High school football: Region 2 teams all seeking to make statements this season

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17 2013 10:40 p.m. MDT

Cottonwood/Bingham in prep football in South Jordan Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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All of the football teams in Region 2 have one thing in common: They all hope to make the 2013 season the year they move from the periphery of prep sports to center stage.

Whether it’s a return to greatness or establishing something special for the first time in decades, the teams of Region 2 know most people are overlooking them individually and as a group.

“What I see is a lot of parity within our region and competition within our region,” said West head coach Keith Lopati. “It’s going to be pretty good. But no matter where you fall, Region 3 is going to be waiting for you in the playoffs — whether you’re first or fourth.”

While some teams are trying to simply make the playoffs, the region’s top three preseason teams — Hunter, Granger and Cottonwood — believe they can contend for a state title.

“I think we have the tools to do it if we can take care of business and continue to mature as a football team,” said Granger head coach Cecil Thomas. “We have a tough preseason, which we want. If you’re going to be the best, we’ve got to beat the best.”

Hunter won the region title last year, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. The players took their disappointment and channeled it into a productive offseason.

“They’ve had that sense of unfinished business,” said Hunter head coach Scott Henderson. “That next week after the playoffs, they were in the weight room. And now that work is paying off.”

For Granger, expectations couldn’t be higher as everyone acknowledges the Lancers' talent, especially on their offensive and defensive lines. They’ve had some off-field trouble, which will likely result in the loss of nine players, most of whom didn’t start.

Despite the problems, Thomas said the players are focused and expectations are high.

“For me, it’s just making sure we get better each week, keep progressing and take no steps backward,” Thomas said.

Cottonwood was in the mix of top teams for a number of years, but last year’s turmoil was too much for even the most talented to overcome. In just a few months, the team lost its third head coach in three years, its offensive coordinator and an assistant coach who was killed in a car accident. That and some district changes made it very difficult for the players to focus on football.

“It was a very delicate situation, and I don’t think I handled it too well,” said Cottonwood coach Greg Croshaw, who was interviewed with the school’s principal, only to be hired the next day by a new principal. “I was treading more lightly than I normally do. I tried to adapt to what the kids were doing instead of changing to what I waned to do. ... I think that was a huge mistake.”

But both coach and players are confident that with the chaos behind them, the Colts will be relevant this season.

“I hope we’re known for coming out as an underdog, and I hope they understand after we play them, that we don’t just play to play,” said Howard Pututau, a senior tight end.

For the teams voted to finish fourth, fifth and sixth in Region 2, this season is about turning a corner. For West it’s about returning the program to a storied tradition, while for Taylorsville and Hillcrest, the hope is that this year’s teams can finally find football success for schools and communities weary of mediocrity.