In Region 11, there's no way to spin reality — everyone is chasing Stansbury.
The defending region champs won every league game by double digits last year, and with the majority of his starters returning, coach Clint Christiansen doesn't have any reservations admitting he believes the Stallions are better this season.
"Skill wise, we're definitely better. The kids are more mature and they're bigger and stronger. We're fast everywhere, we have a lot of speed on the field," said Christiansen. "We're really excited where we're at right now. It's going to be a heck of a year for us."
Grantsville coach Tony Cloward said it's no secret why Stansbury won it last year and why it's favored to do so again.
"A strong running game to control the clock and defense that can get you off the field and get your offense the ball is the key to winning this region. And let's be honest, Stansbury did it the best last year," said Cloward, whose team finished second in region last year.
Like Stansbury, Grantsville also returns a slew of starters, including all five offensive linemen and all four linebackers.
While the question marks are minimal for the top two teams from a year ago, the same can't be said for most of Region 11's other five teams.
Bear River is switching to the spread offense in part to accommodate the talents of quarterback Kyle Zundel, while both Tooele and Ben Lomond are abandoning the spread in favor of the Wing-T offense.
Tooele didn't win a single game last season under first-year coach Kyle Brady, and despite much experience returning, he doesn't believe history will repeat itself.
"I know last year we didn't win any games, but I feel this year if we compete in those first nonregion games and get some confidence then when it comes region we might have a chance to surprise a few teams," said Brady.
Grantsville and Ogden surprised the rest of the region by battling for the No. 2 seed on the final night of the regular season last year. Ogden coach Troy Kolan said he still has nightmares about losing that game 33-32.
The Tigers don't have much experience returning, but what they do have is on the offensive line and Kolan has no doubt Ogden can compete physically up front with any team in the league.
Morgan finished a disappointing third last season, but with its four leading rushers all back it should challenge Stansbury and Grantsville for the top spots in the region.
"We'll have to play good to get first or second, but I think we have the athletes to do that," said coach Kovi Christiansen.
Bear River should also have the athletes to compete a year after missing the playoffs, but coach Chris Wise said it's about more than just athleticism.
"We need to develop the brotherhood that we had in the years we did well. That seemed to be the difference-maker at Bear River. The thing they need to do is trust each other for one, but also make sure they're taking care of each other out there on the field," said Wise.
The big question surrounding Region 11 is can anybody compete with 3A's elite once the playoffs roll around.
Stansbury and Grantsville did well to advance the quarterfinals last season, but Stansbury lost to eventual 3A runner-up Desert Hills 26-7 and Grantsville was blown out by eventual state champion Hurricane 41-0.
"To win it, you're going to have to go through St. George. Bottom line. They're loaded from top to bottom, and we've preached that to our kids," said Clint Christiansen. "Can we compete with the size of those schools? The option game gives us a chance to do that offensively, but defensively we're going to have to figure out if we can stop them."
Cloward said his players have been motivated to lift weights all offseason in hopes of competing with Hurricane the next time around instead of just being blocking dummies.
REGION 11 PROJECTIONS
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. STANSBURY: The defending region champs return the majority of its starters on both sides of the ball as it seeks a repeat. Among them is quarterback Chase Christiansen and fullback Jackson Clausing, who combined to rush for nearly 1,800 yards last year. The coaching staff hopes to be less one-dimensional this year, which puts more pressure on Christiansen to throw the ball more efficiently. Defensively, Colton May, Clausing and Chandler Staley are all returning starters at linebacker. Christiansen should also see time at linebacker this year, while Allan Havili will help anchor the defensive line. 2011 RECORD: 9-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Desert Hills in quarterfinals.
2. MORGAN: Morgan's top four running backs last year combined to rush for 2,426 yards, and incredibly they're all back. Kade Carrigan led the way in yardage with 773 yards and seven touchdowns. Bridger Anderson added 659 yards and 11 TDs. Lantzen Toomer chipped in with 632 yards and six TDs, while Joseph Kippen made an impact with 362 yards and seven TDs. Junior Ben Saunders takes over at quarterback, and he's an athletic kid who's had a good summer. Defensively, the Trojans will be a very fast team this year, but the defensive line will also feature some size with Ethan Hipwell and Kyle Stapley. 2011 RECORD: 7-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Spanish Fork in first round.
3. GRANTSVILLE: The Cowboys return nine starters on both sides of the ball after last year's quarterfinal run. Linebacker is the strength of this team with Skyler Cloward, Ky Fisher, Kaleb Ware and Max Cook all returning starters. Defense isn't the problem with this team though. Grantsville only averaged 17 ppg last year. It is counting on the returning of all five starting linebackers from a year ago to improve on that average. The return of Cook at quarterback should help as he threw for over 1,000 yards a year ago. He threw 11 interceptions though, turnovers he'll need to cut down on. 2011 RECORD: 7-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane in quarterfinals.
4. BEAR RIVER: A year after missing the playoffs, Bear River is switching to the spread offense to get the program back on track. A lot of that will depend on the production of athletic quarterback Kyle Zundel. He's a decent passer, but he's a better runner so the Bears should still be a run-first offense. Wade "Bubba" Miller and Garrett Fronk should still be productive at receiver. The three best teams Bear River faced last season were Logan, Stansbury and Morgan, and the Bears allowed 49, 37 and 48 points respectively. Miller and Zundel are offensive starters who will factor in defensively as well in the secondary, while Dallan Bergman is a returning starter at linebacker. 2011 RECORD: 3-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
5. OGDEN: After securing a surprise playoff berth last year, the Tigers are counting on a strong core of returning starters on the offensive line to get them back. Jusep Uscanga, Tino Reyes and Brian Saunders are all returning starters on the line, while Larry Rodriguez is a returning starter at tight end. Junior running back Josh Shackleford should benefit after rushing for 539 yards last year as an injury replacement starter. Defensively, Ogden returns three of its four returning starters on the line which could make a difference in the run-heavy region. All four starting linebackers will be new though. 2011 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Delta in first round.
6. TOOELE: Only returns a handful of starters from a winless season in Kyle Brady's first year as head coach. This year is still very much a rebuilding process, but things are looking up. A big reason for that is a switch to the Wing-T offense. Senior Adam Mikesell is one of the few seniors expected to start this year, and the quarterback has really taken to the new offense. Zach Coffman, Adam Pace, J.D. Furuta and Seth Manning will see plenty of carries in the new offense. Tooele gave up over 36 points per game last year, but looking back on it coach Brady believes field position was a big part of that, and he's confident the offensive switch will help with that. 2011 RECORD: 0-10. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
7. BEN LOMOND: Bill Mierzejewski takes over as head coach for the Scots after 30 years of coaching experience in Idaho, Wyoming and overseas in Okinawa. The Scots will only feature eight seniors on the team, but Mierzejewski believes there's potential. Like Tooele, Ben Lomond is making the switch to the Wing-T offense. Austin Sullins will start at quarterback after very limited playing time at the position last year. Braxton Chapman takes over for graduated Nate Watkins as the primary running back, with Mario Anderson expected to step in the fill the fullback role. Defensively, Alberto Garcilazo and Mario Anderson will anchor the linebacking core. 2011 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
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