Utah’s high school football Region 2 was shaken up drastically after the change up of classification of regions by the Utah High School Athletic Association over the past offseason.
Last season, Region 2 featured Davis, Syracuse, Viewmont, Layton, Granger, Hunter and West. In 2017, Kearns, Cyprus and Hillcrest come in from Region 6, while Hunter and Granger remain put. The addition of the new schools makes Region 2 a tougher region overall. New-addition Kearns is the favorite to compete for the region title, along with Granger and Hunter.
Kearns enters Region 2 with a solid core and is projected to be one of the top teams in the region, led by returning leading rusher Sese Felila. The Cougars also return four of their starting offensive linemen from 2016, which will add to the potency of Kearns’ rushing attack and will help the Cougars compete for a region championship.
“Just to be better as a team, have a better bond and chemistry together. The team’s really coming together good,” Felila said.
One team that is looking to improve from last season is Granger. The Lancers lost their play-in game in 2016, so making the playoffs will be a big goal for head coach Mike Morgan and Granger in the 2017 season, and the Lancers feel like they have the personnel to make a deep playoff run. Granger returns six offensive linemen, which should greatly improve their double wing offense. The Lancers also return running back Mosese Sonasi, who rushed for 342 yards a season ago. On defense, Granger brings back eight starters, including linebacker Tee Tonga and defense lineman Tiger Mulitalo.
Hunter is a team that is projected first in the Deseret News preseason Region 2 projections and third in the Deseret News preseason Region 2 coaches' poll.
Hunter head coach Scott Henderson isn’t concentrating on the other teams added to Region 2, but is focused on his own team’s performance.
“We were 5A before, so it’s no big deal. The only thing they did was moved East up, moved Kearns up, Cyprus is up, so it’s to be expected. We just play Hunter football and that’s what it’s all about,” Henderson said.
The Wolverines’ star player in the 2017 will be running back Pailate Makakona, who rushed for 1,098 yards and nine touchdowns. Hunter also returns quarterback Gordon Nai. On the defensive end, Makakona will also play a key part in the Wolverines’ defense, along with defensive lineman Lisiate Tauteol.
Hillcrest and Cyprus round out the new-look Region 2. The Huskies, who finished 3-7 in 2016, will be trying to build on last year’s positives in head coach Cazzie Brown’s second season at the helm of the Huskies. Quarterback Tyson Flores will lead Hillcrest on offense, while McKay Ashby will help the Huskies on defense.
Cyprus head coach Jed Smith is trying to build a success story out of a program that historically has not had much success. Smith welcomes the addition of his team in Region 2, which he said will provide intriguing matchups.
“We’re going to be playing teams out here on the west side, which we’re really excited about, we’re excited about the opportunity we have to battle out here in the west and play some teams that we feel like we’re pretty similarly matched up with now that we’ve kind of retained our kids and have some good kids here and I think we’re going to match up pretty well with those programs," Smith said.
Region 2 projections
Deseret News projections for Region 2 football teams in 2017
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. KEARNS: The Cougars enter Region 2 as the coaches’ favorite to take the region crown. Kearns has a strong, experienced offensive line and one of the best running backs in the region in Sese Felila. That offensive line will also help break in a new quarterback. On defense, Kearns will have to fill a lot of spots, with only two returning starters. Shoring up their defense could be the difference in deciding if they win the region.
2016 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Woods Cross, 37-17, in 4A first round.
2. GRANGER: The Lancers are back with a chip on their shoulders and another offseason under their belts. Granger returns many key players from last season’s offense, including running back Mosese Sonasi and offensive lineman Tee Tonga. The key for Granger’s success starts with the experienced offensive line. On defense, Tonga and Tiger Mulitalo anchor the Lancers’ defense. Granger also returns many starters on the defensive line.
2016 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
3. HUNTER: Pailate Makakona will lead this Hunter offense as the Wolverines look to win their first region championship since 2014 and look to win their first state championship since 2003. With Makakona and what should be an improved quarterback in Gordon Nai, Hunter should have a good offense in 2017. On defense, the Wolverines lose Bo Tupou, but Henderson says that kids are ready to step up on defense.
2016 RECORD: 6-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham, 49-9, in 5A first round.
4. HILLCREST: Hillcrest is looking for a better showing in 2017 under head coach Cazzie Brown’s second year as head coach. With another offseason to implement his offensive and defensive scheme, the Huskies should be improved this season. Quarterback Tyson Flores will lead the Huskies on offense. On defense, linebacker McKay Ashby will be the player to watch.
2016 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Highland, 21-14, in 4A first round.
5. CYPRUS: The Pirates will try to improve from last season, when they won just one game. Smith thinks the Cyprus program is trending upwards as more kids decide to stay at Cyprus and not transfer elsewhere. Asher Pollock will lead the wide receiver corps on offense, along with Jazey Drecksel on offensive line. On defense, safety Alex Lanktree and defensive tackle Manny Ramirez will be key players on the other side of the ball.
2016 RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.