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Heston Neal

MANTI — Good luck finding a region more up in the air than the 2A North region.

In a coaches preseason straw poll, North Summit, Manti and Juab each received two first-place votes, two second-place votes and one third-place vote, meaning all three can technically claim region favorite status.

It's inevitable one of these teams will pull away, and with Griffin Aste back for his third year at starting quarterback, that team could very well be Manti.

"He's got a lot of experience and he's really starting to see things now," said Manti coach Cole Meacham. "He's starting to see the field, starting to make the reads, whereas as a sophomore he was running around scared trying not to get killed with young linemen in front of him."

That sophomore year definitely didn't go smoothly for anyone in the program as Manti finished with a 1-8 record, perhaps an inevitability with just three seniors. As a junior last year, Aste helped lead Manti to a 7-4 record and an eventual 21-7 loss to Grand in the 2A quarterfinals.

Now a senior, this is Aste's year to shine.

"I think I get the feel for what we're trying to do, the whole overall picture," said Aste.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Aste isn't your prototypical 2A quarterback. Physically, he's got the traits to be a college quarterback. He's more likely to play defense at the next level, though. Neighboring Snow College has expressed interest in Aste as a linebacker, an opportunity Aste said he'd love.

For Manti, he starts at defensive end out of necessity, and Meacham said Aste was Manti's best defender as a sophomore and was very good last year as well.

There's no reason he shouldn't dominate the defensive line during his senior season, but Manti's success will depend largely on what he does at quarterback.

Manti runs "The Fly" offense, a modified version of the Wing-T. It's a run-oriented offense, but Aste has a good enough arm and several complementary receivers for Manti to balance things out with the pass.

Meacham says he plans on using Aste's athleticism by rolling him out a lot more this year and forcing defenders to commit to either the run or the pass. If he's developed as much as it appears — something a visit to John Beck's camp in Provo this summer no doubt enhanced — it could make Manti's offense extremely difficult to stop.

"This is the most excited I've ever been for a football season," said Aste. "It's all been leading up to our senior year. There's high expectations; hopefully, we can meet them."

2A NORTH PROJECTIONS

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1 (TIE). JUAB: Coach Mike Bowring has been really pleased with the work ethic of this group of players and is optimistic it will translate into success on the field. Having six starters back on defense and five on offense should help as well. Cody Keisel will be a key player for Juab all season at fullback and linebacker. He'll do plenty of lead blocking for running back Kyler Jones. In the trenches, both Jordan Bainter and Jameson Izatt are expected to make key contributions. 2007 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the quarterfinals.

1 (TIE). MANTI: What the Templars lack in experience on the line, they more than make up for in other areas. Quarterback Griffin Aste, receiver Nick Brown, tight end Jens Howe and running back Chase Stevens are all three-year starters on offense, and each expects to make big contributions on the defensive end as well. Jake Bleazard and Seth Gergetz are returning contributors on the offensive line, and they'll be expected to help the newcomers adapt quickly. 2007 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the quarterfinals.

1 (TIE). NORTH SUMMIT: The Braves lost several key players to graduation from last year's state championship team, but that doesn't mean they won't be in the hunt again in 2008. Coach Jerre Holmes' team returns seven total starters, including several who were all-staters last year. Quarterback Deven Holmes and defensive end Colby Richins were first team all-staters last year, while linebacker Caden Richins was a second teamer and Stevin Sommerville was an honorable mention. The two Richins brothers will start opposite each other at defensive end, giving North Summit an outstanding defense again this year. 2007 RECORD: 12-0. PLAYOFFS: 2A state champions.

4. SOUTH SUMMIT: The Wildcats will have a tough time duplicating last year's success, especially on a team with only four total returning starters. Coach Jerry Parker believes that despite his team being "very small," there's good team chemistry that could make a difference. South Summit will rely heavily on three key seniors. Kendall Prescott is back at quarterback, while Jace Johnson saw his fair share of minutes backing up Brayden Stembridge last year. Linebacker Cooper Feild will be the heart and soul of the defense. 2007 RECORD: 9-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the semifinals.

5. GUNNISON: If the Bulldogs can develop some quality linemen, the pieces are in place to make some noise in the 2A North region. Heston Neal is back after rushing for over 1,300 yards as a junior, tops among 2A runners. He also holds the state power-clean record with 300 pounds in the 165-pound division. Matt Harris and Cutler Frandsen should also make contributions out of the backfield. At receiver, Trevor Madsen and Bryant Davis are both coming off solid seasons. Defensively, the Bulldogs will rely on outstanding team speed. 2007 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round.

6. AMERICAN LEADERSHIP: In the program's third season, coach Tom Fell is really optimistic about the direction the team is heading. Dominated by underclassmen much of the first two years, ALA has some seniors in some key spots and should be pretty decent this year. It doesn't hurt either that there are eight starters back on offense and nine on defense. Defensively ALA should be pretty good with linebackers Peter Reid and Tony Pulu back this year. Pulu is just a junior and was a second team all-stater last year. Cole Fulton will also be a key member of the defense at defensive end. 2007 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round.

More preps online

Online today at deseretnews.com/preps are individual previews of the following teams: Bear River, Wasatch, Gunnison and Parowan.

Be sure to pick up tomorrow's newspaper for our 2A South preview. For a complete schedule of team and region previews, check out our Web site.


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