TOOELE For coach Ray Groth, it may be a little bit of redemption. For the Tooele Buffaloes, it was finding the right man for the job.
In the summer of 2006, Groth was let go as head coach of the Highland High football team for alleged repeated violations of UHSAA rules regarding undue influence. It was a mighty blow for a man who had spent more than three decades each summer readying for football.
"I never really agreed with what happened to me," said Groth. "I knew it wasn't right, but I was bound and determined not to let that be the last of me."
Groth caught on for the 2006 season as an assistant at Park City. He spent last year as an assistant at Judge. Now, he is back at the helm of a program after being hired at Tooele in June.
"I am really enjoying the process again," he said. "I came in at kind of a late date, but the kids have been pretty good. I am happy to be able to coach again, and I have really enjoyed working with a great group of administrators at Tooele. They really seem to be committed and we have had a great relationship so far."
The stability of Groth with 37 years in coaching and 23 as a head coach may be just what the Buffaloes have been searching for. Besides making the very difficult jump from 3A to 4A last season, Tooele has had a constant changing of the guard. Groth is the fourth coach in six years.
"I hope to show these guys about commitment and dedication" said Groth. "I am 100 percent committed to these kids and I hope they can see that and buy in to what we are trying to do.
"I think they got a little bit of a baptism by fire last year in 4A. I have a great deal of respect for 3A, but 4A just has so much more depth and talent overall. I think our guys should be a little bit more adjusted and are ready to compete. They will not shy away from anyone."
Groth brings with him offensive and defensive systems that he's used successfully for most of his career. He doesn't plan on changing things now.
"You try to stay up on all of the new things, but one thing I have learned is you need to have your own system and believe in it," he added. "Then, you get your assistants to believe in it, and once they believe in it, you get the kids to buy in. It has been a little bit of a rocky summer, but I can see the kids starting to get it. I call it, 'the light bulb scenario.' And just lately, it is sinking in."
While the wins and losses are an uncertainty, Groth knows he will continue to do what he loves as a coach."I really want the kids to know that I care about them and I am here to help them both as a player and as a person," he said. "Not every kid is going to be an all-state player, but if I can just help them to reach their potential both on the field and off, then my job as a coach is complete."
Region 7 projections
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. TIMPVIEW: With three strong D-1 recruits returning as starters, it's easy to see why most pick the Thunderbirds to win their third straight 4A state championship. Realistically, though, the T-Birds have a lot of holes to fill. The only returning skill-position player is running back Levi Te'o. Several players are in the hunt for the QB spot, with Casey Rumsey having a slight edge. Travis Van Leeuwen didn't start at receiver last year but saw plenty of action. Xavier Su'afilo, Tyson Tiatia and crew should be as good as any at opening holes. Defense should again be the strength of this team, led by safeties Chris Badger and Craig Bills. Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and tackle Kevin Mitchell are both ferocious pass rushers. 2007 RECORD: 13-0. PLAYOFFS: Won the state 4A title
2. OREM: Every team has ups and downs in talent. For the Tigers, this year is on the upper end as far as quality of personnel. The senior class is one of the best to come through in some time. As ninth graders this group was Utah Valley's best. The Tigers have a lot of experience in the skill positions, plenty of depth and size on the line, and a pretty solid defense. Josh Hamblin is back at quarterback, as is running back Tyler Boulter. John Huntbach and Jeremiah Tiatia give Orem two additional quality running backs. Receivers Jordan Egbert, Steve Warner and Lance Chatterly give Orem even more weapons. The line is solid with Alihi Fa'alafua, Jake Brickey and Jake Jensen. 2007 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost in first round to Bountiful.
3. MOUNTAIN VIEW: To many, the Bruins were the surprise team of 4A football last season advancing all the way to Round 2 after a sub-par 2006. This year they won't catch many opponents by surprise. Every coach knows that running backs T.J. Mounga and Anthony Heimuli (headed to BYU) give the Bruins the best rushing combo in the league. The key will be whether the thin-in-depth line, led by Anthony Rowley and Nick Zollinger, can stay healthy and open some holes. Another question is how athletic-but-inexperienced quarterback Nate Stroshine can do in giving the Bruins some variety on offense. It will also be key that Mountain View's defense doesn't give up what the offense generates. 2007 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost in second round to Sky View.
4. SPRINGVILLE: If anyone is looking at new coach and former Red Devil star Scott Mitchell as the answer to Springville's football prayers, they might have to wait a year or two for some results. The Red Devils are still short on depth and size. However, with quarterback Isaac Allred, running back Colton Ramon, and receivers Luke Frampton and Mark DeWyze back, Springville should improve some on last year's disappointing campaign. The key will be whether the skill position players stay healthy and become efficient at the new quick-pass offense. The Red Devils, behind players like Caleb Christian, Sabastian Lucio and Chase Larsen, will need to improve defensively as well. 2007 RECORD: 2-9. PLAYOFFS: Failed to qualify.
5. TOOELE: Coach Ray Groth takes over the program and brings his 37 years of coaching experience to the Buffaloes. Last season was a wakeup call for moving to the 4A ranks, but they should be better adjusted and ready to compete. Senior quarterback Chris Iorg is the man in charge of Groth's time-tested triple-option attack, and junior Milo Leakehe is ready to step in should Iorg struggle. Iorg should find the holes easier to get through with a trio of seniors anchoring the line in Brian Hobson, Josh Slater and Colt Wright. The defense may need to carry the team while it adjusts to the new attack as it has eight starters back including a great duo at the linebacking corps in Jordan Biorge and Mason Halligan. 2007 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Failed to qualify.
6. PAYSON: Having lost most of last year's starting team, the Lions begin the season with a lot of holes to fill. But coach Jared Woolstenhulme has been surprised at how confident his new squad is and how versatile the team is. Overall, this is a more balanced team than the one that made the playoffs a season ago. Colton Cannon and Peyton Holt are fighting for the quarterback job. Jace Harmon, Carter Worthen and Seth Gabbitas should get equal carries at the running back spot. Defense might be the Lions' strength, with Spensor Smith and Mike Cole anchoring the trenches. Kenny Lyman, Matt Roberts and Christopher Robbins are three more defensive stoppers for Payson. 2007 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost in first round to Mountain Crest.
7. PROVO: With a new coach in Sia Pope and a new offense to learn, many don't think the Bulldogs will be much of a threat for another season or two. However, they do have most of their offensive starters from last year back which should help the transformation to the spread offense. Matt Griner is back at quarterback, as is running back Kyler Hamilton. Provo's biggest weapon will be speedy receiver Anthony Miles, who is ready to rebound from an injury-plagued 2007. If Provo wants to contend for a playoff spot it will need to get strong outings from its defense while the offense develops. Likio Pope, Josh Roberts Rex Saito and Monte Na'Oupu will be leaders for the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball. 2007 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Failed to qualify.