They’re the team to beat, no question. —North Summit coach Devin Holmes said about South Summit
North Summit woke a sleeping giant last season when it upset eventual state champ South Summit in Week 8 of the regular season.
The frustrated Wildcats followed that loss with victories of 43-0, 43-0, 14-7 and 42-8 en route to the 2A championship, and they head into the 2014 season anxious to avenge last year’s lone loss also.
“We’re hungry. We have a blemish from last year and we want to rectify it,” said South Summit coach Jerry Parker.
North Summit played a near-perfect game in last year’s 26-24 win over South Summit, as both earned a share of the 2A North region championship.
A year later, both South Summit and North Summit return a wealth of experience at the skill positions, but have plenty of question marks on the lines. Regardless, they’re the clear-cut favorites to claim the region's top two seeds.
North Summit coach Devin Holmes said it’s a no-brainer who the favorite is.
“They’re the team to beat, no question,” said Holmes. “Our kids are motivated by it. It’s a good rivalry. I think it’s one of the best rivalries in the state 1A-5A. We have a lot of football to play before that day comes.”
The teams meet in Week 8 again this season, and the region title will likely be on the line again.
Millard, coming off a very disappointing season, lurks as a potential region title contender, but it has a lot to prove after missing the quarterfinals for the first time in 19 years.
South Summit and North Summit don’t have nearly as much to prove.
The Wildcats return five starters on both sides of the ball, including reigning 2A MVP Colby Averett at linebacker and running back.
“His yards after contact (are excellent). He slithers through there like no other. He’s the best running back I’ve had at that position,” said Parker.
Averett carried the ball 167 times for 1,404 yards and 20 touchdowns last year.
North Summit counters with its own MVP candidate in Ryan McMichael. The three-year starting QB rushed for 867 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago, and this summer the Braves attended several seven-on-seven camps to improve his passing efficiency.
“He’s a great athlete, he’s a kid that all the other kids like, works hard. This will be his third year starting. He knows how to respond to every situation now,” said Smith. “As a coaching staff we’re going to try and use that to our advantage and enjoy it. They don’t come around all the time.”
The Braves need to solidify their offensive line for McMichael to truly excel and give South Summit a battle for the region title again. Plus, Millard should be much improved after last year’s shocking disappointment.
There seems to be a notable drop-off after the big three in 2A North.
A year ago Layton Christian checked in at fourth, followed by Gunnison in fifth and Summit Academy and American Leadership tied for sixth.
With plenty of returning experience on offense and defense, Layton Christian could sneak up on teams much like North Summit did last year. The Eagles will get a chance to prove themselves in the first high school football game of the season on Thursday, Aug. 21 when they host a Duchesne team riding a 47-game winning streak.
Summit Academy is now entering its third year playing varsity football, and internally expectations are very high for the Bears.
With new head coaches, the unknowns in 2A North are Gunnison and American Leadership. Of the two, Gunnison is an even bigger mystery. New coach Mike Grajek resigned just two weeks ago with Trent Halliday taking over as interim coach. It’s hard to imagine Gunnison having any semblance of continuity amid all the discouraging changes.
Deseret News projections for 2A North football teams in 2014
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. SOUTH SUMMIT: Coming off its first state title in 25 years, South Summit might actually be better if the brand-new offensive line reaches its potential. If it does, QB Ty Jones, running backs Colby Averett and Isaac Tillett, and receiver Bracken Santos will have big years again. Quinn Zimmerman will step in at wing back for the departed Carson Freestone. Defensively, the Wildcats will lean on linebackers Averett, Hunter Angell (the lone O-line returning starter), Harley Georgi and Daxton Hansen. 2013 RECORD: 11-1. PLAYOFFS: Beat Grand 42-8 in championship
2. NORTH SUMMIT: Three-year starting QB Ryan McMichael is an exceptional athlete capable of big offensive production — both on the ground and in the air. The question marks offensively are how will the brand-new offensive line come together with five new starters, and who will emerge as the secondary running threat to take pressure off McMichael. While the offensive line figures things out, the defense might need to carry the load early on. That shouldn’t be a problem with eight defensive starters returning. This defense won’t necessarily overpower opponents, but it’s athletic and can make plays. Braden Richins, Cason DeForest and Carter Wardrop anchor the defensive line. 2013 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Grand 34-13 in semifinals
3. MILLARD: Millard scored 10 or fewer points — including two shutouts — in five of 10 games last season. It was a shocking output for a program that’s routinely scored in the 30s the past decade. Skyler Cranney returns at QB, a dual-threat option the Eagles hope to take advantage of more this season to get the offense rolling along. Collectively, Millard’s running game woefully underachieved a year ago, and whether it’s Derek Brunson, Gerardo Ruvalcaba or someone else picking up the slack, it’s got to be better. Defensively, developing some consistency from week to week is going to be key for the Eagles. Tyler Gamble and Carter are returning starters on the defensive line, while Ruvalcaba, and Pierce Whitaker are back at linebacker. 2013 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to South Sevier in first round
4. SUMMIT ACADEMY: After three years of struggling with underclassmen, this could be the year the new school finally breaks through. A year ago the Bears had close losses to Layton Christian, Millard, Grand and Gunnison. Senior Hagan Hines returns at quarterback and linebacker, and needs to have a big season on both sides of the ball if Summit hopes to compete with the upper-echelon teams in 2A North. Jake Kartchner is back at defensive end and tight end, with Steven Harp returning after racking up 552 receiving yards last season. 2013 RECORD: 2-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to San Juan in first round
5. LAYTON CHRISTIAN: The Eagles are hungry to get going after ending 2013 on a four-game losing streak, and with eight offensive starters back and seven defensive starters, the future looks bright. Grayson Jackson is back at QB for LCA, and he’ll have three returning offensive linemen protecting him. Mar’kiece Gross-Gibson is a returning starter at fullback and linebacker, and he’s a beast defensively that’s getting some early interest from colleges. Along with fellow linebackers Fotoh Mbaku and Bijan McCall, defense could be the strength of the team. Bailey Kenter is the X-factor for LCA, an Australian punter who ranked fifth in the nation last year. 2013 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Parowan in first round
6. GUNNISON: It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the Bulldogs. First Yuri Ludvigson left the program after four years to pursue a coaching opportunity in Nevada, and then a month before the season his replacement resigned as well. Trent Halliday has been thrust into the interim role. At least Gunnison isn’t scrambling to find offensive linemen with four returning starters — Jayden Lyon, McCoy Roberts, Braydon Burrell and Morgan Harris. That cohesion should help new QB Hunter Whitney ease into his responsibilities more slowly. Gunnison’s defense was pretty porous a year ago, but a strong returning corps of linebackers could help change that. Morgan Harris is a returning starter at middle linebacker, while McKade Cox and Layne Jensen are back at outside linebacker. 2013 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to North Summit in quarterfinals
7. AMERICAN LEADERSHIP: For the fourth-straight year American Leadership has a new head coach, a lack of consistency that predictably has hurt the program. Billy Nixon takes over this year for the Eagles, and with seven offensive returning starters he’s optimistic this can be the first winning season in school history. Senior running back Lincoln Henderson returns for ALA after rushing for 893 yards and seven TDs last season. Senior Jacob Stehly will help anchor the offensive and defensive line, while Hunter Smith takes over at QB. 2013 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify