SYRACUSE — Russ Jones cringes just a little bit when told his Syracuse High football team is looked upon by just about everybody as the team to beat in the upcoming Region 1 campaign.
Sure, the Titans are coming off the greatest season in the history of the school. They rattled off 12 consecutive victories to reach the 5A state championship game, only to get throttled by a superb Jordan team in the finale.
But they lost a lot of key players off that terrific Titan team, and Jones can't help but wonder if this year's lofty expectations are based more on last year's stellar showing than they are on this year's Syracuse High squad.
"I think we're gonna be OK," he said. "We're gonna be inexperienced in some spots. And you just never know until you put those pads on and go against other teams and see what they're like and how we match up. But I like our chances to be right in the thick of things again.
"I just don't want to be overconfident with them, and I don't want to be under-confident, either. Our kids will compete, they really will. They'll go out and compete and give it everything they've got.
"But a lot of those expectations are based on what we did last year," Jones said. "Shoot, we've never been ranked third in the state before. A lot of these other schools have got six, seven, eight or nine Division I players coming back. We've got one, maybe (Kavika Fonua). If we can get all of our kids to play as one unit, that's how we'll get to be successful."
And even though a lot of folks figure the Titans should start making room in their trophy case for another region title trophy, Jones has some serious reservations about such talk and isn't making any bold preseason statements.
"Everybody in our region, to me, has improved from last year," he said. "It was a heckuva job by our kids last year to go 5-0 and win the region. But I think every team's improved this year from last year, and hopefully we have, too. I think anybody can beat anybody on any given day, I really do.
"If we can just get our kids to stay healthy and play good, play as a unit and play as a team, we'll be OK."
Well, probably better than OK. But don't expect the Titans to rattle off 12 straight wins again, even though they do have several key contributors returning from last year's team that played for the state title.
Quarterback Kole Tracy, a junior quarterback who got his first varsity start in the 5A semifinals after season-long starter Brock Anderson went down with an Achilles injury near the end of their quarterfinal triumph, returns to guide the offense this season.
"That was the first time he'd been on the field, really, for the varsity," Jones said of Tracy's baptism by fire — which the Titans won, by the way, with a 21-16 victory over Bingham in the semis. "He's a good one; he's got all the tools to be a good quarterback — good leader, good arm, runs good. He's got some good potential."
Behind Tracy is sophomore quarterback Chase Bauerle.
At running back, senior Kavika Fonua, who recently committed to BYU, leads the way along with senior Trevor Olsen and junior Brandon Goncalves, with seniors Tyler Roberts, Will Haddick and Austin Shelter and junior Corbin Markos also ticketed to see some playing time in the Titans' backfield.
The Titans' receiving corps includes seniors Josh Thalman, Blake Taurone, Carson Nielsen, Justin Lee, Josh Homer, Jackson Craythorne, Spencer Miller and Riley Wilcox, and juniors Jake Wakefield, Tyler Bills, Daunte Atkinson and Colton Yardley.