It's not going to be easy for anyone in Region 4. The region houses the winners of the last three 5A state championships and a lot more — most notably a program that just inherited one of the state's best coaches.
"Our region is brutal," said Lehi coach Dave Hastings. "The preseason rankings come out and the top two schools are in our region in Bingham and Lone Peak, so it's going to be tough to compete in this region. But it's something we're aiming to do."
"In 5A football, you can expect at least five and oftentimes all six teams to be quality teams, but this region – it might be the toughest in the state," said new Pleasant Grove coach Les Hamilton. "You have Bingham, who everyone is picking to win it all this year; Lone Peak, who obviously won it all last year; an improving American Fork team, an improving Lehi team, and then you have Riverton, who pound for pound is the toughest group of kids in the state, so we're going to have to come ready to play every night."
Lone Peak is riding high following its state championship season. The Knights were led last year by Chase Hansen, who by most estimations was the best quarterback the state has seen for some time.
"I've been coaching in the state for 26 years and I've never seen a quarterback harder to defend than Chase Hansen," said Bingham coach Dave Peck. "He's going to be very tough to replace, but Lone Peak, they've got a lot of great players there. They beat us last year and they're going to be tough again this year."
Braden Miles and Jordan transfer Baron Gajkowski will both compete to replace Hansen at quarterback. They'll be aided by some promising offensive players and what looks to be a stellar defense.
"There's a price to pay to win and these guys need to decide if they're willing to pay that price," said coach Gary McGeary. "We try to keep it real and never get too high and never get too low. Teams are going to be hungry going against that, and it's all about how much these kids want it and how hard they're willing to work because I feel we have the talent to do some good things again."
Bingham has dominated whatever region it's been a part of for some time, so it came as a shock to the system when Lone Peak took the region title and then the state title last year. Most expect the Miners to regain their perch on top of Region 4, however.
"We're not used to losing here and I think a lot of us just thought we'd show up and win whatever game we played (last season)," said offensive lineman Keegan Hicks. "I think we learned a lot about rededicating ourselves and knowing that we're in it together and need to lift everyone up."
Riverton is a program that has been knocking loudly on the door recently and, with a good stable of returning contributors, it may yet break that door down.
"I like the kids we have returning, but I like even more how they work together," said coach Mike Miller. "There's a great sense of unity on this team, and I love how our kids have worked during the offseason. So expectations are high. We're going to have to work hard and earn everything we get because I think everyone in our region is going to be improved as well."
Pleasant Grove has a new attitude and big goals in mind under new Coach Hamilton.
"Our team intensity has really stepped up and we've really come together as a team under Coach Hamilton," said senior Dallin Hatch. "We all knew he was a great coach coming in and we know that we'll be great if we work like he wants us to work."
American Fork is a program capable of knocking off anyone on any given night. Like Riverton, the Cavemen look poised to take the next step after coming up just short in key games last season.
"A couple of plays made here and there and we win those games," said coach Aaron Behm. "I think that's one of the big steps for us now. We need to make those plays toward the end of the game when it counts. I'm confident that we'll be able to do that better this year."
Last, but looking not to be least is Lehi, who looks to rise up from its doormat status. Second-year coach Dave Hastings likes his chances.
"Learning how to win in a program that hasn't been able to win for a long while isn't an easy thing," said Hastings. "One of our themes my first year was to expect to win, and it's something these kids haven't expected to do for a long, long time. So the credit goes to them for believing in what we're trying to do here."
Region 4 projections
(Preseason rankings are based on coach's votes)
1. BINGHAM: The Miners return a lot of starters, but most importantly learned the importance of good leadership coming off of last season. As always, Bingham's strength will be along both its offensive and defensive fronts. The headliners are seniors Lowell Lotulelei on defense and Keegan Hicks on offense. With key returning playmakers on the outside, Bingham should make a strong bid to win it all in 2012.
2. LONE PEAK: While offense led the way in 2011, Lone Peak looks to get defensive in 2012. Linebackers Josh Buck and Spencer Reinstein lead a defense that should be tough to score on. The Knights also return Talon Shumway, who has proven to be one of the most exciting playmakers in the state. Shumway will be used at a variety of positions.
3. RIVERTON: The Silverwolves aren't the biggest team, but look to be strong again with a good stable of running backs ready to thrive in Coach Miller's triple-option system. Albert Tai leads the defense and will be joined by Dallin Munger and Ethan Munger in what looks to be one of the better linebacking corps in the state.
4. PLEASANT GROVE: The Vikings will be led on offense by bruising running back Colton Babb, but will also feature key playmakers on the outside like Skyler Munson and Spencer Romney. Players have responded well to new Coach Les Hamilton and look to improve after a down year in 2011.
5. AMERICAN FORK: The run-heavy Cavemen may open it up more this season with playmakers on the outside such as Shayden Luker, Jade Lucker, Jonah Trinnamman and Chris Boone. They're a team that proved to be competitive against top teams last season and will look to upset those same teams and make another run at the state playoffs.
6. LEHI: Dave Hastings accomplished in 2011 what no prior coach has since 2008 — win a football game. In 2012, he'll seek his first region win in his second year of coaching the Pioneers' program. He'll hope to reprise a prolific running attack that was amongst the state leaders last season.
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