Football season is officially upon us. You can count it down with just one hand now. Everything gets under way this Friday night with the opening of the 2011 high school football season, which will be followed just a few weeks later by the start of college football and the NFL. After months of NFL labor talk and conference realignment, it’s about time. As is always the case in Utah, high school football kicks everything off, and this year there are 101 teams competing at the varsity level. You can bet there’s anxiety and tension at every school. What programs will take the next step, and what programs will take a backward step. For some, two or three wins would be considered a good season, while others will settle for nothing less than a state championship. There are countless stories to watch unfold at every high school this year from Sky View to San Juan. To get fans geared up for what should be another fantastic season, here are 11 notable stories worth paying attention to this season.
Sometime in late September or early October, Skyline coach Roger Dupaix should reach a remarkable milestone. Already the all-time winningest coach in Utah high school football history, Dupaix is just six victories away from his 300th career win.
The big question is when will the magical moment occur?
With a preseason schedule that includes three 3A teams — albeit all very good ones — No. 300 could come fairly early. The earliest it could occur is Sept. 23 at Herriman if the Eagles start the season off 6-0. More realistically, it will likely occur either Sept. 30 at Hillcrest or Oct. 7 at home against Westlake.
Skyline ends the regular season at home against Olympus on Oct. 14. If Dupaix hasn’t locked up No. 300 already, beating Skyline’s fiercest rival in the battle for “The Rock” would be the dream scenario.
Dupaix has been coaching for 34 years, with a career record of 294-108. He posted a 55-38 record at Highland from 1977-85, and his record at Skyline ever since is 239-70.
Highland fullback Sione Houma made big news last month when he verbally committed to the University of Michigan.
Already a marked man as the most dangerous weapon for the defending 4A champs, Houma will be the focus of even more defensive game plans this season because of his Michigan decision. How he handles the pressure — and most notably his ability to protect the football — will ultimately determine Highland’s fate.
Early last season, Houma struggled with putting the ball on the turf, and was too unreliable for the coaching staff to trust him with many carries. Nine games into the season, he’d rushed for just 191 yards.
Despite the lack of playing time, Houma worked hard in practice to cure his fumbling woes, and Highland’s season turned around for good once he became a permanent fixture in the backfield. He rushed for 873 yards and six touchdowns in the final five games of the season
If he duplicates that production from Week 1 in 2011, watch out.
Les Hamilton’s switch from Alta to Hunter — via Chile — was a stunning development earlier this summer. His arrival on the West side ushers in a new era of Hunter football — the spread.
Since the school opened in 1990, Hunter’s football teams have played a smash-mouth style that featured almost exclusively runs, sometimes upwards of 50 per game. That should change with a new offensive philosophy — or will it?
“If we can run the ball, we’re going to run the ball,” said Hamilton.
The spread offense is traditionally known as a pass-happy scheme with quarterbacks throwing the ball 30-plus times per game. Hamilton is quick to point out, however, that his Alta team back in 2006 rushed for over 4,000 yards out of the spread formation.
For those expecting Hunter to suddenly be a passing team, don’t. Hunter teams have always been great at running the football, and Hamilton will happily exploit that.
There are some high school football fans out there who will try and convince you that this year’s Alta team is somewhat of a clone of last year’s Bingham team — unbeatable. At every level, this group of players has dominated.
The Hawks will get a chance to prove if they’re really that legit this season against arguably the toughest schedule in the state with games against Timpview, Bingham, Riverton, Jordan, Cottonwood and two teams from California.
It’s a monumental task for first-year coach Bob Stephens, but high school fans across the state will be paying very close attention to see if Alta can live up to the hype.
Fred Fernandes is in over his head, right? Nobody wins at Roy. NOBODY.
Regardless of how successful he’s been during previous coaching stints at Northridge and Woods Cross, he can’t possibly turn around one of the worst programs in the state — his alma mater no less — can he?
A Roy community accustomed to two decades of futility can’t wait to see if he can.
Fernandes is thrilled about the challenge of reviving a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1991, but knows the rebuilding project will take years. A favorable preseason schedule could give Roy some momentum heading into Region 5, a league Roy is a unanimous choice to finish dead last.
During his coaching stint at Woods Cross, Fernandes changed the culture of losing. Only time will tell if he can do the same at Roy.
A great quarterback can put a team on his shoulders and lead them deep into the playoffs.
Logan’s Riley Nelson in 2005 and Alta’s Ammon Olsen in 2008 are perfect examples, not to mention Mountain Crest’s Alex Kuresa the past four years.
Lone Peak quarterback Chase Hansen is capable of similar great things. Most believe either Alta or Bingham will win the 5A state championship again this year, but don’t bet against Hansen and the Knights. Hansen has already verbally committed to the University of Utah, and if he lives up to expectations this year, he might wind up hoisting a state championship trophy on the same field where he’ll end up playing his college football.
In 2002, Tyler Anderson coached the Tooele Buffaloes, led by eventual Mr. Football winner Kyle Brady, to the 3A state championship.
Brady went on to have a productive career at the University of Utah, while Anderson left Tooele a year later to coach in Florida for five years, not to mention several other stops. No matter where they’ve gone since that rare Tooele state championship, their teams have almost always been successful.
Their respective alma maters, whose football teams were a combined 5-16 last year, are hoping to draw upon that success. Anderson is the new head coach at Orem and Brady is the new head coach at Tooele.
Just as Brady led Tooele to a state title in 2002, Anderson did the same for Orem back in 1987.
“I’m trying to get the kids to understand the pride that Orem has had and needs to have again,” said Anderson. “I think the kids have grasped hold of it and understand it. The biggest thing is the mental part of it and understanding that they can compete and play with anybody, which is the way we were when we were in high school.”
There’s a buzz around Class 3A about Region 9, but it’s really no surprise. It happens every year. The big question is will one of those Southern Utah teams finally break through with a state championship.
Over the past eight years, a total of 14 teams from Region 9 have advanced to either the semifinals or the championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Collectively, though, they’re 0-for-14 in hauling the championship trophy back with them down I-15. Seven of those losses have been in title games, too, including three straight losses by Hurricane.
Will this year be any different? Maybe. For starters, many believe Pine View, Hurricane and Desert Hills are all capable of winning the state championship. Watching how the season unfolds in Region 9 and then at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the playoffs figures to be great theatre all year.
Last year’s Bingham team was arguably the best in state history. A 13-0 record, with an average margin of victory of 39 points and 15 seniors earning college scholarships.
So what can the 2011 Miners possibly do for an encore? That’s one of the most exciting unknowns statewide about the upcoming season.
Nobody expects Bingham to drop off, but there are some huge question marks with only a handful of returning starters and a much tougher schedule than in years past.
“Would I be shocked if they went on and won it all?” said Bingham coach Dave Peck. “I would not. They’re doing everything that’s asked of them, and they’re doing it right.”
Bingham’s clash with Alta in Week 2 will reveal a lot about how this year’s team measures up with last year’s undeniable dynasty.
On Sept. 3, the reputation of high school football in Utah will be put to the test in Southern California.
Bingham, Alta and Timpview, the state’s most dominant teams over the past five years, have been invited to participate in the Mission Viejo Classic and will each face a team from California. Timpview will take on Bakersfield, Alta will face Crenshaw and Bingham will battle Orange Lutheran.
The general perception in California is that Utah teams aren’t nearly as good as their own. In Week 3, Bingham, Alta and Timpview will have an opportunity to open some eyes about the quality of football in Utah.
Scott Mitchell was already a legend in Springville before he coached the Red Devils to an improbable playoff victory over Timpview last November. Now he’s a rock star.
Nobody thought Timpview could be beat, but Springville got the job done halting the mighty T-Birds’ 17-game playoff winning streak and 47-game winning streak against 4A foes.
“That was a huge win. In my experience with football as a player and coach, it was one of the greatest games I’ve ever been involved with. It was just so fun. It was a great game,” said Mitchell.
Some have suggested the victory was a changing of the guard in Utah County, while others believe it was an anomaly and Timpview is still the king. There’s no way to know until Oct. 13 when Springville hosts Timpview in one of the most anticipated games of the entire 2011 season,
Mitchell knows Timpview will be out for some serious revenge, but he believes his players are mentally and physically up for the challenge.