Note: North Sanpete finished with a 3-8 overall record in 2013 and tied for third in 3A South with a 2-3 record. It lost to Judge 35-0 in the 3A quarterfinals.
MOUNT PLEASANT — North Sanpete first-year coach Rick Wilson has tried easing his way into a potentially awkward situation.
There are some players who were hurt that former coach Matt Roberts left quite abruptly in late May, and they have been slow to embrace the new regime. Others, however, are thrilled Roberts is gone for a variety of reasons.
Since being hired in early June, Wilson has tried to mend the necessary fences while getting his players to buy into his philosophy and plans for a North Sanpete football program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007.
“I couldn’t have expected more. I’ve been around the game long enough to know that you have coaches, you have parents, you have community, you have players, but when it comes right down to it, how the players are going to react is what really determines the tone and expectations of the team going forward,” said Wilson, a former defensive coordinator at Snow College.
At team camp in mid-July, Wilson was thrilled to see a group of seniors rally together and set the tone for what he hopes is a great 2014 season.
“No one has ever won on potential. We do have potential to compete. I wouldn’t be surprised if we won a lot of games, we have that type of group of kids,” said Wilson. “But we wouldn’t be surprised if we struggled. It’s just hard to predict how the kids will come together.”
Wilson isn’t a complete stranger to the team he’s inherited.
When this year’s seniors were freshmen, Wilson served as North Sanpete’s defensive coordinator during the one season Steve Coburn was head coach. He recalls the talent in that freshman class and the younger levels being pretty good, and he’s hoping to bottle that into a winning football program this fall.
The Hawks did qualify for the playoffs last year, but it was hardly a banner year with a 3-7 regular-season record. It lost to eventual state champ Judge 35-0 in the 3A quarterfinals.
In going back and watching film of that Judge game and others, Wilson couldn’t help but get frustrated.
“I couldn’t find much of an identity in watching them play. We’re trying to establish more of an identity based on players we have,” said Wilson.
Ultimately, he wants that identity to be a mix of run and pass. But, he’s going to let personnel dictate how aggressively North Sanpete throws the ball. If the offensive line can’t protect quarterback Brady Wheeler, Wilson has no problem running two-receiver routes. Conversely, if the line is taking care of business, he wants offensive coordinator Tyler Bailey to spread it out and sling it around.
Wheeler’s maturation will play a big role too.
As a freshman back in 2011, he was thrust into the starting QB role when senior Rhett Bird went down with a serious thumb injury. Wheeler is now a four-year starter, but there are still plenty of question marks surrounding his game.
In three years he’s completed just 42 percent of his passes for 2,503 yards, 15 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
Wilson has been impressed by how hard Wheeler’s worked to get better.
“He’s been to a lot of camps. He’s done a lot of things, and now it’s time to settle in and get some timing down with his own players. His fundamentals have improved so well. He is fundamentally sound, but how we put it together as a team is always a big question,” said Wilson.