BOUNTIFUL Bountiful football players usually have to be patient before they can play under the lights.
But when you're as good as Travis Parrish, Joey Nelson, Mitch Johnson, Jarom Ioane and Cullen Clark, there's no need to pay dues on the sophomore and junior varsity teams.
Parrish, Nelson, Johnson, Ioane and Clark are five of 13 returning starters for Bountiful this season, making the Braves an experienced team, a rarity for one of the state's most successful programs.
"That's really the exception to the rule around here," said Bountiful coach Larry Wall, who's led the Braves' program for 23 years. "We're usually a senior-oriented bunch. They pay their dues and they play JV and then it's their time to step in. We'll go with it. We're excited to have them back, have that experience."
The Braves' returning players should be cause for concern for the rest of 4A. Bountiful, with those 13 returning starters gaining valuable varsity experience, advanced to the quarterfinals last season. The Braves led eventual 4A runner-up Pine View by 10 points going into the fourth quarter of their quarterfinal matchup. Bountiful eventually lost, but made a statement that it will be in the state-title mix this season.
"My goal is always to win it," said Parrish.
In addition to their experience, the Braves will likely have a successful season because they are, as usual, a hard-working and committed group.
"We got a little bit of experience. That doesn't mean these kids aren't working hard," Wall said. "We have to. We're in a real tough, competitive region."
The Braves will once again be led by a stout defense this season. Parrish and Andrew Welling are the team's starting outside linebackers and will be hard to run on. Hamilton is a solid run-stuffer at defensive tackle, while Clark returns at defensive end.
On offense, Bountiful has to replace an exciting playmaker in Jamie Rigby, who accounted for more than 1,500 yards last season. Johnson will carry much of the load on offense at fullback, while Nelson will contribute at receiver. The team features two quality tight ends in Clark and junior Helam Heimuli.
The team's offensive line is strong with Ioane, Darren Denucci and Keith Gee returning as starters. Denucci is receiving plenty of recruiting interest, and has a scholarship offer from Weber State.
One position that is unsettled for Bountiful is quarterback. Three players seniors Drew Miner and Garrett McDowell and junior Tyler Talbot are competing to be the starter. Quarterbacks are rarely expected to carry the offense for the Braves. They are usually considered to be game managers, and Wall said Miner, McDowell and Talbot each fit into that mold. Miner and McDowell he said, are 4.0 students.
"We'll do fine at quarterback," Wall said. "We don't have that experience you'd like from your trigger guy, but these guys are pretty heady guys. We ask them to do a lot of things."
High expectations are nothing new at Bountiful. The Braves have qualified for the playoffs in each of Wall's seasons at the school. The players know they have a strong tradition to live up to, and they embrace it.
"It's fun to to wake up every day and know I'm a part of a 20-year tradition," Ioane said. "It's been done the same way for 20 years. It's exciting."
COACH: Larry Wall is simply one of the best in the business. He has led the Braves to four state championships, and his teams have never missed the playoffs.
KEY PLAYERS: The Braves will again be led by their defense. Players to watch are (DB) Joey Nelson, (LB) Travis Parrish, (DL) Thomas Hamilton and (DE) Cullen Clark. On offense, watch for (FB) Mitch Johnson, (TE) Helam Heimuli, (OL) Jarom Ioane, (OL) Keith Gee, (OL) Darren Denucci, (QB) Drew Miner, (QB) Garrett McDowell and (QB) Tyler Talbot .
QUESTION MARK: The only real unsettled question about the Braves is who will start at quarterback. Three players Drew Miner, Garrett McDowell and Tyler Talbot are competing to be the starter. Whichever player wins the job is expected to direct an improved offense.
LAST YEAR: 9-3, lost in state quarterfinals
PREDICTED REGION 5 FINISH: Third
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Go ahead and pencil the Braves in your tournament bracket. Bountiful has never missed the playoffs with Wall at the helm, and there's no reason to think the streak will end this year. The Braves return plenty of experience, as well as a fast and hard-hitting defense. Bountiful is a legitimate contender to not only reach Rice-Eccles Stadium, but to also win the 4A championship.
Aug. 22 LONE PEAK, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 at Clearfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Viewmont, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 BONNEVILLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 at Box Elder, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Mountain Crest, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 WOODS CROSS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 SKY VIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Roy, 7 p.m.Oct. 23 TOOELE, 7 p.m.