In its winless, two-year history, the Timpanogos football team has started about 75 different players, suffered 17 legitimate losses and racked up one agonizing "almost."

The T-Wolves were within nine yards, two points and less than one minute of turning that almost into their first football victory last year. But then the inevitable happened to a school that just hasn't been able to catch a break on the gridiron.

Hoping to gnaw enough time off the clock so they could attempt the game-winning field goal as time expired, the Timberwolves ran a play and - you guessed it - fumbled.

Hillcrest recovered the ball, sat on it and then counted its lucky stars. The Huskies had narrowly escaped going down in the history books as the first team to lose to the new Orem school.

"We shot ourselves in the foot," said Timpanogos football coach Mark McKenney.

Their opponents pretty much did most of the shooting in the T-Wolves' other losses.

McKenney has a lot of hope that things will change for his squad this year. Better yet, he has a bunch of kids who are bigger, stronger, faster and hungrier than his school's ever had before.

"They've overcome the physical deficit, now it's a matter of just going out and getting it done," he said. "They think they can be good. They think they can win."

So will they?

"I wish like heck I had a crystal ball," McKenney joked. "It's awfully difficult to say, but I think they've prepared themselves as well as they can."

It will help if he can keep his seniors on the field. His team has been plagued with injuries in both of its 0-9 seasons. If there's one positive to that, it's that he has about 30 players on his lineup now who have started at one point or another. In fact, McKenney estimates that 80 percent of his varsity kids have seen significant playing time. That could pay dividends.

"We're really excited, to be honest with you," he said. "Hopefully we can take the next step."

Here's a look at Class 5's Region 3, with teams listed in order of their predicted finish based on a Deseret News straw poll of the region's coaches:

CLASS 5A - REGION 3

BRIGHTON: Shoulda, coulda, almost did was the story for the Bengals last season, when they lost to Skyline in the championship game. Count on Lynn Freestone's boys being in contention again this year. Brighton got a boost this week as tailback Donnie Saba finally returned from a jaunt with an elite baseball team in Arizona. Saba, a quick and evasive runner, should help reduce the post-Reno Mahe pains. The Bengals will be strong again at quarterback as C.T. Bell, a second-team all-state defensive back last year, will call the plays. Josh Huber, Lawrence Cowan, Josh Vanderstein and Sean Escobar will also be counted on. "Our region is going to be a war," said Freestone.

ALTA: "We will be in the hunt," predicted Hawks coach Mitch Lunak, whose team lost a heartbreaking semifinal game to Skyline last year. And they definitely should be a contender again if for no other reason than that they have muscle-bound lineman Ryon Bingham, who is being recruited by about every big-time college in the nation including Nebraska and Florida. "He will be able to single-handedly take over games," Lunak said of his 6-4, 265-pound star. Bingham will be joined on the line by Nick Taylor and Frank Maile. Dave Revill should prove to be another dandy running back, perhaps even better than Tony Nielson was last year. He rushed the ball 53 times last year and averaged a whopping 10.5 yards per touch. Mike Law, who transferred Alta from Brighton midway through last season, is another player to watch for.

OREM: It's reload time for Tiger coach Paul Clark, who watched every single one of his starters walk down the procession line in the spring. As usual, Orem should be playing well as the weather cools down. "We're very inexperienced," said Clark, "but we could improve as the season goes forward." Marc McCann is back for his senior season at the helm of the Tigers' offense. He got some valuable playing time last year, filling in as QB for more than a month after Joel Clark broke his hand. Tyler Kukahiko will be Orem's top running back, while speedy receiver Chris Hale will be a deep threat. Kyle Shumway and Mike Lloyd will anchor the Tigers' defensive line.

JORDAN: Beetdigger coach Jim Birch must feel like he's in coaching dreamland. He has 19 returning starters - nine on offense, 10 on defense - from last year's fifth-place team, so don't be surprised if Jordan is at or near the top of the region come playoff time. All of the Beetdiggers' offensive backfield returns, including running backs D.J. Thayne and Saia Vaiavaka who each grounded 1,000-plus yards rushing last year. Basketball star Jackson Brown will bring his athleticism back to the quarterback position. He has plenty of targets to look for in receivers Brian Isaac and Jacob Bishop and tight end Jon Bushman. They'll also lead Jordan's charge in the defensive backfield. Another big boost for Jordan is the return of first-team all-state lineman Greg Marden, who'll battle with the best of 'em.

MOUNTAIN VIEW: Bruin coach Randy Rehrer is in a similar position to Birch. His team finished sixth last year, but a lot of players are coming back. Fourteen returning starters give Mountain View experience at every position, including in the all-important trenches where three offensive linemen and two defensive linemen are back. Junior quarterback Casey Rehrer, the coach's son, will look to pass about 25-30 times a game to receivers Josh Fairbanks and Hyrum Peters and tight end Jeremy Gillespie, who is also a good blocker. Brandon Smith will get the bulk of the carries as running back. The Bruins' defense looks bigger and stronger this year, led by linebacker Pono Havea and defensive back Josh Clawson.

HILLCREST: Fortunately for the Huskies, Lee Leslie didn't give up his day job as their head football coach as he chased his dream to play professional football for the Utah Catzz earlier this year. Like Jordan and Mountain View, Hillcrest could surprise some people this season thanks to a wealth of returning players (14 in all). Sparked by quarterback Shawn Kojima and talented receivers Greg Black and Mike Christensen, the Huskies' offense should put a lot of points on the board. O-linemen Dylon Holt and Tony Hadlock are also back. Defensively, Hillcrest will be strong up front with ends Blake Hansen and Josh Savage. Linebacker Tony Hendricks and defensive backs Dusty Nesbit and Grant Smith also have the capablity of making life tough on opposing offenses.

TIMPANOGOS: Five of the Timberwolves have been starters since their sophomore year when the school opened. That group includes running back Dan Williams, receiver Devin Seale and linemen Troy Braithwaite, Craig Whiteley and Todd Nuttal. Beau Hacking and Jon Kendal have also played quite a bit. "It's fun to see them mature physically and even more to watch them mature mentally," said McKenney.

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Additional Information

Coaches' poll

Region 3

1. Brighton

2. Alta

3. Orem

4. Jordan

5. Mountain View

6. Hillcrest

7. Timpanogos