PAYSON When asked how to assess his football team for the upcoming season, Payson coach Jared Woolstenhulme sums up the situation in one quick sentence.
"I've never seen a team that has accomplished so little be so confident," he said.
The lack of accomplishments comes in two areas. First, there's only a few members of this year's team who have ever played varsity football. Second, those who will play this year didn't exactly roll over their opponents in freshman, sophomore or junior varsity games.
"We were very senior heavy last year so that leaves us with a lot of holes to fill with a lot of kids who still have to prove themselves," Woolstenhulme said. "We don't know if these guys can step up and make plays on a varsity level when they haven't been in that position before."
So where is this team getting its confidence? Woolstenhulme said the Lions finishing last season with two straight wins to qualify for the postseason and then giving Mountain Crest all it could handle in the playoffs, has this squad feeling excited and enthused about the direction that Payson football is taking.
"I think that has to carry over some and breed something good for these kids," he said.
Payson's biggest asset this season is that all of the unknown is keeping more kids fighting for playing time and should make the team more balanced in almost every way. No one player will carry the team, but there are plenty capable of having a big game and being counted on to contribute.
"We don't have a superstar that we can go to most of the time like we did last year, but we do have at least eight guys we trust with the football. So teams are going to have to worry about a lot more people when they try to defend us," Woolstenhulme said.
Still, the second-year head coach recognizes that his inexperienced team needs to be tough, physical, focused, unselfish,fundamentally-sound and reduce mistakes if it wants to be competitive.
PAYSON LIONS PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW
COACH: Last season was Jared Woolstenhulme's first year as a head football coach. Now that he has one year under his belt and four seasons as an assistant under previous coach Colby Knight, Woolstenhulme is feeling much more confident in his ability to guide the Lions. Before arriving in Payson, he graduated from Cyprus High and then Utah State University.
KEY PLAYERS: The Lions are counting on more players to get involved in the offense, which means quarterbacks Colton Cannon and Peyton Holt are going to be getting the ball to running backs Jace Harmon, Carter Worthen and Seth Gabbitas. When the situation calls for a pass, expect Steven Clark to be the main target. Up front providing the protection and opening holes will be Spensor Smith, Mike Cole, Brandon Mullen, Garrett Sorensen and Hayden Finch. The Lions hope to be much improved on defense, which means they'll need guys like Kenny Lyman, Matt Roberts, Kyler Adams and Christopher Robbins to have a big year.
STRENGTHS: This might be one of the most-balanced, deepest and biggest teams that the Lions have fielded in many years. With there being so many players competing for playing time at almost every position, injuries won't be as devastating this year.
QUESTION MARKS: The Lions return a total of three starters from last year's senior-laden team, and none of these starters were key cogs in last year's success. Every player in the skill positions will be seeing significant varsity time for the first time, so it might take a while before the best players step forward and the coaches figure out which players are the most-dangerous weapons.
LAST YEAR: 4-7 overall record, fourth in region, lost to Mountain Crest in first round of playoffs.
PREDICTED REGION 7 FINISH: Sixth
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: With so much inexperience in the skill positions and with so many underclassmen on the field, the Lions would really have to surprise a lot of teams to make a return trip to the playoffs.
Aug. 22 at Copper Hills, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Spanish Fork, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Mountain View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 TIMPVIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Provo, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 WASATCH, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Tooele, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 OREM, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24 SPRINGVILLE, 7 p.m.
E-mail: [email protected]