Note: Mountain Crest finished with a 2-8 overall record in 2013 and was fifth in Region 5 with a 2-4 record. It did not qualify for the 4A playoffs.

HYRUM — A team loaded with young talent can be both thrilling and terrifying.

Having young talent to teach and mentor is what most high school coaches relish. But there are inevitable pitfalls when relying on inexperienced players that can also lead to more than a few sleepless nights.

This is the challenge — and the opportunity — facing the Mountain Crest football coaching staff this fall.

“We’re going to be real young with just five or six seniors who will start,” said coach Mark Wootton, who has 24 years of prep experience upon which to draw. “It makes me nervous. I wish we had some older kids. But the upside is a lot of these kids started last year.”

Sophomore running back Levani Damuni is one of those young kids with varsity experience. Wootton believes Damuni is the kind of player who can have a special career.

His offensive highlight last year was against Box Elder when he rushed for 95 yards. He had about 300 yards rushing on the season in limited time.

“He’s got good size and speed, and he’s already been offered by Utah State,” Wootton said.

Damuni also saw playing time last year as a linebacker, and he could see action on both sides of the ball again this season.

Wootton said he’s careful about which players he uses on both offense and defense because of the physical demands.

“We have some kids who play both sides, but we also try to rest them,” he said.

Defensive end Andrew Anderson is one of the few seniors returning, and he’ll help anchor the team’s young line this season. On the offensive line senior Carson Tolman will start at tackle again this season.

Juniors Colten Ferguson (wide receiver), Chris Tuckett (tight end and defensive end) and Kort Fuller (running back) return with varsity experience. They may not be seniors, but their teammates will look to them to provide experience and leadership for the Mustangs.

Junior Kaden Christiansen is another one of those players who could really turn heads this season as the team looks to him for tough play defensively. He played defensive end last year as a sophomore, but will likely play safety this season.

“These kids have played football,” Wootton said. “A lot of them were 10th-graders last year and they started or played a lot of varsity football. They probably have more varsity experience than most of the seniors playing around the state.”

The team is still developing an identity, but so far Mountain Crest coaches are impressed by their players' skill and attitude.

“They work really hard,” Wootton said. “They seem to be pretty physical, pretty aggressive kids.”

The Mustangs will be deep at running back with Fuller, Damuni and junior Sirrell Hall. Playing at cornerback, Hall shined brightest on defense with 17 tackles.

“He’s a stud,” Wootton said of his defensive play. “He’ll play some offense this year as well.”

The team will be quarterbacked by junior Tanner Schwab, who broke his foot in the team’s first game against Highland last season.

Wootton said the team’s aware of the work it faces after a disappointing season in which it managed just two wins. Success early may help build the confidence of the young players.

“For our kids, if we can get some wins early, get some breaks, we could be really solid,” he said.

He said Roy and Logan are the teams to beat this season.

“They’ve got some good players, really good skill kids,” Wootton said. “Those are the teams that you’ll have to play very well against.”

While having a team loaded with young talent can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride, Wootton said there are advantages to the group he has this season.

“These kids have always won,” Wootton said, referring to their little league and junior high experience. “They do know how to win.”

Wootton is aware that sometimes success in little league “doesn’t always translate to being great in high school,” he said. “But these kids have always played hard enough, competed well and won in all of the sports they’ve played.”

Most importantly, they have that competitive drive.

“They play to win,” he said. “They don’t want to win, they play to win. And that’s something we see out of them all year long.”

Mountain Crest Mustangs at a glance

Coach: Head coach Mark Wootton is in his 11th season as head coach of the Mustangs. The Provo High and Utah State alum owns a 78-40 record at Mountain Crest and a 151-96 record in his 24 years as a prep head football coach.

Offense

(5 returning starters)

The offense will be led by Tanner Schwab, who won the starting job as a sophomore. Unfortunately, he broke his foot in the team’s first game and missed the entire season. The junior will have quick, talented receivers and tight ends to throw to, including junior Christ Tuckett and junior Colten Ferguson. Offensive lineman Carson Tolman will anchor the line and help the team’s talented running back’s shine. Sophomore Lavoni Damuni just turned 15 this summer, but the team will look to him to keep defenses honest.

Defense

(4 returning starters)

The Mustang defense will rely on young but talented players. Andrew Anderson, a senior defensive end, will anchor the defensive unit. Tuckett will be one of a handful of players who sees time on both sides of the ball, as he also played defensive end last season. Kaden Christiansen, a junior, will return as a safety.

Coaches preseason Region 5 straw poll: Fifth

Deseret News Region 5 prediction: Fifth

Bottom line: The Mustangs will be much-improved this season thanks to the experience gained by their youngest players last season. Like most 4A teams, injuries could change the trajectory of the team, but if the starters stay healthy, they will surprise a few squads and exceed preseason expectations. The Mustangs have tradition on their side, and the players have been successful in the past. If they play to their potential, the Mustangs will definitely make the Region 5 race exciting.

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Mountain Crest coaching history

2004-current — Mark Wootton (77-41)

2001-03 — Art Erickson (19-16)

1988-2000 — Dan Cox (85-39)

1986-87 — Jack Robinson (16-8)

1983-85 — George Bayles (3-23)

Deseret News Mr. Football recipients

2010 — Alex Kuresa, QB

Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years

2005 — Brady Wootton, RB

Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years

2012 — Eddy Hall, RB

2012 — Faimafili Laulu-Pututau, WR

2012 — Kyle Christansen, OL

2012 — Gaje Ferguson, LB

2010 — Troy Pickett, WR

2010 — Fernando Huerta, OL

2010 — Tanner Richardson, LB

2010 — Schofield Smith, DB

2010 — Nate Rigby, SP

2009 — Alex Kuresa, QB

2009 — Alex Knowles, RB

2009 — Tyler Weese, WR

2009 — Matt Stewart, TE

2008 — Colton Reeder, OL

2008 — Ethen Lofthouse, LB

2008 — Ethan Rasmussen, DB

2007 — Nick Salvesen, DL

2005 — Brady Zimmerman, QB

2005 — Cameron Webb, WR

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2005 — Nick Salvesen, DL

2005 — Phillip Rutledge, LB

To view second team and honorable mention All-Staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com