High school football: Desert Hills Thunder 2014 preview

Published: Saturday, Aug. 9 2014 8:00 p.m. MDT

Note: Desert Hills finished with an 11-2 overall record in 2013 and third in 3AA South with 4-2 record in Region 9. It beat Pine View 27-21 in 3AA state championship.

ST. GEORGE — It wasn’t necessarily flashy, but Desert Hill’s vanilla offensive approach last season was certainly effective as it rode the coattails of a dominant defense to a state championship.

“We knew we’d have a really good defense, so we knew we didn’t have to throw the ball 50 times a game. We could play possession-type football and play good defense and still be in football games,” said coach Carl Franke. “I know it wasn’t sexy last year, but it was something we knew was a winning formula for us. We didn’t really mind to possess the clock.”

A year later, the rest of 3AA better watch out because there’s nothing vanilla about the offense this season.

Junior quarterback Nick Warmsley is exponentially better a year later, his receivers are faster and more athletic and all of that means running back Bridger Cowdin could have a monster season.

“I don’t think teams are going to be able to load the box this year cause we’ve got too much talent on the offensive side of the ball,” said Franke

As for that defense that only allowed 11.1 ppg last season, it’s as frightening as ever with seven returning starters.

Highlighting that bunch is Gabe Sewell, a beast of a linebacker who was arguably the best defensive player in 3AA last season. With second-leading tackler Tucker Cowdin also back at linebacker, and Boogie Sewell and Justice Alo returning to anchor the defensive front, moving the ball on the Thunder will be as difficult as ever.

Perhaps the most impressive stat from last season is what Desert Hills did defensively to Pine View quarterback Kody Wilstead. The BYU commit threw for 4,390 yards and 36 touchdowns, but the Thunder intercepted him six times in two games.

Since winning the championship, Franke has been most impressed with how his players have responded to the glory.

“They enjoyed the state championship last year a ton, but when it came down to the new class becoming seniors, they were hungry for a repeat. That’s what I loved about it. They set a new goal,” said Franke.

The players are hungry to do what Hurricane couldn’t do in 2012, and what Dixie couldn’t do in 2013 — repeat as state champ.

With Pine View hungry to avenge last year’s title-game loss, the emergence of Warmsley could be the key for Desert Hills.

As a sophomore last season, the coaching staff kept things simple as he completed 103-of-207 passes for 1,485 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 613 yards and four TDs.

He famously recorded negative three passing yards in a semifinal victory over Dixie on 2-of-4 completions — and his team won. Warmsley was the ultimate gamer as QB.

A year later, the coaching staff is taking off the reins. At Weber State’s 7-on-7 tournament in June, Franke said Weber State coach Jay Hill talked with him two or three times about how good his quarterback was. A few weeks later at UNLV’s 7-on-7 tournament, Warmsley led the Thunder to the title.

Warmsley’s quickly proving that he’s no longer an afterthought thrower. He’s a running back at heart though, and that dual-threat is why he’s poised for a breakout season.