ST. GEORGE Last year's 4A state championship game was a real eye opener for the Pine View Panthers.
Losing to Timpview 38-0 wasn't necessarily embarrassing, but it was a wake-up call about how much work lay ahead in the offseason if Pine View hoped to take the next step in 2008.
It's not like the program needed to reinvent itself or anything; after all it owned a 13-0 record heading into the title game. But getting bullied around by Timpview for four quarters at Rice-Eccles Stadium exposed some weaknesses. A year later, everybody knows that Timpview is again the team to beat.
In an effort to narrow the gap if not close it completely, Pine View has worked harder than ever in the weight room this offseason, and the coaching staff has tried to schedule tougher preseason competition as well.
"These kids have worked hard, and they believe in themselves," said Pine View coach Ray Hosner, whose team lost back-to-back 3A championship games in 2004 and 2005. "If you stick with it long enough, good things happen and eventually you get what you need."
Pine View has seven returning starters on offense and seven on defense, more than enough to make a run at the championship again this year. To have any chance against Timpview though, the Panthers' lines need to get much better.
Last year Timpview's offensive and defensive lines were jokingly referred to as a junior college line. A good chunk of those starters are back again, and the T-Birds could be dominant again this year.
The only way Pine View has a chance against Timpview if the teams meet in the playoffs is for its line to get stronger. They might be closing the gap.
"It's amazing all of them squat over 500 pounds and three of them bench over 300 pounds," said Hosner. "Coach Dale Stott does such a good job with those guys. They live and breathe weight lifting all year at his house; we call it the bat cave."
Pine View's projected starting offensive linemen Tanner Wood, Justin Lytle, Jorden Gary, Kevin Moss and Keaton Bale all have plenty of experience and would love another shot at Timpview to prove themselves.
It's going to take a lot more than just a good offensive line to get the job done in the extremely competitive 4A, and Pine View is loaded there as well. Justin Ence will start at quarterback after serving as the running quarterback last year.
"Seriously he's awesome at it. He's worked really hard with me in the offseason," said Hosner. "His brother Skyler was quarterbacking at Dixie State College, so he's been working with his brother a lot, so with a community effort he's looking really good."
He's got two outstanding receiving threats in returning first-team all-stater Robert Evans and underrated tight end Taylor Orr.
Viliama Hafoka will start at tailback, and he's poised for a breakout year, according to his coach.
"He's quick and he's shifty; he's a totally different back than Tate was last year," said Hosner.
Defensively, Pine View should be improved as well this year. Ence is back at safety after being a second-team all-stater, and Pine View's trio of linebackers of Orr, Adam Bangerter and Chris Pritchard are very good, too.
In addition to toughening up the players in the offseason, Pine View's coaching staff put together a tough preseason schedule that includes Dominguez, Calif., Las Vegas and Cottonwood."That's a pretty good preseason, and we've got to play competition like that if we're ever going to get there and win that game," said Hosner.
PINE VIEW PANTHERS 2008 PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW
COACH: Ray Hosner, a graduate of James Madison High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., is entering his eighth year at Pine View and owns an impressive 68-17 record.
KEY PLAYERS: Justin Ence was Pine View's running quarterback last year, racking up 800 rushing yards while spelling Nick Marinko. This year he's the man under center exclusively, and he's got plenty of weapons surrounding him to have a great season, including returning first-team all-state wide receiver Robert Evans. Defensively, Adam Bangerter is back after leading the Panthers with 95 tackles last year. Chris Pritchard is another standout linebacker.
QUESTION MARKS: Only time will tell if Pine View did enough in the offseason to toughen up for big games against teams like Timpview. Preseason games against big teams like Dominguez and Cottonwood will be good indicators of that progress. Realistically though, these questions marks won't really be an issue until November. This team is almost a lock to make at least the semifinals.
LAST YEAR: 13-1, lost to Timpview in state championship.
PREDICTED REGION 9 (4A) FINISH: First.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: When only two games determine if you go to the playoffs, nothing is guaranteed. With that said, it would be shocking not to see the Panthers in the playoffs again this year. If things go well, Pine View could be playing in the 4A state title game once again.
Aug. 22 at Mountain View, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 vs. Dominguez, Calif., 8 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Cottonwood, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Las Vegas, 8 p.m.
Sept. 19 at Canyon View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 HURRICANE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Cedar, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Dixie, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 SNOW CANYON, 7 p.m.Oct. 24 Bye