Laura Seitz, Deseret News
It’s quite common to find a league where two or maybe even three teams are expected to be strong contenders for a championship.
But five teams? No way.
That’s the case in Region 5 football this year, however, as all three Cache Valley schools — defending league champion Mountain Crest, along with Logan and Sky View — all figure to be in the hunt, as well as Box Elder and a resurgent Roy High team.
Picking a favorite is like pulling teeth — coaches stammer and squirm at the prospect of trying to decide which one of those five teams will wind up as the top dog in a region that also includes Bonneville and league newcomer Ogden.
“I think it’s loaded,” said Box Elder coach Robbie Gunter, whose team has been picked by some experts as the one to beat. “I think it’s a great region this year. The three Cache Valley schools, who knows which one is the best, but they are all excellent. And Roy is probably as good as they’ve been in a long time with great young kids and they’re competing.
“I don’t know that I’d pick a favorite. I think that they’re all pretty good.
“Mountain Crest has won it the last few years, so you’ve gotta give it to them going into it — you’ve gotta knock them off,” Gunther said. “Just because Mountain Crest has done it so many times (five titles won or shared over the last six seasons), you have to say that they’re the favorite. They always seem to put it together.”
However, Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton isn’t so sure about his own team's title contention.
Yes, the Mustangs are the defending league champs and were within one play of winning the 4A state championship last November, dropping a dramatic double-overtime heartbreaker to Timpview in the title game.
But he lost a lot of great players off that team, and he claims his young squad might be too inexperienced to take home another title this year.
“There are five or six teams that can win it,” Wootton said. “There’s not any clear-cut favorite. There could be a few teams that are really happy at the end — and a lot that are really disappointed. It’s just that close, and it could be a little disappointing because I think everybody will play everybody else tough.
“I just kinda hope that the tradition keeps our kids playing at a high level. Our expectations for the kids is real high. We’re pushing them very hard, and we coach our kids up to win. When you lose great players and have to fill a lot of spots, you hope that when kids get that opportunity they play real hard and get after it.”
Logan High coach Mike Favero certainly knows a little bit about playing hard, getting after it and bringing home a championship, as his teams have taken four state titles over the last 14 years.
And he sees this year’s Region 5 race as a five-team dogfight.
“Mountain Crest, Box Elder, Roy and Logan are probably very, very similar teams this year, and you can throw Sky View into that group as well,” he said. “Mountain Crest’s younger programs are outstanding and they will be right there — they’ve got too many kids not to (contend). And Sky View’s got a lot of talent coming back.
“Roy’s junior class was probably the strongest in the region. Their biggest thing is, mentally, can you turn the program around? They’re talented but, if the kids haven’t experienced success at a high level, sometimes they can be held back by that. I think the most talented team in the region is Box Elder; they’re tough.
“With those five teams, it’s going to be a very, very, very tight race,” Favero said.
Roy coach Fred Fernandes, who likes his team’s offensive firepower but fears depth could be a problem in his program, gives the inside track to Box Elder.
“It’s a tough league,” he said. “Box Elder, in my opinion, I would pick them No. 1 just because of their starting offensive players. I think Mountain Crest is always gonna be solid and so is Logan, and then us and Sky View are right there with them.”
And Sky View coach Craig Anhder, who’s not a big fan of making preseason predictions, sees it as being up for grabs as well — and he likes his team’s chances.
“I hate those kinds of things,” he said of such predictions. “I think you’ve got to earn the respect. I don’t like preseason stuff. I don’t like predictions. I don’t think they mean anything. I think you have to earn what you get. And I want us to earn it; I like things to be earned. I just learned in life that if you don’t earn it, you don’t appreciate it.
“Our league’s gonna be tough. Obviously Mountain Crest is gonna be good, and they’re gonna have a strong running game. You know that. They’ve got a great O-lineman (Kyle Christiansen) that’s committed to the University of Utah. They’ve got their running back (Gaje Ferguson) that’s really good, and they’re gonna be a force to be reckoned with.”
And while he looks at Logan, Box Elder and Roy as contenders, too, he says it’s time for his team to take a step forward.
“You look at our league and a team in our league has played for the state championship almost every year, eight out of nine years, something like that,” Anhder said. “We haven’t always won it, but Mountain Crest has been there a few times and Logan has been there a few times. It’s our turn, absolutely. I’m excited to see if we can make that run. We’ll see.”
Bonneville’s first-year head coach, Jantz Afuvai, realizes his team might not be in the championship mix just yet, but he has high hopes of turning around this once-proud program.
“We are gradually starting to come together as a team and coaching staff,” he said. “Our goal is to improve daily and learn from our mistakes. Our focus is on the little things and then the big things will take care of themselves.”
And Ogden High, which moved up from 3A into the 4A ranks this year, will have its hands full competing in one of the toughest football regions in the state.
“I have really terrible numbers, but we have some good athletes and we’re gonna go to battle,” said first-year Tigers coach Kent Taylor, who has just 42 players on his roster. “I’ll take what they give me and try to do the best I can. There’s no use whining about it; it doesn’t change anything at all.
“I have some kids with a lot of heart and, let’s be honest, if you’re willing to suit up in Region 5 with 42 other guys, you’re a stud in my book. ... It’s a great region and nobody thinks you can do it, so we’ll have that chip on our shoulder and try to prove ‘em wrong.”
Deseret News predictions for Region 5 football
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. MOUNTAIN CREST: Last year's league champ and 4A state runner-up lost a lot of great players off that near-championships team, but there are still some good ones returning to a program that his won or shared five league titles in the last six years. Mammoth offensive/defensive lineman Kyle Christiansen, who has committed to play collegiately at the University of Utah, is back to anchor the line on both sides of the ball, and he's a great one. Senior running back/linebacker Gaje Ferguson provides plenty of leadership for the Mustangs' squad, as does senior fullback/linebacker Nick Taylor. 2012 RECORD: 11-3 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Timpview 38-31 in double overtime in 4A state finals.
2. LOGAN: The Grizzlies have another left-handed senior quarterback named Nelson — this time, it's Chase — to follow in the footsteps of older brothers Riley and D.J. Nelson, two record-setting QBs who led Logan to state championships in 2005 and 2011, respectively. His top target will be senior wide receiver Taylor Compton, who hauled in a single-season record 107 receptions last year. Seniors Logan Rice and Angel Lopez return on the offensive line, while senior tackle Sam Bennion anchors the D-line, with senior Jaden Connor and junior Bracken Williams returning at linebacker. 2012 RECORD: 8-3 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Timpview 49-14 in first round.
3. BOX ELDER: The Bees have plenty of experience to go around and could be the sleeper in this year's league title race. Senior linebackers Breckin Gunter and Shad Watson are both four-year starters, and they definitely have the size, strength and capability to play at the next level. Watson is also the returning starter at quarterback, and Gunter shines at fullback. Senior running back Matt Williams and senior slotback Jayk Brooks are also returning starters who contribute to the Bees' offensive firepower. Luke Daley, a senior offensive guard and defensive tackle, anchors both lines. 2012 RECORD: 7-5 PLAYOFFS: Lost to East 21-7 in quarterfinals.
4. ROY: This could be the year that the Royals break through and reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2007. Junior quarterback Tyler Skidmore is a good one who already has a couple years of varsity experience under his belt, and he'll engineer a ballclub that has high-scoring offensive potential. Skidmore's supporting cast includes senior running backs Cameron Shaw and Justin Weaver, sophomore tailback Mattie Matuatia, and receivers Cody Hobbs, Logan LaRose, Nate Jones, Jake Gallegos and Jaden Brown. Bridger Gray anchors the O-line. 2012 RECORD: 6-4 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
5. SKY VIEW: Senior quarterback Braxton Godderidge is a returning starter and provides excellent leadership for the Bobcats, and he'll be joined in the backfield by senior running back Dane Anderson, who's big, strong and mighty fast. Senior receivers Justin Evans and Christian Fife give Godderidge a pair of proven passing targets, and offensive linemen Seth White and Caden Didericksen should provide ample pass protection and running room up front. Senior linebacker Robert Ercanbrack is a returning starter on the defense. 2012 RECORD: 5-6 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Orem 41-31 in first round.
6. BONNEVILLE: First-year head coach Jantz Afuvai returns to his alma mater, and he has high hopes of getting this proud, tradition-rich program back on its feet. He's counting on senior quarterback Kysen Hall, senior running back Mitch Russo, senior center Cole Combe and senor receivers Drake Dalton and Dezmond Chacon to help the Lakers move the ball offensively. Defensively, the Lakers will be led by end Gabe Smout and linebackers Ammon Eberhard and Dalton, with Chacon also busy on the D-line. 2012 RECORD: 3-7 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
7. OGDEN: The Tigers, who had a tough time being competitive at the 3A level, were moved up into the 4A ranks this year. First-year head coach Kent Taylor has just 42 kids who came out for this year's team, so Ogden will likely take its lumps in this terribly tough football region. Senior running back Josh Shackleford is a proven performer on both sides of the ball, while senior quarterback Michael Richardson will take the offensive reins and senior Porter Smith gives the Tigers a small but inspirational player at slot receiver and cornerback. 2012 RECORD: 3-7 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
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