Note: Uintah finished with a 1-8 overall record in 2012 and was fifth in Region 10 with a 1-4 record. It did not qualify for the playoffs.
VERNAL — It’s been 11 years since Uintah’s football team won a playoff game and four since it enjoyed a winning record. Second-year coach Cody Reutzel believes the necessary steps are being taken to change all that.
“That’s one thing that’s changed a little is we are starting to get some of our good athletes in the school to come out and play, and we’re keeping the ones who are good,” said Reutzel. “You can’t coach without talent. That’s kind of the first step — make a program the kids want to be around so we can get the kids out and keep them out.”
The Cedar High graduate has brought a youthful vigor to the program, and it’s rubbing off on the players.
“There’s just a lot more buy in than there was last year. Last year I think the kids really tried, but we had a tough schedule to start and it was hard for them to keep their heads up. We just never reached our potential,” said Reutzel.
With roughly half those starters returning this year, and an influx of talented underclassmen, Uintah is poised to improve upon one-win seasons in 2011 and 2012.
A big reason for the optimism is up front. The Utes return four offensive linemen from a year ago, and they’re a big group by 3A standards. At the BYU 7-on-7 camp in June, Uintah advanced to the quarterfinals of the big man challenge before narrowly losing to Pleasant Grove, the eventual winner.
Jed Rich, Caleb Birchell, Vaisa Maile and Rowdy Farnsworth need to continue to work on their technique, particularly on pass protection. Uintah has been a running team through the years, but Reutzel wants to see more balance out of the Utes' spread formation.
He also wants a healthy quarterback.
Braxton Coonis started three of Uintah’s first four games last season, but early in a Week 4 loss to Grantsville he suffered a pretty significant concussion and didn’t play the rest of the season.
“He’s awesome, very athletic, throws the ball well,” said Reutzel. “They key is going to be keeping him healthy.”
Coonis is as excited about the season as anyone.
“Everyone is starting to buy in,” said Coonis. “This will be the year we get everything turned around and get it going on the right track.”
A much easier schedule should help. Last year Uintah opened with a 51-0 loss to Stansbury, a 34-27 loss in overtime to Green River, Wyo. and then a 54-7 loss to Pine View. Psychologically the players never really recovered.
This year the Utes open with Ogden, Green River, Wyo. and Union — three winnable games.
They’re only winnable, however, with significant defensive improvements. Uintah ranked in the bottom four in 3A last year in scoring defense at 40 points per game.
This season defensive coordinator Andy Messersmith is switching to a 4-3 defense, and Reutzel said the implementation has gone very well so far.
In the new 3AA classification, six of seven teams from the North region make the playoffs. If the Utes hope to finish in the top four to secure a home playoff game in either of the first two rounds, the revamped defense will need to show continued improvement all season.
Uintah Utes at a glance
Coach: Cody Reutzel is entering is second season after a 1-8 rookie head-coaching campaign last year. He’s a graduate of Cedar High.