Note: Desert Hills finished with an 8-4 overall record in 2012 and tied for first in Region 9 with a 5-1 record. It lost to Spanish Fork 35-28 in the 3A semifinals.
ST. GEORGE — Carl Franke has a grand vision for Desert Hills football.
“My goal is to make Desert Hills High School football program one of the top-class programs in the state,” said Franke, a New York native in his second year as head coach.
He’d like the program to be mentioned alongside elite programs across the state like Bingham, Mountain Crest and Alta, among others. Franke acknowledges it’s tough to do as a 3A program, but said Juan Diego is a prime example that it can be done.
After last season, Desert Hills is certainly trending in the right direction.
In a year when many figured Desert Hills faced a difficult rebuilding season, the Thunder earned a share of the Region 9 title and advanced to the 3A semifinals for the second-straight season. That success came on the heels of finishing as a 3A runner-up in 2011.
The next step for Desert Hills to be mentioned among 3A elite is to win a state championship. That’s never easy, as evidenced by the fact that it took Hurricane four tries to finally break its championship hex in 2011.
After two straight trips to Rice-Eccles Stadium, Desert Hills is a program that’s tasted success and is hopeful about taking the next step.
“The thing I want to see this team is grow and mature and keep building on the foundation we’ve built,” said Franke.
Desert Hills begins the season as the Region 9 favorite based on the Deseret News preseason coaches poll, expectations the Thunder are certainly capable of living up to with a great offensive line and a very stout defense.
The offensive line is without question the best in 3AA or 3A with five talented returning starters — Brock Doman (left tackle), Gabriel Sewell (left guard), Chipper Whatcott (center), Lausii Sewell (right guard) and Justice Alo (right tackle). Doman and Whatcott are the lone seniors, so the Thunder will be formidable in 2014 too.
“Our nucleus up front this year (is) nice,” said Franke. “We have guys who’ve played there and they’re still young.”
That O-line corps will be blocking for arguably the best back in Southern Utah too. Bridger Cowdin is coming off a strong sophomore season in which he carried the ball 160 times for 954 yards and eight TDs. He was also a threat out of the backfield as he finished with 245 receiving yards.
“He’s the best back in Region 9 and he could be one of the best backs in the state. Very talented, very good out of the backfield, great pass blocker. Does all the little things right, doesn’t turn the ball over, and he’s difficult to chase in the open field. Bridger’s going to have to carry quite a big load this year as a junior,” said Franke.
That will particularly be the case in Week 1 against visiting Stansbury. Last season Stansbury had few problems holding Cowdin in check during a 12-7 victory in Week 6, with the sophomore carrying the ball nine times for just 9 yards.
Stansbury could be even better defensively this season, which will be a great early test for Desert Hills’ offensive line.
That opener will be a tough test defensively as well. Stansbury was among the highest-scoring teams in 3A last season and could be stronger this year as Utah State commit Chase Christiansen gears up for his senior season.
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