ROOSEVELT To the outside world, all the success that Union's football team enjoyed last fall was down to one guy all-everything quarterback Rhen Richard.
There's no denying that Richard, who has since graduated and moved on to professional rodeo, was absolutely fantastic a season ago and that players like him are not easily replaced.
However, the Union Cougars feel like they were much more than one-man show last fall when they won Region 10 and advanced to the 3A semifinals, and for the guys that are coming back, they're out to prove it.
"We're coming into this year with a lot of confidence, coming off a winning season like that, and I think we're just as good if not better than last year," said senior Kaden Richard, Rhen's little brother who starred at running back and corner back last fall and should enjoy an even bigger season this fall. "I think that we'll be just fine."
That seems to be the consensus in Roosevelt, even if people outside the community expect the Cougars to just disappear off the radar without Rhen Richard and without coach Doug Bills, who returned to Springville High after just one season at Union's helm.
Should first-year coach Sam Elliott or his players need any extra motivation, they need only look at the fact that Region 10 coaches voted Union to finish dead last 12 months after winning the league.
"I think everybody's assuming that because Rhen's gone, and everybody thought Rhen was just a one-man show," Elliott said of the prognostications. "What we have to do is we can't be a one-man show. Yeah, we don't have Rhen, but we have plenty of other kids that can step it up. I believe in our kids."
Because Union had such small participation numbers last fall, the program didn't even field a JV team. That could obviously hurt the program going forward, but in terms of this year, Union will have plenty of returning experience on both sides of the ball and there's no reason why the Cougars can't be very good again.
And it will all start with the offensive line.
Left tackle Marcel Bourque, center Michael Yazzie and right guard Jason Thompson are all returning starters along the O-line. Additionally, right tackle Tim Duncan started some games last fall and much is expected from left guard Drew Banks.
"I think our offensive line is going to be way ahead of anybody else, and yeah, any coach will tell you that's where it all starts," said Elliott, who left Tooele High for Union High because of financial reasons.
"If our offensive line is good, we're gonna be good. So what we lost Rhen Richard? We're gonna have the best offensive line in the state. That's the way I see it, and that's what'll win us ballgames this year."
What should also help Union win games in 2008 are the expected contributions of Kaden Richard and Bourque.
Kaden Richard will be a key factor on offense and defense, just like Bourque.
Elliott said he expects Bourque to lead the defense from a roving position on top of anchoring the O-line."I think Michael will dominate wherever we put him on defense," said Elliott. "He really is a specimen."
Union Cougars prep football preview
COACH: Following three years as the head coach at Tooele High, first-year Union coach Sam Elliott moved out to Roosevelt because of financial reasons. Elliott said he plans to be at Union for the foreseeable future.
KEY PLAYERS: Union will be very senior-heavy as all 11 starters on offense and nine of 11 starters on defense are upper-classmen. LT/FS Marcel Bourque, RB/CB Kaden Richard, WR/LB Zach Trujillo and FB/CB Chanse Hyder are all seniors and will help anchor the Cougars. Senior Gauge Smith takes over from Rhen Richard at quarterback, and Miachel Yazzie, Jason Thompson and Tyler Nelson could all be poised for big seasons.
QUESTION MARK: Will Union have enough team speed? Guys like Richard and Trujillo will be very quick, but the Cougars' success this season could hinge on how much overall team speed emerges.
LAST YEAR: 9-4, lost to Judge in the semifinals.
PREDICTED REGION 10 FINISH: Fifth.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Despite being picked last by Region 10 coaches, Union could actually be quite solid this fall and has the potential to surprise anybody that doesn't watch out for it. Clearly, Logan, Judge and Park City enter the season as Class 3A's three preseason favorites, but after that there's a lot of parity. Because of that, there's no reason to think Union can't emerge over the course of 2008 as a challenger.
Aug. 22 at Delta, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 MANTI, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 NORTH SANPETE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Salem Hills, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 GRANTSVILLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 PARK CITY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Uintah, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Judge, 7 p.m.Oct. 23 WASATCH, 7 p.m.