It sure didn’t take long for Corner Canyon — the offshoot school from former powerhouse Alta — to earn respect on the gridiron.
After earning a share of the Region 7 title and advancing to the 4A quarterfinals in its first-ever season last fall, Corner Canyon has been pegged by the league’s coaches as the clear-cut team to beat in 2014.
With 10 starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Chargers are eager to prove they’re the real deal after last season ended with a bitter taste following a 59-10 quarterfinal defeat to East.
“We are a lot more ready this year than we were last year. Our team has gotten a lot bigger, a lot stronger and a lot better, so we are definitely ready for this season,” said Corner Canyon quarterback Michael Ebeling. “We’re trying to contend for a state championship. That is definitely our No. 1 goal, and we’re going to be ready.”
Winning the region championship is the first goal, but even that won’t be easy. Olympus and Orem are just as confident after last year’s three-way region title split, while Skyline, Mountain View and Timpanogos are all under the direction of new head coaches and anxious to play the spoiler role.
Based on returning experience, Orem has a clear edge over Olympus, a reality Titans coach Aaron Whitehead doesn’t shy away from.
“I said last year that Corner Canyon would surprise some people and they did. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Orem and Corner Canyon make deep runs in state,” said Whitehead.
While Corner Canyon’s line-up is dotted with varsity experience at every position, Orem will be stout at quarterback and in the trenches. That experience helped the Tigers earn a piece of the league title, but it was upset in the 4A first round by Salem Hills.
Tyler Anderson is now in his fourth season as Orem’s head coach, and after two first-round exits and one quarterfinal exit the past three years, he’s optimistic this year’s team can take that next step.
“The Orem I knew and played for was the program everyone looked up to and I've been working hard here to get it back," Anderson said. "We're not quite there, but I think we're on the way and think we're going to have a real good team this year.
"That's the next step here and it's no secret. We have to get out of that first round and get to Rice-Eccles (Stadium.) I think we could do that this year if things work out right."
Olympus surprised many by getting to Rice-Eccles Stadium last year, but that team was dominated by seniors. This season the underclassmen may take some early lumps, but coach Aaron Whitehead has proved in his first three years at Olympus that he knows how to get the most of the talent he’s dealt. That wasn’t the case in previous regimes.
A year ago there was a marked drop off from Corner Canyon, Olympus and Orem to everybody else, but that gap could close with the quality coaches who’ve joined the region.
Louis Wong, who coached Timpview to a 77-10 record and four state championships from 2005 to 2011, takes over as Mountain View’s new head coach.
Joe Dupaix takes over the coaching job at Timpanogos, and brings instant credibility to the job. In addition to being the son of high school coaching legend Roger Dupiax, most recently he was the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator for BYU.
Ironically enough, one of Dupaix’s former high school teammates is the other new head coach in the region. Justin Thompson who was two years younger than Dupaix at Skyline, takes over the head coaching job at his alma mater, something he’s extremely proud of.
“We’re excited to write our own chapter in Skyline’s proud football history, and our players are proud to be participants in that,” said Thompson, who will lean heavily on eight defensive returning starters. “This year’s team earned valuable playing and emotional experience last year, and they look forward to using what they learned to better their team performance this season.”
Deseret News projections for Region 7 football teams in 2014
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. CORNER CANYON: The Chargers qualified for the playoffs in their first year in 2013, and the sky’s the limit in 2014 with 10 starters back on both sides of the ball. The team features 51 seniors and a talented sophomore class. Among the seniors is stand-out QB Mike Ebeling, who had his best game of the season in last year’s 4A first-round win over Spanish Fork as he passed for 273 yards and four TDs. A strong offensive line returns as well anchored by Brandon Bowen, Sam Dalsasso and Keaton Bills. Defensively, linebacker Gaige Kartchner returns after leading the team in tackles, while big things are also expected from safety Matt Scheffner. 2013 RECORD: 6-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to East 59-10 in 4A quarterfinals.
2. OLYMPUS: The Titans made a surprising run to the 4A semifinals last year, but they have an uphill climb to get back there in 2014. Not only will the region be tougher, but only three starters return on each side of the ball. The lone returning starter in the trenches is Jeff Day, who was a starter on the O-line and D-line. Zack Hodgson takes over at quarterback this year, with Elias Falk and JoJo Henderson both expected to see increased production at running back. Henderson is the top returning tackler from a year ago in the secondary, while Day, Mason Draper and Falk also made contributions to Olympus’ standout defense last season. 2013 RECORD: 10-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to East 47-21 in 4A semifinals.
3. OREM: Last year the Tigers earned a share of the Region 7 title, and with seven starters back on both sides of the ball coach Tyler Anderson is optimistic his team will be in the hunt again. Tucker Camp returns at QB after racking up 3,212 yards of total offense and 32 touchdowns. Sampson Saluone and Andrew Zollinger are both back on the offensive line, while James Wadsworth returns looking to build on his 557 rushing yards. Saluone will anchor the defensive line as well a year after recording 73 tackles and 16 sacks. Fellow D-lineman Andrew Zollinger and Isaiah Frame are also back. RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Salem Hills 35-14 in 4A first round.
4. SKYLINE: A year after missing the playoffs for the first time in ages, Skyline enters a new era this season under coach Justin Thompson. With eight starters back on defense and five on offense, there’s plenty to be excited about up in Olympus Cove. Skyline’s two biggest offensive weapons, QB Braxton Chipman and RB Aleck Russon, both return this year with Russon looking to build on his 665 rushing yards. Solid experience will be blocking for him with Machi Ubani, Austin Yapias, Jordan Crofts and Isaac Henry. Defensively, safety Parker Bowles and linebacker Sam Prince return after finishing second and third in tackles for the Eagles last season. 2013 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
5. MOUNTAIN VIEW: In seven years as Timpview’s head coach, Louis Wong lost 10 total games. His new team lost nine last year alone. Wong’s challenge over the next several years is to get the program in a good spot, and nobody is doubting he’s capable. Jaren Flaker returns at quarterback after a modest junior season in which he passed for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Four of those TD passes came in the final game of the season against Stansbury. The offensive line will be anchored by center McKay Norton. Senior running back Cayden Gomez is will be counted on to make big plays for the offense. 2013 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
6. TIMPANOGOS: When coach Ed Larson accepted the job at Lehi this offseason, that opened the door for Joe DuPaix to enter the head coaching ranks in Utah. He inherits a program that’s only won two playoff games in 18 years, but the former BYU running backs coach is bringing fresh ideas to turn things around. Only three starters are back for Timpanogos, but among them is linebacker Cory Morin, the team’s leading tackler from a year ago. Offensively, Tyler Sweeten will start at quarterback a year after making two starts late in the season. In those two games he completed 38 of 77 for 397 yards and two TDs. The offensive line will be anchored by Jayce Case, who coach DuPaix is really high on this year. 2013 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Timpview 62-14 in 4A first round.
7. MURRAY: The traditional doormat of whatever region it plays in, the Spartans are cautiously optimistic that may change in the third year under coach Mike Richmond. It starts in the trenches with Max Tupai and Treven Aloi, two players who are receiving considerable interest from college coaches. The two will start on both sides of the line, with Brock Acord also starting on O-line. QB Riley Richmond missed most of last season with an injury, but he’s hungry for a bounce-back season. Murray returns eight starters on both sides of the ball, giving it hope of making some noise in a tough region. 2013 RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
James Edward is Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.