There's a chance there for anybody to step up and win the region. I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite; I think everybody's a good team, so there is a lot of parity. —Davis High coach Tyler Gladwell
Davis High ran the table on its way to sweeping the Region 1 football championship last year, and the Darts were pretty darned dominant in doing so.
Not only did they go undefeated in league play (6-0), but none of their region opponents came closer than 12 points of the Darts, who outscored Region 1 foes by an average of roughly 30-13.
Don't expect anybody to duplicate that feat this year — the league just looks too good, from top to bottom, and too balanced for anybody to run away with it and go undefeated again in 2014.
To a man, that's the way the league's head coaches sized things up.
"I think it's very competitive and I think it's kinda up for grabs," said first-year Davis High coach Tyler Gladwell, who was the Darts' offensive coordinator last season, when they took a perfect 9-0 overall record into the state playoffs before dropping a heartbreaking first-round playoff duel to Pleasant Grove.
He knows last year's impressive regular-season performance will be mighty difficult to duplicate in Region 1 this time around.
"There's some teams like Fremont, who are returning a lot of kids and had a lot of underclassmen kids playing for them last year, and they're gonna be tough this year," Gladwell said. "Syracuse, Northridge and Layton always have good athletes in their programs, and Viewmont's gonna have a really good team this year. Weber, in Matt Hammer's second year as head coach, is gonna be good again, too, so every week it's gonna be a dogfight.
"There's a chance there for anybody to step up and win the region," he said. "I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite; I think everybody's a good team, so there is a lot of parity."
Syracuse coach Russ Jones, whose team finished second in the region race last year and is picked to finish there again, sees things much the same way.
"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."
Northridge's Erik Thompson, who's now the dean of Region 1 head coaches with Ryan Bishop leaving Davis for a job with the Utah High School Activities Association, figures his team will be in the hunt if it can avert the devastating injuries that struck the Knights' program last year.
"If we can avoid injury and give some young, inexperienced kids some confidence after three preseason games, I think we could be right there with the rest of 'em," he said of the Region 1 race. "We've got some work to do, but if we're willing to put in the work, I think that we'll be as good as anyone in this region as well.
"It could be a fun year. Davis and Syracuse will always be two of the top teams in this region because of their numbers — 500 to 700 more kids than anybody else — and they've got really good coaches and really good talent, too, so they'll always be good. Weber and Viewmont are two programs that are on the rise. I've heard a lot of good things about the new Viewmont coach (Scott Ditty), and (Weber coach Matt) Hammer's one of the better coaches I've ever been around. He's real enthusiastic and the kids love him. Fremont's got a lot of good, young kids, and Layton's probably as talented as they've ever been. ... Layton will challenge; every game they play they could win.
"One thing about this region, there's no weeks off," Thompson said. "Everybody can beat everybody else. So I think it's one of those years where you could take first or you could take last, depending on two or three plays. The bounce of a ball, injuries, all that kind of stuff will play a part. So I think everyone's excited, thinking 'Hey, this could be our year.' And I think there are seven teams thinking that this year."
Longtime Layton High coach Jim Batchelor sizes things up as being wide open as well.
"There's no team that's bringing everybody back and was dominant at all levels last year," Batchelor said. "Everybody's so equal again. "There's no team that you look at and say, 'That team's loaded,' so I think anybody in this league has a chance to win it. I think it's wide open."
Fremont, whose proud program sputtered through an uncharacteristic 1-9 season and some hard-luck losses last year, figures to be back in the playoff hunt this year.
At least, veteran Silver Wolves coach Bosgieter certainly hopes so.
"I know Layton's gonna be better," Bosgieter said. "Weber's got some good kids coming back; Northridge and Syracuse have always got good athletes, and Davis High has a new head coach but has that great tradition. So who knows?"
Weber, which showed strong signs of turning things around last year following a couple of winless seasons, enters year two of Coach Hammer's master plan to make the Warriors relevant again after years as a league doormat.
"It's gonna be a different mentality," Hammer said. "I think we got the attention of everybody in our region and on our schedule, and I think people feel like they've got to come and play when they play Weber. I think we earned a little bit of that, but we have to back it up by doing it again.
"We have kids that should put some, well, I won't say fear, but other teams are gonna have to respect them. You always want to be that team where everyone's gunning for you. We're definitely not there yet, but at least we're not everybody's homecoming game anymore."
Viewmont's first-year head coach, Ditty, a former assistant at Alta, knows he's stepping into a mighty rugged region.
"I have nothing but respect for this region up here," he said, "for going deep in the playoffs, for being very, very physical, for being very disciplined. At Alta, we had a couple showdowns with Syracuse in the playoffs and those were frustrating games to be on the other side of because they were so disciplined and they executed so well and didn't turn the ball over. I've had some physical games with Syracuse and a couple of tough losses that still keep me up at night.
"Davis is Davis and Davis will always be Davis, and Northridge is Northridge. Matt Hammer's got those guys rolling at Weber; Layton is on the rise, and Fremont always has talent. And all those teams are well-coached, and they're filled with talent. ... We know that the hill we've got to climb to be able to compete in this region is steep."
Deseret News projections for Region 1 football teams in 2014
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. DAVIS: The defending league champs will be counting on running back Mason White and new starting quarterback Parker Christiansen to ignite the offense, and the receiving corps of Conner Simonsen, Christian Smith, Mitch Rogers and Hayden Chishom is solid. Safeties Tyler Hinds and KJ Bishop lead the way on defense after combining for over 80 tackles last year, and the Darts' defense will hope to match last year's effort, when they allowed opponents an average of just 11 points per game and held five teams to seven or fewer points. 2013 RECORD: 9-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Pleasant Grove 22-15 in first round.
2. SYRACUSE: The Titans only have a small handful of starters back from last year's ballclub, led by quarterback Kole Tracy, running back Brandon Goncalves, receiver Daunte Atkinson and all-state placekicker Romney Harker. Defense is where Syracuse always shines, and Zac Carter, Jacob Kealamakia, Zack Stanger, Conner Kirkman, Cameron Pingree, Corbin Markos, Goncalves, Atkinson, Colton Yardley, Jacob Winger and Mason Leishman aim to continue that trend for a team that allowed league foes an average of just 8.5 points per game last year. 2013 RECORD: 8-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak 21-13 in first round.
3. NORTHRIDGE: Ben Jackson, who stepped in at quarterback midway through last year and did an admirable job after Nate Kusuda suffered a season-ending injury, returns along with stellar running back Dayan Lake. Dallas Moklebust, Jalen Dyson, Raven Kennedy, Jamison Clark and Dante Joseph spearhead a solid receiving corps for what is an always-explosive offense. D-lineman Noah Kramer and linebackers Lake, Cade Palmer, Tyler Brown and Brett Turek lead the defense along with Dyson, Rocky Lunceford, Moklebust and Jrue Perkins in the secondary. 2013 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Riverton 31-14 in first round.
4. LAYTON: The Lancers have a solid one-two punch at running back in Keoni Larsen and Atlas Armstrong, and Coy Cannon and Julian Blackmon are already proven pass-catching threats for quarterback Steel Roberts. Brad Mackay, Juvo Nuissla and Wade Meacham are all returning starters on the offensive line. Defensively, Mason Ewing and Spencer Davis anchor the D-line, and linebackers Larsen and Armstrong and cornerback Blackmon are returning standouts as well. 2013 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Herriman 44-33 in first round.
5. FREMONT: The Silver Wolves have a ton of returning starters, including quarterback Justin Shaw, running back Cole Bingham, slotback Haze Hadley, tight end Paxton Merrill and lineman Nate Wadsworth on offense, where the Wolves struggled to put up points last year. Wadsworth, Merrill, Ryan Grange, Kole Calvert, Caleb Ingram, Braxton Hall, Owen Toone, Brantzen Romander, Kameron Garcia, Bowen Koenig, Kohl Christensen, Cole Bingham and Cameron Chugg lead the defense, which also expects big improvement from a year ago. 2013 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
6. WEBER: With Cole Dean returning at quarterback, Hunter Bell at running back and Jaxon Porter at wide receiver, the Warriors have plenty of proven and potent offensive weapons. Rowdy Romrell, Adison Hoggan, Levi Nye, Kolby Nye and Wyatt Beckey provide a strong O-line, with Braxton Beck, Austin Gaudette, Hoggan, Romrell and Porter spearheading a formidable defensive unit. Weber must come up with a more consistent effort in its continuing bid to turn things around. 2013 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
7. VIEWMONT: The Vikings have a lot of returning starters off last year's team, including leading rusher Jared Barnum, but they struggled to score points last season — they were shut out in five of their six Region 1 games — so vast improvement is needed on both sides of the ball. Chase Beckman, Max Hadlock and Ethan Penrose provide solid receiving targets, and linebacker Tate Burt joins Beckman and Mason Wright as the top returnees on defense. 2013 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.