We've got a lot of good kids that come from good families, and I think it all comes down to chemistry and how they get along and how they play together. We don't have a lot of experience taking the field, but the kids work hard and they do everything we ask them to do. —Syracuse coach Russ Jones
Note: Syracuse finished with an 8-2 overall record in 2013 and was second in Region 1 with a 5-1 record. It lost to Lone Peak 21-13 in the first round of the 5A playoffs.
SYRACUSE — They've only got a small handful of starters who'll return here from last season. And, in general, there would seem to be a lack of experience at the varsity level, and maybe even a few glaring holes to fill.
At some high schools, that might be cause for alarm, and maybe reason to start looking around for a panic button to push.
But not at this school.
Syracuse High, after all, doesn't rebuild. Instead, it seems the Titans just reload every year.
Russ Jones returns for his eighth season as head football coach at the school and, over his first seven years here, all he's done is guide this proud Davis County program to six straight postseason berths, including an appearance in the 5A finals in 2012 and a couple of other seasons when they reached the state semifinals.
But with just five returning starters off last year's team that finished second in Region 1 and went 8-2 overall, it would seem this might be a down year for the Titans.
The league's other head coaches certainly don't see it that way, though, voting Syracuse as the league's No. 2 team behind defending champion Davis High.
Jones isn't about to make any bold predictions. But he's seen enough from this group of guys that he expects them to be right in the thick of the mix come playoff time.
"We've got a lot of good kids that come from good families, and I think it all comes down to chemistry and how they get along and how they play together," he said. "We don't have a lot of experience taking the field, but the kids work hard and they do everything we ask them to do."
One of those hard-working kids is senior quarterback Kole Tracy, the Titans' returning starter — one of just three starters who are back on the offensive side of the ball.
"I thought he had a really good year for us last year," Jones said of Tracy, who threw for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns and ran for another 175 yards despite missing the first part of last season with a thigh injury.
"He went on an LDS trek and hurt his thigh, and he missed the first 2 1/2 games," Jones said. "You could still tell he wasn't at full strength when he came back. He wasn't as quick or as fast as he is now. I think he's 100 percent now.
"He's a great leader; he's got all the tools. I think if he wanted to go to another level, he could in college. He's just a dang good, solid athlete, the kind you'd like to have all the time."
Tracy will be backed up by junior QB Chase Bauerle, who started the first three games of the 2013 season and threw three touchdown passes before Tracy returned.
"He did a good job for us when he was in there," Jones said of Bauerle. "He's a really good backup, really smart and heady."
At running back, senior Brandon Goncalves, who ran for 200 yards last year, leads a large continent of ballcarriers that also includes seniors Jacob Winger, Korbin Markos, Cameron Pingree, Broderic Hall, Zach Daines, Cody Murphy and Tyler Hale, and juniors Colton Steggell, Derrell Atkinson, Brayden White, Wyatt Glover, Skyler Mueller, Drake Thompson and Tyler Harward.
At wide receiver, Daunte Atkinson returns after hauling in 26 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown last year. He's joined by seniors Colton Yardley, Dax Harris (who plays a slot position), Tyler Bills, Jake Wakefield, Kaden Meehan, Jordan Sam, Chase Sexton, Clinton Anderson, Tanner Francis, Preston Serb, Jordan Tomlinson and Ashton Stevenson, and juniors Braxton Kay, Mace Kucej and Conner McQuown.
The guard spots will be manned by senior Alex Harris and junior Jacob Kealamakia, with senior Ethan Palmer, sophomore Zac Carter, junior Brandon Benincosa and senior Cache Lowry providing depth there.
On the defensive line, the tackles will be Kealamakia and sophomore Zac Carter, with Stanger and Kirkman starting at defensive end. D-line depth will be provided by junior tackle Chandler Lewis, and junior ends Logan Yardley and Nate Bloom.
The linebacker corps includes Pingree, Markos and Goncalves — who had 16 tackles and a sack last year — along with juniors Dalton Lyskowski and Bridger Naylor, Hale, Hatch and senior Treston Cullimore.
In the defensive backfield, Daunte Atkinson and Colton Yardley will start at cornerback, backed up by juniors Hunter Poe and Devin Ipsen, with Winger and senior Mason Leishman starting at safety, backed up by junior Zach McGibbon and sophomore NJ Mo'o. Leishman had 19 tackles last season, while Winger contributed 11 tackles and a sack and Yardley had six tackles and an interception.
And if they're in a close game, the Titans will be in good hands — or feet — as senior Romney Harker, an all-state selection last year, returns to handle the placekicking chores. He converted 13 field goals and 28 extra points last season.
The region race is certainly up for grabs, and Jones is just hoping his team will be in the hunt again.
"I couldn't tell you who's gonna win the region this year," he said. "You've got Layton coming up on the move, and Davis is always good. Fremont's on the rise again with Kory Bosgieter and their coaching staff, and they'll have 'em ready and rarin' to go. I think Matt Hammer's got Weber improving and getting better all the time.
"It's gonna be a dogfight and be pretty balanced."
As far as his own team goes, Jones says he's "got a good senior class with good leadership," and he's counting on them to produce.
He also commended his coaching staff for the job they always do to help keep the Titans in contention for league titles and postseason berths every year.
The varsity coaching staff includes Dayne Faerber, Jared Martin, Mike Knight, Logan Donaldson and Cole Conner, while the sophomore coaching responsibilities are shared by Brad Wojciechowski, Brian Berrong, Andru Jones, Jon Wilson, Caden Call, Brock Anderson and Kaden Craig.
Jones says he couldn't do his job without 'em.
"My philosophy is to try and surround myself with great coaches with lots of energy," he said. "They're great to work with and they put in a lot of time and effort, and they're away from their families a lot.
"They mesh with the kids so well; they're on the same level — where I'm a dinosaur. They work so hard and they don't get enough recognition for what they do here. We've been together for so long that we know what the expectations are.
"We've got three coaches that are back helping us with the sophomores this year who just graduated last year," he said. "They come back and do a great job for us. They know our system and they know what our expectations are."
And, of course, those expectations are to reload — and not rebuild — the Titans' tradition-rich program.
Syracuse Titans at a glance
Coach: Russ Jones, the only head football coach Syracuse High has ever had, begins his eighth season at the school where he has compiled a 53-26 overall record, made even more impressive by the fact that they went winless in his first year here and have reached the state playoffs every year since. Jones is 77-54 overall in 12 years as a high school head coach.
(3 returning starters; Spread/multiple-formation offense)
Kole Tracy returns to engineer the Titans' offense at quarterback, and he's a good one who can throw the ball and run with it, too, as well as providing superb leadership. Brandon Goncalves is the top returning running back among a large stable of backs that also includes Jacob Winger, Corbin Markos and Cameron Pingree, while Daunte Atkinson and Colton Hardley head up a deep receiving corps. Zack Stanger, Alex Harris, Jacob Kealamakia, Ammon Riley and Conner Kirkman anchor the offensive line for a team that averaged 31 points per game in Region 1 play last year — and 36 points in their last five league games, all wins. The Titans also have a vital, very potent offensive weapon in stellar all-star placekicker Romney Harker.
(2 returning starters; 4-3-4 defense)
Zac Carter, Jacob Kealamakia, Zack Stanger and Conner Kirkman lead the charge for the front four, with Cameron Pingree, Corbin Markos and Brandon Goncalves leading the linebacker corps. Daunte Atkinson, Colton Yardley, Jacob Winger and Mason Leishman spearhead the secondary for a squad whose calling card is always fierce, stingy defensive play. Only three opponents were able to score more than 14 points against the Titans last year, and only one (Northridge) scored more than 21 in a game Syracuse still managed to win. Syracuse allowed its opponents an average of just 13.4 points per game overall last year, and the Titans held their last four league foes to an average of just 8.5 ppg.
Coaches preseason Region 1 straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 1 prediction: Second
Bottom line: Russ Jones and his capable coaching staff have earned six straight state playoff berths, and they have no intentions of seeing that streak end this season despite a lack of experience on this year's club. The Titans will again rely on a relentless defensive effort that usually keeps them in the thick of every ballgame, but their offense must replace a couple of huge playmakers that graduated off last year's team. Syracuse's Region 1 schedule starts out tough with back-to-back road games at Davis and Northridge, but if the Titans can survive those two showdowns against their Davis County rivals, they'll play three of their final four league games at home.
Syracuse coaching history
2007-present — Russ Jones (53-26)
Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years
2013 — Romney Harker, KComment on this story
2013 — Kavika Fonua, Spec.
2012 — Brock Anderson, QB
2012 — Cardon Malan, DL
2012 —Kavika Fonua, DB
2012 — Diante Mitchell, DB
2011 — Corey Cook, OL,
2011 — Hunter Dimick, DL
2011 — Brock Anderson, K
2010 — Hunter Dimick, DL
2009 — Josh Gooch, LB
2009 — Mitch Tulane, DB
2008 — T.J. Blickfeldt, DB
2008 — Josh Kealamakia, K
To view second team and honorable mention All-Staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.