Whether it was Alta crashing out of the playoffs much earlier than expected, Cottonwood giving up what seemed like 150 points in its playoff ouster, Brighton getting manhandled in a quick one-and-done playoff appearance or Jordan letting eventual state champ Lone Peak off the ropes in the semifinals, collectively Region 3 teams know last year didn't meet expectations..
All, including non-playoff teams West Jordan and Copper Hills, are motivated to fix what unfolded last season.
Two are overhauling their offense, another its defense, while everyone is doing everything in their power to avoid similar letdowns.
"As a coach it definitely re-motivates me and it motivates my staff to really put in the extra time and effort. I do remind these kids, it's that easy. When you get to the playoffs it's one and done," said Alta coach Bob Stephens, whose team was upset by Syracuse in the first round after running the tables on a perfect 5-0 region season. "You can't take anything for granted and anything lightly. You have to go in every game like it's your last game,"
The Hawks are a slight favorite to repeat in what should be a fantastic Region 3 campaign, but Alta doesn't return a single defensive starter. In a region with star quarterbacks at both Cottonwood and Jordan, the lack of experience defensively is a legitimate concern.
Alta travels to Jordan in the first game of region play on Sept. 14, and that early-season clash might ultimately determine the region title — especially if Jordan wins.
Many coaches around the state believe the Beetdiggers are the sleeper pick to win the 5A state championship this year with all-state quarterback Austin Kafentzis returning along with all five offensive lineman.
Kafentzis was knocked out of last year's semifinal loss to Lone Peak with a broken collarbone, and that defeat hasn't sat well with he and his teammates this offseason.
"I think our kids are still bothered by that and its spurred them into working hard," said Jordan coach Eric Kjar.
Alta and Jordan were the second- and third-highest scoring teams in 5A last year, and considering the offensive talent on both teams again this year, it's going to take a great defensive effort by someone in Region 3 to deny a 1-2 finish for Alta and Jordan.
Cottonwood first-year coach Greg Croshaw hopes to transform the Colts into that team. Cottonwood was the fifth-highest scoring 5A team a year ago at 29 points per game, but it was the fourth-worst defensive team, allowing more than 34 ppg.
"We're probably going to have more guys play both ways," Croshaw said. "We've got to shore up that defense. You can't take all the great players and put them on offense. We're going to use some of them defensively."
Brighton, which beat Jordan last year to create a three-way tie for second place in Region 3, might be a defensive sleeper as well, led by Ute commit Uaea Masina.
Even though Brighton isn't abandoning its run-first mentality, coach Ryan Bullett said it's imperative his team becomes a more efficient passing team.
"This league is stacked at quarterback and receiver," Bullett said. "We've got to be able to throw the ball halfway through the year with consistency to make the playoffs in our league."
With Masina at running back and all five lineman who blocked for him late last year returning, Brighton's running game has the potential to be very good — but it won't matter if teams are putting nine guys in the box.
In an effort to crash the Region 3 party and sneak into the playoffs this year, West Jordan is putting a greater emphasis on the run this season out of the spread offense. Coach Mike Morgan is pretty pleased with how his team has responded.
"These kids will make some noise," Morgan said. "This group somewhere along the line will do something. I hope it's near the end."
Copper Hills gave up 40-plus points in all five region losses last year, and coach Kai Kapele is making a switch to the spread offense to try and keep up with some of the offensive juggernauts in Region 3.
REGION 3 PROJECTIONS
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. ALTA: Alta led 5A in scoring defense last year at 13 ppg, but not one of those starters is back. Don't expect much of a drop-off at a school with a history of reloading. This year's defense will be led by linebackers Max Broman and Jaden Johnson, while Sonatane Lui will anchor the defensive line after playing occasionally last year. Offensively, senior Dylan Rivas and junior Chipper Lucero are in a battle for the starting QB job, and whoever wins out will have two excellent receivers, Harrison Handley and Ammon Barker, to throw to. 2011 RECORD: 9-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Syracuse in first round.
2. JORDAN: Was a minute away from upsetting Lone Peak in the semis last year, and it returns a ton of starters to make another run at a 5A title. With all five offensive linemen returning, the pieces are in place for sophomore QB Austin Kafentzis to have an even better season than he did a year ago. All his receivers will be new, but Mason Krueger and Adriel Jefferson are more than adequate replacements. Defensively, the 'Diggers return six starters, including standout linebackers Colton Shaver and Tyler Swan. Mori Savini will anchor the line. 2011 RECORD: 10-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak in semifinals.
3. COTTONWOOD: With most starters returning from one of the top offenses in 5A last year, first-year coach Greg Croshaw doesn't plan on making any drastic changes to an offense that Alabama commit Cooper Bateman feels so comfortable with. Expect one of the worst defenses in 5A to get an overhaul, which means many players will have to go both ways. The offensive line is very talented with Dakota Jenkins-Bay, Lo Falemaka, Niva Kinikini and Elijah Tupai all back from last year. BYU commit Inoke Lotulelei is one of the top receivers in the state. Dorien Banks is a returning starter at linebacker, and someone who should have a much better season with improved help around him. 2011 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Northridge in first round.
4. BRIGHTON: The Bengals finished in a three-way tie for second in Region 3 last year, and the five offensive linemen who started those last few games are all back this year. Running back Uaea Masina, who recently committed to Utah as a linebacker, hopes to take advantage of the experience on the offensive line with a strong season offensively. There are question marks at QB, though, and coach Ryan Bullett is adamant the Bengals need to throw a bit more to be successful this year. Defensively, Masina is one of only two returning starters, and he'll play safety to make sure he stays healthy to contribute on both sides of the ball. 2011 RECORD: 5-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Fremont in first round.
5. WEST JORDAN: The Jaguars are mixing things up offensively. They'll still throw the ball a lot with three-year starting QB Michael Moorehead returning, but coach Mike Morgan is committed to running the ball more this year as well. With four starters back on the line, that's great news for running back Kaden Maddox. At the end of the day, though, West Jordan can run the ball all it wants, but it won't matter if the defense can't get stops. The Jags gave up 40-plus points in five of nine games last year. The defense will rely heavily on a trio of returning starters at linebacker, Jacob Ponce, Chinedu Ahanonu and Maddox. 2011 RECORD: 3-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
6. COPPER HILLS: To keep up with elite passing teams in Region 3 the Grizzlies are ditching the veer offense in favor of the spread. They don't have a clear-cut No. 1 QB for now as Christian Reese and Dustin Soter begin the season sharing the job. Everyone will be going through a big learning curve offensively with just one returning starter. Defensively, the team returns six starters, including multiple starters in the secondary. Troy Humphreys and Aaron Stroebehn combined for 71 tackles last year and are both returning contributors at linebacker. 2011 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
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