BRIGHAM CITY The Box Elder Bees had to take their lumps while playing mostly juniors, sophomores and even some freshmen last season.
Now they're looking for some payback.
"I think we can beat anyone in the region," said Bees quarterback Pablo Mendoza. "We got a lot of players coming back. We want to prove to people that we can play with anybody."
Box Elder did actually play with just about everyone last year while compiling a disappointing 3-6 record. The Bees lost league games to Roy, Mountain Crest and Bountiful by a combined total of 10 points. Those narrow losses helped prevent Box Elder from qualifying for the playoffs.
Working in the Bees' favor to regroup from last season are returning players, an athletic new quarterback, an experienced line, an improved kicking game and the desire to return to the postseason.
Box Elder is resting much of its hopes for a successful season on Mendoza, who is changing positions from running back to quarterback. The Bees' original expected starter at quarterback decided not to play his senior season to concentrate on baseball.
So in steps Mendoza, a lifelong running back who has all the physical tools to be a force in the team's veer offense. He admits playing quarterback is tougher than it looks, but he appeared to be picking up all the little nuances of running the veer in a practice last week.
"It's pretty hard," Mendoza said. "It's going to be a challenge, but I think I'll be pretty good. I just got to keep working at it."
Mendoza said he was pretty surprised when he was asked to move from running back to quarterback
"Why? This year?" Mendoza said was his response to Box Elder coach Wes Roesler when asked to change positions. "But if it's going to help the team, I'm willing to do it."
Roesler has had to spend more time than usual tutoring a senior quarterback during the summer. But that's OK because he expects the move to pay off.
"He could be exciting," Roesler said.
Mendoza will have an experienced line blocking for him. Center Skylar Limb anchors what should be a productive unit. Josh Wanner and Chris Johnson are also being counted on to play well. Blayde McClellan, at tight end, is the team's best returning blocker and receiver.
Limb said just having the experience of playing varsity ball last year will make a big difference in how well Box Elder's line performs this season. Players were being promoted from the sophomore and junior varsity teams last season, and they weren't completely prepared for it, Limb said.
"It's harder," Limb said. "It's funner though. It's worth it. There ain't nothing like playing under the lights. We're all pretty seasoned."
Carson Smith, the state champion powerlifter at 220 pounds, is being moved from tackle to running back. Box Elder's opponents won't have any fun tackling a player who squats 500 pounds and benches 320.
"Last year he could never remember the plays at tackle so we put him at running back and he was awesome," Roesler said. "That might be a smart move for me."
The Bees' defense will be led by a solid linebacker corps in Raul Puga, Blake Farr and Brian Curtis. The team's secondary is anchored by Jeremy Galvin, a shutdown cornerback.
Mendoza (punter), Limb (long snapper) and Trevor Thornton (kickoff specialist) should help improve what was a below-average kicking game last season.
"I think our special teams are going to kick butt this year," Limb said. "A lot better than last year."
Box Elder Bees 2008 prep football preview
COACH: Wes Roesler is one of the state's longest-tenured coaches. He's been with the Bees for 17 years, and has run a solid program. Down years like the one Box Elder went through in 2007 are a rarity at Box Elder.
KEY PLAYERS: The Bees return plenty of players who got experience last year and expect to help the team improve. Their players to watch are (QB) Pablo Mendoza, (RB) Carson Smith, (TE) Blayde McClellan, (C) Skylar Limb, (RT) Josh Wanner, (LB) Raul Puga, (CB) Jeremy Galvin, (LB) Brian Curtis and (LB) Blake Farr.
QUESTION MARK: Mendoza is a great athlete and tough runner. But it isn't easy to start playing quarterback before your senior year. How will he react? Will he make the right reads while running the option? If he reacts positively, the Box Elder offense will have a big season.
LAST YEAR: 3-6, did not qualify for state playoffs
PREDICTED REGION 5 FINISH: Fifth
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Box Elder is a good team, but playing in an extremely competitive and balanced region. The Bees should make the playoffs. Advancing past the first round would be considered a successful season after they failed to qualify for the postseason last year.
Aug. 22 WEBER, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 COPPER HILLS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Bear River, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 SKY VIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 BOUNTIFUL, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 at West Oaks, Fla., 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Mountain Crest, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 ROY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Woods Cross, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Bonneville, 7 p.m.
E-mail: [email protected]