Note: American Fork finished with a 3-7 overall record in 2012 and was fifth in Region 4 with a 1-4 record. It did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.
AMERICAN FORK — Making headway in a traditionally brutal Region 4 isn’t easy, but American Fork believes it has the goods to deliver this season.
Armed with solid returning talent at key positions, some of the best playmakers in the state, and a new attitude, the Cavemen believe they can make a run at the 5A playoffs.
“We like our chances this year and we’re excited about this team’s potential,” said head coach Aaron Behm. “The kids have been working hard after a tough season last year and that’s what you ask for as a coach.”
Behm has fielded tough teams in each of his three years as American Fork's head coach, but has yet to make a deep run in the playoffs. His best chance came in 2011 when his team went 5-5 but lost in the first round.
Last season the Cavemen slugged their way to a 3-7 record and only one win in region.
“We certainly need to play better in region and we need to be better prepared for region play because it doesn’t get any tougher than Region 4,” Behm said. “We’ve beefed up our nonregion schedule and think that will help us prepare for the great teams in our region.”
American Fork’s nonregion schedule includes games against Brighton and 4A powerhouses Orem and Mountain Crest before topping off the season with a rare out-of-region game against Wasatch.
Region 4 was shaken up a bit, but still includes teams like Lone Peak, Pleasant Grove and Riverton, among others. American Fork will no longer have to contend with bully Bingham, but that doesn’t make Region 4 any easier from Behm’s point of view.
“Herriman has done some great things, so they’ll be tough there. Pleasant Grove is going to be improved. And coach (Mike) Mower is someone who is going to have Lone Peak playing tough,” Behm said. “Lehi is going to be tough and so is Riverton. There won’t be any easy games in our region, that’s for sure.”
Fortunately, the Cavemen enter the season with a lot of returning experience at key positions to take on such a schedule.
“We have eight or nine guys on offense who played a lot for us last year, so that should allow us to do good things on that side of the ball,” Behm said. “We don’t have as many guys returning on defense, but we have enough guys there that we should be OK.”
The offense is led by quarterback Jacen Condie, who is small in stature (5 foot 8) but long on accuracy and leadership.
“He gets the ball where it needs to be,” Behm said. “He’s a very smart player and someone the team looks up to and depends on.”
Zach Katoa returns at running back and will team with Riley Smith to provide a productive running attack. Both players will be fronted by an offensive line that is led by James Empey, Mason Price and Kurtis Anderson, all starters from last season.
The real strength of the offense may be on the outside, where receivers Jonah Trinnaman and Jade Luker lead the charge. Both players will team with tight end Nate Heaps to form one of the best sets of receivers in the state.
“We really have some good playmakers and we’re focused on getting them the football,” Behm said. “Jonah and Jade did good things for us last year, but I think Nate Heaps has really improved in the offseason and we’re going to run a lot more plays for him this year.”
On defense the team will rely on nose tackle Mason Price and Smith, who will play inside linebacker.
“We have three linebackers who all saw varsity experience last year, so we should be strong there,” Behm said. “Mason Price and Riley Smith will both play both ways and they’re both leaders for us. It’s important to be strong up the middle and we have that with Mason and Riley.”
Both on the field and off Behm is working to build a much better sense of community and family on the team. Practice ends with random players being called on to point out someone who has impressed them with their work and dedication to the team.
“We’ve talked a lot about how this team is a family from on top all the way down,” Behm said. “We want to put players in positions where they can be successful here and we want everyone to realize that they have a spot on this team and the opportunity to do great things both on and off the field.”
American Fork Cavemen at a glance
Coach: Aaron Behm is 11-19 through three years coaching at American Fork. He's a graduate of Grant Community High School in Illinois.
(9 returning starters; Multiple-formation offense)
The goal for American Fork will be to get the ball to its playmakers. For this reason coaches have made slight changes to the offense.
"We're going to do sort of a mix between a spread and pro-style," Behm said. "We'll go two-back, one-back, double-tight; we'll mix it up. We want to get the ball to Jonah (Trinnaman) and Jade (Luker) and other guys who can make plays. We also think we can spread the field with their speed."
(5 returning starters; 3-4 defense)
Behm will also rely heavily on both Trinamann and Luker on defense along with others who will be asked to play both ways.
"When you have athletes like that you use them," Behm said. "They'll be asked to play a lot on both offense and defense and I think they're up to it. Depth is always a concern for us, but if we stay healthy I think we can make a push for the playoffs and should have a great season."
Coaches preseason Region 4 straw poll: Fourth
Deseret News Region 4 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: American Fork fought through a lot of inexperience last year and will be stronger this year as a result. The Cavemen should make a strong push for the playoffs and are poised to form the best team Behm has fielded since taking the job in 2010.
Felt’s Facts for American Fork High School
All-time record: 442-297-21 (87 years)
Region championships: 17 (1937,1938, 1939, 1942, 1953, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977 co, 1980, 1984, 1995 co, 2007 co)
Playoff appearances: 35
All-time playoff record: 20-33
State championships: 2 (1961, 1962)
State championship record:2-2
Most played rivalry: 77 meetings with Pleasant Grove dating back to 1931. American Fork leads 48-28-2. Meet on Oct. 18.
Felt’s Factoid(s): AF played West to a 30-30 draw after three overtimes — when the game was called because of darkness — in 1984. It ranks as the highest tie game between two Utah schools. ... AF holds the record for fewest total yards allowed in a championship game: The Cavemen held Grand County to minus-2 yards in the 1962 Class B championship.
American Fork coaching history
2010-current — Aaron Behm (11-20)
1983-2009 — Davis Knight (151-122)
1982 — Unknown (8-4)
1971-1981 — Don Mower (77-33)
1969-1970 — Tom Crittenden (11-7)
1960-1968 — Don Mower (62-22)
1941-1959 — Leo Nelson (81-56)
1929-1940 — Grant "Rags" Ingersoll (39-25)
1927-1928 — Unknown (0-8)
1908 — Mr. Wade and Mr. Pitt (1-0)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2010 — Ryker Mathews, OL
2007 — Justin Jensen, DL
2007 — Robert Lusk, LB
2007 — Jake Murphy, DB
2005 — Mike Muehlmann, TE
2005 — McKay Frandsen, LB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company