Listening to Grantsville High football coach Kevin Butler, you'd think he was trying to get hired as a press agent for Millard coach Franklin Bramall and his Eagles.
"Millard is beyond loaded," Butler said enviously when evaluating the Eagles' talent. "If he doesn't win it, there's something wrong."Nobody in the 2A ranks will argue the first part of Butler's statement. It's the last phrase that is sure to raise eyebrows at all the state's smaller schools between Randolph and Blanding.
Like it or not, Butler is going to have to deal with his Cowboys being labeled THE team-to-beat in Class 2A again this year. Win two straight championships, as Grantsville has, and that's what you get. The Cowboys will be the almost-unanimous preseason No. 1-ranked team in 2A when the first Deseret News rankings are unveiled next week.
"But," retorted Butler, "I've only got two guys (starters) returning."
Nice try, but there are dozens of other coaches in the state who'd love to have those two guys - seniors Alan Mouritsen and Joel Butler - on their squads.
Mouritsen, the 1997 Deseret News 2A MVP, is coming off of one of the best seasons in Utah football history. Last year, he rushed for over 2,300 yards and set a single-season record by scoring 42 touchdowns in 13 games.
"He's a great high school running back," coach Butler said.
Joel Butler is a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who can single-handedly wreak havoc on offenses and defenses as a defensive end/tight end.
The Cowboys have plenty of talent surrounding their two stars, but they could take some lumps early on. Grantsville's first three opponents are from Class 3A - Park City, Granite and state champion Morgan. G-Ville then travels to Manti to kick off its tough league schedule.
"Those first four weeks are killers," Butler said, nervously chuckling that he wouldn't mind being 1-4 to open the season "as long as it was the right win."
Don't count them out, though, if their record isn't sparkling after the first month or so. The Cowboys have won back-to-back state championships, but they haven't taken their league title since 1991. That, oddly enough, was the only region crown Butler's squads have won in his 11 years at Grantsville. Hard to believe since he has won three state championships.
Here's a look at the rest of Class 2A:
MILLARD: Butler wasn't exaggerating. The Eagles only have four starters back, but they are loaded. They return all of their skill players from a year ago when they led the state in scoring with a 48 point-per-game average. Leading the way will be first-team all-state running back Adam Turner, who amassed almost 2,000 yards in total offense as a junior. Kyle Allen is back as quarterback, and he'll have a speedy target in WR Mike Turner. Judd Christensen (LB/FB) and Jaren Larsen (DT) will spearhead the defense. A lack of size is one concern Bramall has for his team, which lost to G-Ville in the quarterfinals in '97.
KANAB: These southern Cowboys also figure to be in the hunt come playoff time. Kanab has six starters back on offense and five on defense. Coach Rod Quarnberg said he'll rely heavily on his senior class. "I have a lot of confidence in our players," he added.
BEAVER: The Beavers won't have a lot of experienced players on offense, but they do have a quick center in Bart Raddon and a tough runner in Cameron Campbell. Coach Alan Raddon believes defense will be the Beavers forte. Defensive standouts include Reagan Myers, Rick Jacob, Wes McMullin and Greg Raftry.
NORTH SEVIER: The Wolves have only two starters back, but in Joe Shaheen, they have a receiver who has good hands (34 receptions last year) and good size (6-4, 180). "Joe is an outstanding receiver," said coach Craig Gladwell. Getting the ball into Shaheen's hands could pose a problem. Running back Ben Miller will get the bulk of the carries, and lineman Cole Huntsman will lead the Wolves on both sides of the trenches.
PAROWAN: The success of the Rams will depend on their strong senior class, says Parowan coach Joe Hayes, whose team went 3-7 in his first year. Craig Johnson (OL/DL), Cody Odekirk (QB), Jed Townsend (QB/WR), Jake Truman (RB) and Ryan Michler (LB/FB) are the cream of their upperclassmen.
MILFORD: The Tigers, who are actually a 1A school, went 3-7 in their first year playing in 2A. Coach Robert Langston is expecting that record to improve this year with eight starters back on offense and defense. "I do believe that we will upset a few teams in our region," he said.
SOUTH SEVIER: The Rams only won one game a year ago, but they return nine starters on offense and 10 on defense. The program could be on the upswing under the tutelage of first-year head coach Clint Christiansen, who is a former player and assistant of Butler's at Grantsville. Jared Peterson will handle the QB duties, while Corey Loftus and Brad Castle will shore the lines.
ENTERPRISE: Second-year coach Spencer Moody has 11 starters back from last year's team which tied South Sevier for seventh in the region. He isn't counting on that happening again, though. "We should improve over last year," he said.
GRANTSVILLE: Though Mouritsen is definitely the Cowboys' go-to guy, Butler believes his team can't rely on just one player. "Without the rest of the team, he's nothing," he said. "It's going to take 11 guys on O, 11 guys on D and 11 guys on special teams all season to get the job done." A couple of the Cowboys' other key players will be Brandon Pehrson and Jeremy Cummings, who are battling for the starting QB job and 275-pound tackle Greg Larson.
SOUTH SUMMIT: Wildcat coach Garry Walker is confident he has a region contender if his team can stay injury-free. At any rate, "we are better than last year," he said. Walker will count on seniors James Chavez (DE/TE), Aaron Heiner (DE/OT) and Brock Johnson (DB/RB) to provide leadership to the varsity players who were undefeated in JV ball last year.
JUAB: Graduation stung the Wasps this spring, leaving them with a lot of empty talented shoes to fill from last year's second-place squad. Coach Paul Messersmith said improved overall quick-ness could help his team overcome the loss of stars such as three-sport first-team all-stater Josh Park. Key players will be Chet Johnson (OL/DL), Seth Sperry (C/DE), Andy Messersmith (LB/RB) and Mitch Durbin (LB/OL).
MANTI: Coach Brenan Jackson only has five returning starters, but four of them have started since they were sophomores. Topping the group is quarterback Kenny Cox, who threw for 1,200 yards last year. He'll be joined by his backfield buddy Jesse Strickland, while linemen Cameron Hermanson and Jared Buchanan will do the dirty work up front. The Templars will be returning to play their games at their school this year. They had been playing at Snow College in Ephraim, but Manti High acquired and installed Southern Utah University's old stadium. The school plans on intalling lights in the 3,000-seat facility by mid-season.
NORTH SUMMIT: Coach Earl "Sam" Blonquist has some key returners back from last year's team which entered the playoffs with a losing record but didn't exit until the semifinals. Daren Jones, Yance Fawcett and Gavin Blonquist form a formidable line in front of quarterback Justin Pace. His main target will be the talented T.J. Bates. "If we avoid injuries, I hope to make another run at the title," Blonquist said.
GUNNISON: Bulldog coach Rhett Jackson and his team have just one goal this year: make it to the playoffs for the first time in the school's eight-year football history. Gunnison has some decent talent in the skill positions with Danny Jorgensen (RB), Chad Hill (TE) and Darin Frandsen (WR) all back.
SAN JUAN: The Broncos will have plenty of chances to test themselves against tough opposition seeing as theirnon-league schedule is even more brutal than Grantsville's. They have a rematch against American Fork (the Cavemen only won by a TD last year in Blanding), and they'll take on 5A and 4A opponents from Arizona and a 4A team from New Mexico. "We have a difficult schedule," understated San Juan coach Art Burtenshaw. "We may be good if we can survive the preseason."
It certainly helps that the Broncos have a huge senior class (32 players) and 11 overall returning starters, including standouts Jason Lee (LB), Andy Adams (WR), Zac Christiansen (SB), Blake Burtenshaw (TE) and France Nielson (QB).
RICH: The Rebels, who are also a true 1A school, made the playoffs in their first season at the 2A level. This year, they figure to do some damage. They have two of the best offensive players in the state. Running back Zane Groll has had two 1,000-yard seasons and fullback Wade Cornia bench presses 385 pounds. Defensive end Mitchell Argyle is their leader on defense, and Wayne Pinter is their emotional leader, said Rich coach Jerre Holmes.
GRAND: The Red Devils have a good receiver in Aaron Englebright, but they have three QBs who don't have any varsity experience. Coach Ron Dolphin is counting on him, along with James Walston, Jason Arthur and Tyson Dam to help make up for the rest of the team's inexperience.
MONTICELLO: Coach Mike Bowring has a very young team, but he believes the Buckaroos will improve on their 1-8 season. "Our strength will be the line," he said. Mike Young and Tyler Forrest are two of his top players.
ALTAMONT: After two years as an assistant, Mark Barnum is taking over the head coaching reins for the Longhorns this season. His team will rely on third-year starting QB Kyle Ashby and Kenny Stansfield, who goes strong both ways.
DUCHESNE: Inheriting a team that didn't win a game last season isn't dampening the spirits of the Eagles or first-year coach Dave Gray. "The team is positive," he said. "They are looking forward to winning a few home games."
Class 2A football: Coaches' straw poll
4. North Sevier
7. South Sevier 8. Enterprise
2. South Summit
5. North Summit
1. San Juan