Note: Woods Cross finished with an 11-2 overall record in 2013 and was second in Region 6 with a 5-1 record. It lost to Timpview 37-6 in the 4A semifinals.
WOODS CROSS — Depth and defense.
Two crucial aspects to the makeup of a successful team — and two pieces Woods Cross football coach Justin Spencer gets to boast about entering the 2014 season.
Embarking on his third year with the Wildcats, Spencer is returning nine players on the defensive side and four players who have started since their freshman seasons.
"We’ve really been able to develop our young players to the point where there’s competition within our own group," he said, adding that he has coached talented teams throughout his tenure but none that have been as deep as his current team.
"There’s kids nipping at other kids’ toes. They’ve really bought into that method where we really try to focus on seniors and some of these kids have just waited their turn," Spencer said. "That has provided depth, and now you’ve got a class of juniors nipping at their toes, wanting to get it, and a class of sophomores behind them. We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to develop from the bottom up."
Add to that the continuity that comes with needing to replace just two kids on a defensive squad that allowed only 220 points all of last season, 79 of which were at the hands of East (42) and Timpview (37) in the Wildcats' only two losses in all of 2013. Otherwise, Woods Cross never allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points, and that only happened twice.
"Braxton Gunther is a defensive star and Mason Newton is coming into his fourth year of starting," the coach said, adding that Newton has filled roles on the defensive line, as a guard, fullback and middle linebacker, which will be his primary role this season.
"He’s the captain of our defense without a doubt," Spencer said.
There will be changes, though, to what Woods Cross is doing. Those will take place on the offense.
"We have to replace a lot of our key offensive players, but we do have our leading rusher from last year back," Spencer said, noting Gunther's team-best 764 yards and nine touchdowns on 108 carries in 2013.
"We have three offensive linemen back from last year" which, with Gunther, makes up the four returning starters on offense, the coach said. "And then we have some keys that were honestly just waiting their turn and they’re ready to take that next step in their football careers.'
Spencer and his coaching staff are also making some strategic changes with regard to possession and pace of play.
"We’ve kind of been working toward a no-huddle, up-tempo offense," he said. "We had it a little bit last year, but we didn’t use it very much."
This year, though, he wants to see if the faster pace will give his team a better footing against bigger teams, like Region 6 foe East, which had a 2013 scoring output that was nearly double the Wildcats' — both overall (693 versus 394) and in region play (302 versus 175).
"We’ve decided we’re going to make adjustments to try to compete with those bigger, better teams," Spencer said. "We don’t have the beef, really, to be able to push people around, especially when you’re talking about East and Timpview. So we’re trying to do something that can maybe offset our size versus their size."