returns plenty of skill-position players and the bulk of last year’s strong defense, but all five linemen will be varsity newcomers.

“Even though we don’t have a ton of experience in that category, we have tons to choose from. Our offensive line group in general is the biggest as far as talent and numbers that I’ve had since being at Grantsville. We’re growing some big boys finally. We have a lot to choose from; it’s just finding the best five that work together and giving them experience in a hurry,” said Grantsville coach Tony Cloward.

Experience on the line won’t be an issue for Emery, which returns all five starters from an offense that averaged 35 ppg in 2A last season. This year, however, the Spartans are making the jump to 3A, and coach Jim Jones said the defense needs to be much-improved if his team hope to compete.

“We had a hard time stopping some of the better teams physically, but I think the added year of maturity with these kids I’m banking on to be the difference,” said Jones.

When it’s all said and done, the 3A North champion will likely head into the playoffs this October as the team to beat. It will certainly be uncharted territory, but one the schools all embrace in the new classification.