It's the year of quarterback uncertainty in Region 12.
With the 2012 season just a few weeks away, all four playoff teams from a year ago have question marks at quarterback. Most agree it's a good problem to have multiple options at arguably the most important position on the field, but it's never an easy decision for the coaches.
So while Spanish Fork, Delta, Juab and North Sanpete wrestle with their own QB decisions, non-playoff teams from a year ago Payson and Carbon are in great position to capitalize with quality returning starters.
Payson gunslinger Devan Judd threw for nearly 3,000 yards last year, and he's worked extremely hard in the offseason at recognizing coverages to improve his decision making. With his experience, the Lions could be a sleeper team in Region 12.
"Devan's strength has always been he's a smart kid. He's a 4.0 student, and he does that because the time he puts into whatever he's doing is fantastic. His development has been immense in his understanding football," said Payson coach Jeremy Chapman.
Carbon's Dakota Cisneros is a returning starter as well, and like Judd his understanding of the spread offense should be much improved in year two.
As for the other four Region 12 teams — those most likely to compete for the league title — it's not quite so cut and dry.
Spanish Fork first-year coach Kirk Chambers inherits a program he says former coach Matt Christensen left in fantastic shape. Replacing first-team all-state quarterback Hayden Nielsen has been the first order of business, and junior Jeremiah Evans and sophomore Jason Money have been battling it out throughout the summer.
The Dons were the Region 12 runner-up a year ago, but they advanced to the 3A semifinals with an upset of three-time state champion Juan Diego in the quarterfinals.
Chambers said despite the departure of a great graduating class, expectations haven't been lowered.
"The senior class is very motivated and they understand their role as being leaders and being the players that push this team. The great thing about them is they're the ones with the high expectations of themselves, you can coach that, but it's much better if you don't have to so you can focus on the finer points of the game," said Chambers, who a seven-year veteran of the NFL who retired after last season.
He's loved working with the kids so far, and jokes it's ironic a former NFL offensive lineman has a quarterback controversy in his first year as head coach.
Delta coach Russ Henrie hasn't had to worry about the quarterback position for three years. Colin Christensen owned that position since his sophomore year, but his graduation leaves a big hole to fill in the inverted wishbone offense.
Throughout the summer Henrie has been looking at senior Hunter Johnson and junior A.J. Schena, and both my end up getting playing time this season.
The Rabbits only returning four starters, which Henrie said is going to make repeating as region champs tough.
"There's going to be some learning curve in the first part of the season; hopefully by the end when they count, we'll starting getting to where we need to be," he said.
North Sanpete's QB quandary is an interesting one.
Freshman Brady Wheeler started 10 games last year after Rhett Bird injured himself in the first game of the year. He had his fair share of struggles, but he's improved throughout the summer.
Ed Moroney isn't ready to concede the starting job. A receiver last year, the senior approached first-year coach Matt Roberts on his first day on the job and said he wanted to play quarterback this season.
"It's close, and each of them do different things well. We'll go up to Aug. 17, and we'll know then who our starter is," said Roberts.
Roberts, a North Sanpete graduate, returns home after serving as a Desert Hills assistant the past few years. He's hoping to bring more toughness to the program both offensively and defensively.
Juab earned the last playoff spot from Region 12 last year, and coach Mike Bowring has been particularly pleased with how hard his kids have worked this offseason to improve upon that.
"The kids have done a good job in the summer lifting, and at camp we improved every day. We're optimistic, which I think most people are at this point," he said. "I like our kids, we have good leaders. They've been working hard, and we're excited to see what we can do."
Junior quarterback Jeff Rowley is the projected starter heading into the season, but he's getting pushed by sophomore Nick Robbins, who had a great summer.
Region 12 projections
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. SPANISH FORK: Was among the top five scoring offenses in 3A last year at 33.3 ppg. The Dons return five starters from last year's semifinal team, which should help ease the transition of first-year coach Kirk Chambers. Levi Mitchell and Jordan Brandon are returners on the line who hope to give Spanish Fork's new quarterback time to adjust. Whether that new QB is junior Jeremiah Evans or sophomore Jason Money remains to be seen. Also back offensively are Gunnar Beus at fullback and Cam Money and Colton Olsen at receiver. The Dons' run defense struggled against quality teams last year, and shoring that up is one of the top priorities of new defensive coordinator Kevin Nichol. 2011 RECORD: 9-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane in semifinals.
2. DELTA: The Rabbits were the surprise Region 12 champs last year, but only four starters return in their bid for a repeat. Two of those starters are in the trenches — Dallin Christensen and McKay Shamo — which should help with the precision inverted wishbone offense. Delta graduated most of its top skill position players last year, but big things are expected of senior Ezra Seui after he contributed 346 rushing yards and five TDs last year. The QB position is up for grabs between senior Hunter Johnson and junior A.J. Schena. Replacing all-stater Colin Christensen won't be an easier task for either. Kale Leavitt, Kole Lyman and Danny Dutson will be key contributors in the backfield as well. 2011 RECORD: 10-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Cedar in quarterfinals.
3. JUAB: The Wasps don't return many starters, but coach Mike Bowring has loved the work ethic of his players and is excited about the upcoming season. One of those few returning starters is Chandler Vance, who will anchor the offensive and defensive line. Junior Jeff Rowley is in line to win the quarterback job, but he's getting pushed by sophomore Nick Robbins. Regardless of who's taking snaps, Curtis Orme will be the top receiving threat after he led the team with 561 yards and seven TDs last year. Defensively, Juab will be led by Trevor Fowkes, Dalton Harmon and Dalton Brooks. 2011 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Stansbury in first round.
4. PAYSON: A year after a rather disappointing season, Payson is counting on third-year starting QB Devan Judd to lead it to its first winning season since 1978. Judd passed for 2,893 yards and 20 TDs last year, but he also threw 21 interceptions. Cutting down on those mistakes should help the Lions improve on their 18.6 ppg. KK Loveless and Preston Little should emerge as the top receiving threats. Getting stops was a problem last year, but a strong front seven and a new scheme should help this year. Anchoring the defensive line are a pair of seniors, Rueben Uresti and Taris Schramm. The two combined on 73 tackles and six sacks last season. 2011 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
5. NORTH SANPETE: Matt Roberts, a 1999 graduate of North Sanpete, takes over as coach and hopes to turn around a program with one winning season in the past seven years. Kaden Poulson and Trey McRae are tough fullbacks the Hawks will lean on heavily this year, while halfback Brady Walker is returning after rushing for 250 yards on 56 carries last year. North Sanpete ranked 10th in scoring defense last season, but that's an area Roberts really wants to improve. Defensive tackles Oliver Silva and Chance O'Conner have picked up the new defensive schemes very well and will be tough to run on all year. Middle linebackers Poulson and McRae are run stuffers as well. 2011 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Grantsville in first round.
6. CARBON: Expectations are much higher for the Dinos as they enter their second year in the spread offense. Quarterback Dakota Cisneros had a decent first season in the offense with 1,225 yards and 10 TDs, but he's poised for much better things. A healthy Jordan Blanc will make a big difference as well. As a sophomore, he was Carbon's leading rusher in the veer offense. An ACL tear sidelined him for his junior season, but he's back to full strength for his senior year and will play receiver. Emery move-in Dominic Rondinelli will help at running back and linebacker. Fellow linebackers Lane Neese and Cameron Rutherford will make that position a strength defensively. 2011 RECORD: 4-5. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
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