They’ve joined together from four different regions and from different levels of success a year ago, but there’s no denying that the collection of teams in Region 6 this season is going to be very intriguing to watch.
It’s a region East could’ve dominated, but it got an exception from the UHSAA to play football only in the new Class 6A this season. That opens the door for another team to claim a region title, and there are several capable of making the jump.
Among the top contenders are Olympus, Highland and Lehi. Olympus won the Region 6 title last season before bowing out of the first round of the 4A playoffs. Highland and Lehi, meanwhile, were runner-ups in their respective regions.
Much like East got an exception to play football only in 6A, Lehi got a similar one to play football only in 5A while the rest of its sports will compete in 4A.
Skyline, Murray and West comprise the projected bottom half of Region 6, but each has reason to be excited about a breakthrough season.
Highland appears to be the slight favorite with its deep collection of returning starters on both sides of the field. The trenches is where the Rams should win on most Friday nights as it returns three starters on the offensive line and defensive line.
“I think we need to rely on the guys we have up front. I feel that we have a good group of offensive linemen. I think that we really need to pin our ears back and get behind those guys,” said Highland coach Brody Benson.
Highland’s new defensive coordinator Kautai Olevao has simplified the schemes on the other side of the ball, and that should allow a big, physical defense to wreak havoc on that side of the ball.
Every team in Region 6 will need strong defensive line play to try and slow Lehi’s potent offense.
With five returning starters in front of him, Lehi quarterback — and Washington State commit — Cammon Cooper is poised for a huge season after passing for 4,036 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior in the very difficult Region 4. Fellow returning starters Dallin Holker and Kade Moore will be the recipient of a huge chunk of those yards.
Just like contenders Highland and Lehi, Olympus also returns a strong contingent of starters offensively and a strong defensive line.
"It's going to be stellar. It's going to be outstanding. We have a lot of returning defensive players. Vea and Latu on the ends will be a powerful combination,” said Whitehead.
West and Skyline are two programs who hope to make big strides in the second year of their current coach. Skyline went 4-6 and reach the 4A playoffs in Zac Erekson’s first year, while Justin Thompson's West squad struggled in 5A’s Region 2 and finished with a 0-9 record.
Like everyone else in the region, both have a lot of starters returning which Erekson believes will make a big difference.
"We should be tougher than we were last year," said Erekson. "We’ll have a better knowledge of our system and we should be physically in better shape. We should understand our opponents and how to study them a little better.”
Thompson knows he faces an uphill climb to get West competing for region championships, but he’s seen steps in that direction this summer.
“The first step is to just have a little bit of success. We performed well this summer on 7-on-7 tournaments. We scrimmaged during our camps and showed our team some things that we can do well,” said Thompson. “The little successes are step one. You have to win a play, a rep and then a game. From there, it’s about not settling for small successes.”
Murray is led by first-year coach Todd Thompson, who inherits a team with just a few returning starters. He’s overhauling the offense and defense, but optimistic about the upcoming season with the work ethic the players have shown.
“The focus is on the team and I believe kids are buying into that philosophy that no one is greater than the team,” said Thompson.
Deseret News projections for Region 6 football teams in 2017
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. HIGHLAND: Was a top 10 defensive team in 4A last season, and it could be even better this year with six returning starters led by D-linemen Caden Hilborn, Kaufusi Pakofe and Elijah Shelton. Isaiah Jones will anchor the linebacking core. Offensively there are multiple players competing for reps at fullback in the triple option offense, led by Lolohea Fonua, Bryan Geertgens, and Matthew Parkin. Whoever gets the ball will be running behind a strong offensive line with three returning starters, Hunter Lotulelei, Michael Pakofe and Hilborn. 2016 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Alta 58-48 in 4A quarterfinals.
2. LEHI: The offense will garner most of the headlines, and rightfully so. Cammon Cooper is back after passing for 4,036 yards last season, while tight end Dallin Holker (1,295 yards) and receiver Kade Moore (1,072) are also back. The offensive line is led by returning starters Carson Bell, Jace Andersen, Hayden Erickson, Ammon Critchfield and Bridger Rhoades. Defensively, the secondary should be Lehi’s strength with returning starters Will Overstreet, Oakley Krumvieda and Qi’Sean Rust. Andersen is a two-way returning starter as he as starts at defensive end. 2016 RECORD: 8-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham 37-14 in 5A quarterfinals
3. OLYMPUS: Harrison Creer takes over at QB this season, and he’s got experience blocking for him in the interior of the offensive line with center Malosi Neria and guards Desi Jorge and Kyle Schmerse. Tight end Cameron Latu, receiver Nick Ward and fullback Everett Vea are expected to take on much larger roles this season after contributing as juniors. Defensively the Titans are very good on the defensive line with returning starters Ephraim Faletoi and Latu and then newcomer Mikey Revada. 2016 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Box Elder 28-21 in 4A first round.
4. SKYLINE: Eight offensive starters from last season are back, including QB Tommy McGrath and linemen Dax Lowe, Zach Coombs and Cris Espinel. Saione Matagi will get most of the reps at running back, and he could eclipse the 1,500 yards racked up by last year’s feature ball carrier. Defensively, the Eagles are led by D-ends Nifai Tonga and Zach Boyd and linebackers Jaxson Waite and Kendrick Williams. They ranked 19th in 4A last season allowing 32.5 ppg, and need to be much better to compete with the variety of potent offenses at the top of the region. 2016 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to East 70-20 in 4A first round.
5. WEST: Eight returning starters defensively gives West a strong foundation to build on heading into the season. Leading the way are linebackers Viliami Makoni, Shar Htoo and Luis Lopez, along with defensive lineman Zane Brown. Offensively West has big holes to fill as all five starters on the offensive line will be new. There’s experience behind the group though as QB Romeo Johnston returns along with three receivers, Cole Dunkley, Alan Zamora and John Abercrombie. 2016 RECORD: 0-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
6. MURRAY: The Spartans ranked 25th in 4A scoring defense last season allowing 37.1 ppg. New coach Todd Thompson is hoping a defense switch helps his team slow the bleeding this year. Brandon Alvarez and Merrick Klingler are returning starters at linebacker, while defensive end Jackson Rose is the only other returning starter. Offensively, Murray is switching to a veer offense, and center Victor Leal is the lone returning starter. 2016 RECORD: 3-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.