Note: Manti finished with an 11-1 overall record in 2012 and was first in the 2A North region with a 7-0 record. It beat Manti 16-13 in the 2A championship game.
MANTI — It’s an odd year on the calendar, and for Manti football that means one thing — time for a new classification.
For the third time in the past five years, Manti is changing classifications because of another round of football realignment by the UHSAA. Unlike previous changes, the latest realignment seems to be one everyone is pleased with.
After winning two straight 2A state championships, Manti's football team is being bumped up to the smaller 3A and will compete week in and week out with schools with similar enrollment.
“From the smallest to the biggest in the whole 3A, I doubt there’s a 200-kid difference. It’s teams we ought to be able to compete with, but it’s going to be a tough, competitive game every week,” said Manti coach Cole Meacham.
Instead of facing region foes like ALA, Gunnison, North Sevier and North Summit — teams the Templars soundly beat the past two years — Manti’s region slate now includes teams like Delta, Juab and Canyon View.
Despite the jump, Meacham said the program is used to success and he doesn’t expect that to change one bit.
“They’re used to wining; they expect to win; and we try and push it that we’re not going to lose. There’s times it’s going to happen, but we’re not going to live with it,” said Meacham.
In an effort to prepare his team for the increased challenges — both physically and mentally — Meacham went out and scheduled a pair of 4A teams — Mountain View and Provo — the first two weeks of the 2013 season.
The message to his team about the schedule is a simple one: “Get used to it.”
Fortunately for the Templars, they return roughly half the starters from last year’s championship team, which could help for a smooth transition to 3A. The biggest strength will be in the trenches.
Manti returns three of five starters on the offensive line and two of three starters on the defensive line.
“Our strength will be upfront. I think we can be pretty solid upfront,” said Meacham.
Offensively, Keltn Pritchard and Dane Howe are both returning starters at tackle, while Dylan Brown returns at center. Blocking tight end Jared Schiess is also back, which leaves a pair of guard positions to fill.
Those positions may end up being filled by Penisamani Taufa and Tristan Olsen, part-time defensive starters a year ago.
Manti has numerous holes to fill at running back and speed back in its fly offense, but returning starting quarterback Connor Aste will no doubt help with the transition.
“Connor throws the ball really well, so I think that can take some of the pressure off our running game. We still want to be a run-first team, but we don’t have to be a run-only team,” said Meacham.
Aste had a very strong junior season last year completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,529 yards and 15 TDs. His top target, TJ Pogroszewski, is back this year, but the senior will be moving from tight end to running back.
The biggest question mark for Manti lies on the defensive side of the ball. Even though Pogroszewski is a returning starter at middle linebacker, three-year outside starting linebackers Austin Jackson and Zane Stevens both graduated.