SPANISH FORK In a way, there's a sense of urgency surrounding the Spanish Fork High football team this season.
For one, this will likely be the final time that Spanish Fork will have a chance to win a state or region title at the 5A level. Second, the school with Salem Hills opening this year and Maple Mountain set to open next year is shrinking in numbers quickly. Not only are the Dons going to be the smallest 5A school this season, but they might be the smallest 4A school next season.
Many with enrollment numbers on the decline - view this team as possibly the best the Dons will field for quite some time.
"The guys know that we're a smaller school, but they've still taken it upon themselves as a challenge to show that we can compete with the big boys and that we can make some noise," coach Matt Christensen said. "We think that we can be a good team this year and that we can win a lot of ball games."
The main reason why this Dons team has the potential to be very good is the number of experienced players returning especially in the skill positions. Quarterback Breck Lewis, receivers Richard Wilson, Jordunn Mattinson and Chase Loftin all saw major action last season, as did running backs Trevor Randolph and Nate Binks.
"We have a lot of guys in the skill positions who played key moments in key games last year, so we know what they can do and we think they're only going to be better in those kind of situations this year," Christensen said.
Defensively, the Dons should be a little improved this season with more overall depth, speed and athleticism.
"We have better speed and we're a lot stronger. So I really think we're going to be a better team on defense this year," Christensen said.
The biggest difference might be the offensive line, where the Dons have spent more time in the offseason working on fundamentals and becoming more rehearsed on blocking assignments.
"Preparation wise, these guys are way ahead of the game," Christensen said.
One big challenge for the Dons this year could be their schedule. Only one of the first seven games is at home, and they open with road games at Alta and Timpview. Also, their first two league games are on the road.
"Last year we fell behind early a lot and had to come back. We did win six games, but most of them were comebacks. This year we're focusing on jumping out and getting some leads early because there really weren't many games last year where we had the lead and that just puts too much pressure on our offense," Christensen said.
One thing that has haunted the Dons in each of the past few years has been early-season injuries to key players. That could again doom the Dons this season."If we stay healthy I think we'll be OK," Christensen said. "When we have injuries and start plugging guys in to fill holes, that's when we tend to struggle a little bit."
Spanish Fork Dons 2008 prep football preview
COACH: Heading into his third season as the Dons head coach is Matt Christensen. Overall, this will be Christensen's eighth year as a member of Spanish Fork's staff. He's a native son, having attended Spanish Fork High in the late 90's, where he was a three-sport star.
KEY PLAYERS: The Dons have one of the best returning group of skill-position players in the region. Quarterback Breck Lewis is tough to contain and is an excellent mid-range passer. Tight-end Richard Wilson is probably the best at his position in the state. Last season Jordunn Mattinson had some huge catches as a sophomore and he should be more dangerous this year. Chase Loftin is another quality receiver who will also play defensive back. Trevor Randolph is a quick and elusive running back. Defensively, the Dons will count on Chris Olson, Nate Binks, Jense Kofoed, Ulli Makai and Tevita Vaitohi.
STRENGTHS: There's little doubt that the Dons, with the league's most-experienced quarterback and two of the top receivers, will be able to move the football. They should also be one of the better teams at defending the pass. There is also no lack of confidence with this group, and this might be the team's best and deepest offensive line in a few years.
QUESTION MARKS: Overall, the Dons have struggled in four key areas the past few years. They haven't been able to stop the ball-control running teams, they haven't had a consistent running game themselves, they haven't been solid at pass blocking and they haven't had much depth. As good as the Dons will be on offense this year, if they suffer a key injury and don't resolve these other issues, it might be another mediocre season.
LAST SEASON: 6-6 record, tied for fourth in region, defeated Lone Peak in play-in game and then lost to Layton in first round of playoffs.
PROJECTED 2008 REGION 4 FINISH: Fourth
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: With only three playoff spots up for grabs this year in Region 4, the Dons are going to have to avoid injuries if they want to grab one of them. It's unlikely, however, if they'd stay around long in the postseason should they get there.
Aug. 22 at Alta, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 at Timpview, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 PAYSON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Brighton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 at Hunter, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 at American Fork, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Timpanogos, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 PLEASANT GROVE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 LEHI, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 LONE PEAK, 7 p.m.