SYRACUSE In only its second year of existence, it's already a show-me year for the Syracuse football program.
The Titans are looking to show the rest of Region 1 that they are to be taken seriously as a contender in league play. Perhaps more importantly, they are trying to show members of their community that they deserve their support after four of their players were charged in a burglary spree earlier this summer.
The Titans know it won't be easy to regain the trust and cheers of their community since the alleged crime spree involving the four players, who aren't currently on the team, took place earlier in the year. But they are trying, and one of the first things they did to get back on their community's good side was participating in a 5K fundraiser for Eric Child, a Clinton man who has leukemia, on Aug. 2.
"They've been really tight-knit," Syracuse coach Russ Jones said of his players. "There have been a lot of things in the paper in the last little while since some of the kids got in trouble. I thought for the kids to step up and do something like that was great. They're trying to get the community back behind them. That tells me a lot about them. I know our name has been kind of down a little bit. We want to bring it back to a respected level."
Syracuse is also looking to earn some respect on the football field. As expected, the team struggled through its inaugural season in 2007. The Titans, playing all sophomores and juniors, went 0-10 against older and stronger competition.
Hardly anyone expected Syracuse to win a game last season. Expectations are much different now that the Titans have some seniors on their team, and bring back almost everyone from last year. The Titans say that their experiences during their 0-10 season in 2007 will pay off for them this year.
"It was good because I think it made us stronger for this year," said Syracuse lineman Jake Anderson. "There was more playing time for everyone last year. We've put in a lot of hard work during the break."
Jones has seen his players improve their strength and speed since last season.
"We'll be a little more ready this year as far as the size of our kids, their strength and maturity," Jones said. "I think the kids have grown a lot in the last year. We've got to get some confidence and get in the 'W' column."
The increased strength of the Syracuse football players has led to a change in the team's offense. The Titans ran the spread offense last year, and will still run it in some situations this year. But they will also line up with I-backs and run right at defenses.
Quarterback Braden Hamblin is back to direct the team's offense, and he has a big target to throw to in junior tight end Rick Reardon. Anderson anchors both the offensive and defensive lines. Linebacker K.J. Medina is the team's leader on defense.
"I really think we can do some good things and win some games this year," Hamblin said.
Syracuse was close to earning the program's first win last season. The Titans played Woods Cross tough early in the season, then lost to Clearfield, Davis and Fremont by two touchdowns or less apiece. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but to keep playing hard each week while being outmanned by other teams was character-building for the Titans.
"I thought our kids did an awesome job," Jones said. "They hung in there and battled some teams when they knew they were outmatched physically and maturity-wise."
Jones' expectations are higher this season."It's important for us now to start winning some games instead of just showing up on Friday nights," he said.
Syracuse Titans 2008 prep football preview
COACH: Russ Jones, back for his second year with Syracuse, has been the head coach at three different high schools. He helped turn Viewmont's program around when he was the head coach there, and did some good things at Woods Cross before taking the job at Syracuse.
KEY PLAYERS: Look for (QB) Braden Hamblin to excel in a more balanced offense this season. He'll rely on (OL) Jake Anderson to keep him healthy, and for (TE) Rick Reardon to catch his passes. Anderson will also be a key player on defense, as will (LB) K.J. Medina.
QUESTION MARK: The biggest one regarding this team is how mentally tough are the Titans? Opposing fans and players are going to give them a hard time about the criminal charges some of their former players are facing. The Titans will need to keep their cool and stay focused on playing during those times.
LAST YEAR: 0-10, did not qualify for state playoffs.
PREDICTED REGION 1 FINISH: Fifth.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: The Titans could go from winless to playoff qualifier in their second season of football. Syracuse probably isn't on the same level as Region 1's top teams. But it will be in the mix for one of the league's final playoff berths. Just reaching the postseason would be a nice accomplishment for this team.
Aug. 22 at Roy, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 WOODS CROSS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 MOUNTAIN VIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Viewmont, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 at Weber, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 CLEARFIELD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 NORTHRIDGE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Layton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 FREMONT, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24 at Davis, 7 p.m.