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.
“We’ll have a little bit more players working both ways than we’ve ever had in the past,” Stephens said, acknowledging that while practice is normal for smaller schools, it is a change for his team.
“We’ve typically platooned the whole thing because we’ve had the numbers to do so,” he said. “That’s one of the differences that’s going to happen this year. I think that’s also going to be a big advantage for us as well.”
Ultimately, the coach said having a successful season at Alta comes down to three things: “Staying healthy, executing, and it doesn’t hurt to be lucky at times.”
Alta Hawks at a glance
Coach: Bob Stephens is entering his third season as Alta’s head coach, where he has led the Hawks to an 18-5 record. He is a graduate of La Mirada High in California.
Offense (5 returning starters, Spread) The Hawks averaged 33.9 points per game last season, third best among 5A teams, and two of the main cogs are returning to the starting lineup. Quarterback Chipper Lucero and receiver Mack Richards will guide a squad heavy in senior leadership. Baron Bruce, a 6-foot-4 right tackle, is the team’s leader on the offensive line, and Logan Harrison, who had 374 yards and two touchdowns a year ago, is another vital piece in the receiver rotation.
Defense (6 returning starters) Senior linebacker Jaden Johnson returns a year after being named the Hawks’ defensive MVP and recording 104 tackles to lead Alta as it faces the best offensive teams in the state. Quinn Fabrizio, a 6-foot-4 senior, is expected to anchor the defensive back position and junior Josh Soifua will be a key defensive end. Both worked their way into starting spots last year. Senior Bridger Pennington is a team captain who had four interceptions and is expected to make an impact at safety; senior Dallas Walker will work on both the offensive line and the defensive line; and junior Zach Moreton is a linebacker with an eye for the ball.
Coaches preseason Region 4 straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 4 prediction: Second
Bottom line: Alta’s participation numbers are down by about one-third due to the opening of Corner Canyon High School; however, at least for this year, the Hawks still have a lot of talented players with a lot of experience returning this season. Unfortunately, so do most of the other teams in Region 3. The Hawks are playing in one of the most challenging regions in the state and face a top 20-ranked team or an out-of-state team seven of the nine weeks this season. If the Hawks can remain healthy and survive region play, they will be at an advantage come tournament time.
Alta coaching history
2011-current — Bob Stephens (18-5)
2005-2010 — Les Hamilton (51-15)
1994-2004 — Mitch Lunak (71-42)
1978-1993 — Doug Berry (94-72)
Deseret News Mr. Football recipients
2007 — Boo Andersen, LB
2006 — Sausan Shakerin, RB
Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years
2008 — Ammon Olsen, QB
2007 — Ryan Rosenvall, QB
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Ammon Barker, WR
2011 — Ryan Jensen, DL
2009 — Jordan Brown, QB
2009 — Zach Liston, WR
2009 — Lundon Smith, OL
2009 — Beaver Ho-Ching, DL
2009 — Nick Wolford, LB
2009 — Vance Bingham, K
2008 — Parker Webster, WR
2008 — Parker Erickson, OL
2008 — Dan Adams, DL
2008 — A’I Ho-Ching, LB
2008 — Trey Phillips, DB
2007 — Sausan Shakerin, RB
2007 — Derek Keller, DL
2007 — Jordan Anderson, LB
2007 — Jefferson Court, LB
2007 — Parker Walbeck, Specialist
2006 — Cody Gates, OL
2006 — Jefferson Court, LB
2006 — Dallin Cutler, Specialist
2005 — Braden Hansen, OL
2005 — Jordan Herkimer, DL
2005 — Troy Bunting, LB
2004 — Dave Johnson, TE
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.