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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Zach Wertz, Brighton

For the players, fans and coaches, the best part of the new Region 3 is that it reunites players who grew up playing little league football against and with each other.

"It's definitely difficult," said Brighton head coach Ryan Bullett. "We like it because we know the kids at Alta and Cottonwood. They're more of a natural rival for us than Lone Peak and (Pleasant Grove) were. It's a lot easier to get motivated."

Bullett isn't alone in his affection for the new region, but for some coaches, the new region means tougher games week in and week out.

"The region will be a lot tougher for us," said Cottonwood head coach Josh Lyman. "We're excited, and I think it will really help us down the playoff stretch. We will be more battle-tested."

While the Colts are looking forward to the entire season, one game in particular holds special significance — Jordan.

"We're looking forward to all of the games, but Jordan because of the way it ended for us last year," Lyman said.

The team that was picked as the preseason favorite in the region echoes the sentiments of the other coaches.

"I love the new region," said Alta's Bob Stephens, who takes over the program where he has been an assistant for 14 years. "I think all of the regions are good, but I think this is better, more balanced. It's still a tough region, but Jordan, Brighton and Cottonwood are all considered our rivals. And it's nice to be able to play West Jordan and Copper Hills, two teams we don't get to play that often."

West Jordan head coach Mike Morgan said he's looking forward to the new rivalries his team will form.

"Every game is important," he said. "It's a great region, and I'm interested in getting better every year."

Copper Hills is looking forward to the new region and improving on a winless season.

"We'll take it one game at a time, hopefully do well and build some self-esteem," said head coach Kai Kapele.

While Alta was tabbed as the team to beat, Cottonwood and Jordan could easily win the region. Brighton has solid starting athletes, but they'll have to play both offense and defense and injuries could be a factor.

Copper Hills is aiming to improve on its 0-10 record, and cross-town rival West Jordan is one of the teams they hope to surprise.

"We haven't beaten West Jordan in school history," said Kapele.

Region 3 Projections

(Preseason projections are based on coach's votes)

1. Alta: The Hawks have an almost entirely new coaching staff under Bob Stephens, who has been an assistant at Alta for 14 years. They return 11 starters, including safety Austin Lee and middle linebacker Rhett Sandin. While the Hawks have had effective offenses, they've been known for shutting down opponents. The Hawks have a new defensive coaching staff, but the emphasis on defense remains the same. Offensively, senior tight end Steven Richards will lead the team. The one thing Alta has that most of the other teams in the region do not is depth. Their players will be able to focus on one role, while most of the others schools will use their players on both offense and defense.

2. Cottonwood: The Colts boast one of the best quarterbacks in any classification in Cooper Bateman. Not only does he have a cannon for an arm, he exhibited maturity and poise when he took over the starting job as a sophomore. He's modest and hard working and his teammates have confidence in him. Bateman has an athletic target in junior Inoke Lotuelei and an experienced offensive line led by Elijah Tupai and Niva Kinikini. Cottonwood's defense will utilize the most athletic offensive players and should be one of the best in the classification.

3. Jordan: The Beetdiggers have two talented wide receivers in seniors Taylor Loomis and Taylor Dean. They are just as effective defensively, as Loomis had 102 tackles and six interceptions as a defensive back last season. With 13 returning starters, the Beetdiggers look poised to not only challenge Alta for the region title but also make a run at the 5A championship.

4. Brighton: The Bengals have seven returning starters, a group that's tough and athletic. They also have several multiple-year starters who should provide the kind of veteran leadership needed to succeed in such a deep region. They're led by running back/linebacker Bayden El-Bakari, receiver/defensive back Zach Wertz, running back/defensive back Uaea Masina and defensive/offensive lineman Jonathan Mahe.

5. West Jordan: If there is a season that the Jaguars were capable of surprising the competition, this would be that year. With nearly a dozen returning starters, the squad isn't just looking to have fun. They're serious about pulling off some upsets and they have the personnel to succeed. The team has several four-year starters, including safety/receiver DeShawn Perkins, receiver/corner Cameron Peacock and wide receiver Martavius Redmond.

6. Copper Hills: This year's seniors have waited a long time to lead the program they love. After suffering through three years with just a single win, they are ready to change the environment at Copper Hills. The Grizzlies are led by linebacker Christian Rixe, linebacker Jeremiah Naea and senior Tommy Ligman, who does just about everything on the field — running back, wide receiver, linebacker, punter and kick returner.

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