Note: Alta finished with a 9-3 overall record in 2012 and was second in Region 3 with a 4-1 record. It lost to Syracuse 31-24 in the 5A quarterfinals.
SANDY — A year ago at this time, Alta's Chipper Lucero was in a tight competition, fighting for a chance to be the Hawks' starting quarterback.
This season, after earning the job and then recording the top passing statistics in Class 5A in 2012, the senior-to-be is the Hawks’ and head coach Bob Stephens’ go-to guy.
“He’s a lot more experienced this year,” Stephens said, noting that Lucero totaled more than 3,400 passing yards and 37 passing touchdowns, numbers that ranked fourth and second, respectively, in the state.
“He made some mistakes early on in the season last year with some interceptions,” Stephens added, “but as the year went on, those interceptions diminished as he really started to learn schemes and coverages. I look for him to be a very, very potent force for us this year.”
Opposing coaches have also noticed Lucero’s ability to effectively guide the offense.
“I’ve coached against a lot of quarterbacks that are really good,” said East coach Brandon Matich. “The best I’ve ever coached against was Riley Nelson from Logan; I thought he was a spectacular high school athlete. I think Chipper is right there. He’s so good.”
One of the weapons Lucero will be throwing to again this year is Mack Richards, who learned from some of the best a season ago and was recently named No. 3 on the Deseret News top 20 football players list.
“Last year we had two D-I receivers, Ammon Barker and Harrison Handley, and Mack was one of the receivers in that group,” Stephens said. “They had phenomenal years and Mack, kind of in the background or the shadows of them, still managed to have a phenomenal year. I think he’s one of the best receivers by far in the state."
With 887 yards and 11 touchdowns, the senior was one of three Alta players who recorded more than 750 receiving yards in 2012. He was behind Barker (1,201 yards, 13 touchdowns), who is now playing for Hawaii, and ahead of Handley (778 yards, eight touchdowns), who is at Utah.
Nine more returning starters will step on the field alongside Lucero and Richards as the team prepares for another challenging schedule. The squad plays in one of the most competitive regions in the state and is gearing up for that tough Region 3 schedule by facing other top teams around the state in the preseason.
“My philosophy is, the only way you can get ready to compete at a high level is to play high-level teams,” Stephens said. “When I’m trying to develop a preseason schedule, I want to play teams that are going to get me ready to play region.”
The Hawks, who are No. 2 in the Deseret News preseason rankings, open the season at East, which is ranked No. 7. They host Lone Peak (No. 6) and Timpview (No. 5) in the following two weeks.
“Those three right there are constantly competing for state championships,” Stephens said, “and that’s what helps you get ready for a difficult season, which also helps you get ready for playoffs.”
Including those nonregion games, six of the eight in-state games Alta will play are against teams ranked in the top 20. The rest of the schedule is comprised of Bingham (No. 1), Jordan (No. 4), Brighton (No. 10) and Allentown, N.J., which finished 9-2 last year.
A challenge Alta faces this season is adjusting to lower numbers than usual due to the opening of Corner Canyon High School. While the Hawks used to typically have rosters of 150 names, the number is closer to 105 this season.
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