Our goal is to win a championship, and that’s always gonna be our goal. If that means going undefeated, that’s great. I think that’s very minimal anymore at this point with us. We just want to go out and perform. —Duchesne head football coach Jerry Cowan
Note: Duchesne finished with a 13-0 record in 2013 and was first in 1A North with a 3-0 record. It beat Rich 14-13 in the 1A championship.
In a sense, there’s as little pressure surrounding the Duchesne football program this fall as there has been in quite some time.
Yes, the Eagles are the four-time defending state champions and are riding a state-record 47-game winning streak, thus being the squad every other is eyeing to beat.
But after Duchesne set a new consecutive-wins record last season with its 37th straight, each ensuing victory is just more icing on the cake.
“The pressure was getting the winning streak,” said coach Jerry Cowan. “That’s come and gone. At this point to be honest, I don’t see how there’s really any pressure when the record already belongs to us. I think that’s come and gone.”
To be clear, however, the Eagles’ ultimate goals for the 2014 campaign aren’t any different than they were prior to any record setting.
“Our goal is to win a championship, and that’s always gonna be our goal,” Cowan said. “If that means going undefeated, that’s great. I think that’s very minimal anymore at this point with us. We just want to go out and perform.
“I believe in setting goals and I believe you’ve got to set realistic goals. With us, we feel like we’re in a position with what we’ve put together program-wise, we feel like that’s our goal every year. Until we’re in a position where that’s unrealistic, that’s gonna be our goal.”
Entering last year, there were questions surrounding whether or not Duchesne would be able to replace some key pieces from its 2012 title run, but the Eagles passed those tests with flying colors.
Similar questions are back in 2014, as Cowan will have to replace quarterback Trent Roberts and running backs Matt Dye and Matt Muir. Even so, Cowan feels good about his team’s chances of making another title run.
“People are maybe thinking things are gonna be a little more challenging and they probably are, but we’ll set that as the goal,” he said. “If you don’t reach your goal, at least you set a high goal to begin with and we’ll accept the outcome.”
Leading the way for Duchesne in its quest for a fifth-straight state title will be running back Dylan Despain. As a junior a year ago, Despain was the Eagles’ leading rusher by 19 yards, but he will be counted on to carry even more of the load in 2014.
“He’s got the ability to do it, so we’re expecting him to be our team leader on offense and defense,” Cowan said of Duchesne’s third-leading tackler a year ago. “We feel like we try to be balanced. We don’t want to feel like he’s our only guy, but we gotta find a way to get him the ball and give him a chance to put up some big numbers.”
Cowan may need to rely on Despain and fellow backfield mates Layne Coil and Daniel Hanberg even more because of the quarterback situation. Roberts, Duchesne’s fourth-leading rusher and the only signal-caller to throw more than a couple of passes in 2013, is gone, and his replacement isn’t quite clear.
In the running for the top quarterback job are juniors Carsen Reinhardt and Wyatt Remund. Reinhardt has quarterbacking experience, having been the starter of the junior varsity team a year ago, while Remund was the Eagles’ tight end in 2013. The pair exited camp in late July neck-and-neck for the job.
“I felt like we went into camp hoping we’d have an easy decision, but both guys really did a great job,” Cowan said.
If Reinhardt ends up being the main man under center, Remund will return to tight end, while Reinhardt will become a receiver if Remund gets the gig.
While there is some uncertainty in the skill positions because of inexperienced players looking to fill big roles, such is not the case in the trenches, as Duchesne will be returning a majority of its offensive and defensive lines. Anchoring things will be Jaxson Nielsen, while Cowan is also looking to Jesse Wickel and Tyler Robertson to have big years.
A strong defensive front, which will also include a stout group of linebackers, will be important for a secondary that is almost entirely new, as Cowan will have to replace both cornerbacks and one safety spot.
“I feel like we’ve got some guys who are athletic,” Cowan said. “They just need coaching and a little bit of time.”
Finally, with the way things ended a year ago in the state championship game with the Eagles stopping Rich on a late two-point conversion attempt to win by one, the kicking game could become a factor, and it’s an area that is of some concern to Cowan.
Gone is Braxton Spencer, and Cowan has yet to find a suitable replacement. Cowan quipped that “hopefully we can go for two and hopefully we never have to punt.” Jokes aside, he’s experienced years in which he rarely elected to kick PATs and is comfortable with that if necessary.
“I kind of feel like if you can get a two-point conversion half the time, that’s as good as making every kick,” he said.
With Rich and Kanab being arguably the two strongest foes in Duchesne’s way, Cowan recognizes the challenge his team faces having to play both of those squads on the road during the regular season, but said his team is up for the task.
“Like any other 1A team, we don’t have a lot of depth,” he said. “Your goal is to stay healthy and keep these guys in the ballgame, but as far as one-deep, I feel like we’re in a good position.”
Duchesne Eagles at a glance
Coach: 2014 will be Jerry Cowan’s seventh year overall as head coach at Duchesne. With a record of 65-17 and three state championships to his name, it’s been a nice run for Cowan to say the least.
(5 returning starters; Wing-T offense)
Dylan Despain will be one of the top running backs in 1A, but it remains to be seen just how smoothly the quarterback situation will play out with both Carsen Reinhardt and Wyatt Remund battling for playing time. Jerry Cowan will have a strong and experienced group on the offensive line, however, which should help the quarterback be more comfortable.
(4 returning starters)
The big boys up front and the linebacking corps will be the Eagles’ strengths on defense this season. They should compensate for any weaknesses that an inexperienced secondary may prove to have, though Duchesne might not end up being challenged much through the air in 2014.
Coaches preseason Region 1A North straw poll: First
Deseret News Region 1A North prediction: First
Bottom line: The Eagles certainly have some question marks as they gun for their fifth-consecutive state title, but the consensus around the classification is that until another squad can finally knock Duchesne off, it’s the team to beat in 1A.
Duchesne coaching history
2012-current — Jerry Cowan (25-0)
2008-2011 — Bill Hoopes (36-12)
2003-2007 — Jerry Cowan (40-17)
2000-2002 — Colby Knight (10-19)
1999 — Brian Berrong (1-8)
1996-1998 — Don Hill (9-21)
1993-1995 — Dave Woolstenhulme (17-13)
1987-1992 — Rick Durban (27-30)
1984-1986 — Stan Young (23-8)
1981-1983 — Rick Durban (14-16)
1979-1980 — Robert Cook (9-9)
1977-1978 — John Dowell (3-14)
1974-1976 — Ed Browning (3-21)
1973 — Russ Shirts (5-5)
Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years
2013 — Trent Roberts, QB/LB
2012 — Kaden Moon, RB/LB
2011 — Max Lewis, OL/DL
2010 — Grant Marett, OL/DL
2006 — Weston Despain, RB
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2013 — Matt Muir, RB/DB
2013 — Colin Moon, Duchesne, RB/DB
2013 — Dylan Despain, RB/LB
2013 — Matt Dye, FB/DL
2013 — Braxton Spencer, WR/LB
2012 — Trent Roberts, QB/LB
2012 — Josh Hanberg, RB/DB
2012 — McKade Nielsen, TE/FS
2012 — Jesus Pena, OL/DL
2012 — Wade Shepard, OL/DL
2012 — Cassidy Smith, OL/DL
2011 — Shiaba Allen, QB/LB
2011 — Braiden Despain, RB/LB
2011 — Macoy Young, RB/DB
2011 — McKade Nielsen, TE/DB
2011 — Kane Nealley, OL/LB
2010 — Shiaba Allen, QB/LB
2010 — Braiden Despain, RB/LB
2010 — Max Lewis, OL/DL
2010 — Devin Fabrizi, RB/LB
2010 — Kane Nealley, OL/DL
2010 — Austin Poulson, OL/DL
2009 — Travis Potter, RB/LB
2009 — Austin Thompson, OL/DL
2009 — Jacob Verde, RB/LB
2009 — Kyle Wilkerson, OL/DL
2008 — Jacob Evans, OL/DL
2007 — Colby Evans, RB/LB
2007 — Tyler Reinhardt, RB/DB
2006 — Zack Bertola, RB/DB
2006 — Brenton Farnsworth
2006 — Sam Hoopes, TE/DB
2006 — Tyler Reinhardt, QB/DB
2006 — Shayne Wilkerson, OL/DL
2005 — Shayne Wilkerson, OL/DL
2005 — Sam Hoopes, TE/DB
2004 — Cole Helms, OL
2004 — Sam Hoopes, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Ryan McDonald is a former intern at LDS Church News. He is studying communication at the University of Utah, where he works as the sports editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org