With its continuing status as a 1A powerhouse, one thing is certain for Kanab as it tries to successfully defend its latest state title. Everyone will be looking to knock the Cowboys off from their lofty perch.

Kanab coach Bucky Orton acknowledges as much and has worked to instill the idea in his team that they can't take past accomplishments for granted.

"The philosophy I try to teach the kids is that we just got to get better every year," Orton said. "We got to get better every year and we got to get better every week."

One area where Orton hopes to see his team make strides is in the backfield. Kanab's main running backs, Justin Orton and Bryce Hafen, saw limited touches a year ago.

In addition, the Cowboys are breaking in a new quarterback in Craig Brinkerhoff. That means the running game will play a much more important part as Kanab's skill players get accustomed to leading the offense.

"We're probably going to have to establish more of a running game this year than we did last year," Orton said.

Justin Orton could have a breakout year if everything goes right. Coach Orton plans to alternate him with Brinkerhoff at quarterback — using Justin Orton for run-designed plays and Brinkerhoff for more traditional dropback passing situations.

Getting the offense up and running quickly should not be much of a problem since the Cowboys return plenty of experience where it counts the most — the line. Four starters return to that unit from last season's championship squad.

All four will anchor the defensive line too — meaning Kanab should be dominant on that side of the ball once again if it can clean up its secondary play and improve its pass defense as much as Orton wants.

"If we can stay healthy, we should be able to hold our own up front pretty nicely," Orton said.

Kanab is not ducking challengers before it dives into region play. The Cowboys take on both San Juan and Manti in the first three weeks. Kanab's first 1A opponent should tough as nails too, with Rich — another 1A title favorite — set to travel down south in mid-September.

The Cowboys do have an advantage in having all three come to their home stadium. But maintaining dominance won't be easy with a target on their backs.

Still, Orton believes his team has what it takes to prevail.

"It's hard," Orton said. "When everybody wants to beat you, it's hard to maintain that. But our kids — I think they're up to the challenge."

KANAB COWBOYS 2008 PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW

COACH: Bucky Orton knows how to win at Kanab. He is 49-12 entering his sixth year with the Cowboys and has guided them two state titles in the past three years.

KEY PLAYERS: With a bigger emphasis on the running game this season, Justin Orton (RB/S) and Bryce Hafen (RB/LB) could enjoy breakout seasons in the backfield. Orton might also alternate a little at quarterback with Craig Brinkerhoff. Tony Visser (DE/OG) and Thomas Chamberlain (OT/DT) will be key components of both lines. Jordan Nielson (WR/S) looks to be a standout in the secondary.

QUESTION MARK: There are some holes to fill from last season at skill positions, but the line is solid — with four of five starters back. Can that experience up front help fuel some big numbers from Brinkerhoff, Orton and Hafen? Will the Cowboys reload as easily as they have the past three seasons?

LAST YEAR: 12-1, Won 1A championship.

PREDICTED 1A SOUTH FINISH: First

POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: With three straight 1A title game appearances since moving down from 2A in football, Kanab will be the state title favorite until someone else can prove otherwise.

2008 SCHEDULE

Aug 22 — SAN JUAN, 7 p.m.

Aug 29 — at Beaver, 7 p.m.

Sept 5 — MANTI, 7 p.m.

Sept 12 — at Moapa Valley, Nev., 7 p.m.

Sept 19 — RICH, 7 p.m.

Sept 26 — PAROWAN, 7 p.m.

Oct 3 — at Altamont, 7 p.m.

Oct 10 — at Milford, 7 p.m.

Oct 15 — NORTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.

Oct 24 — at Enterprise, 7 p.m.


E-mail: jcoon@desnews.com