LAYTON The Layton Lancers can look back at the 2007 season and be extremely proud of the fact that they qualified for a state-championship football game for the first time in 28 years.
But for the players who are back in the program, the heartbreaking 19-7 loss to Alta in front of approximately 20,000 fans has served to fuel them for a repeat trip to the turf.
"Ever since the bus ride from losing at state you kind of have that fire in your chest," said Layton quarterback CamrenApplegate.
Without any games to play or opponents to hit, the returning Lancers have taken their frustrations out in their weight room. On paper, Layton is stronger and faster than it was last season.
Star running back LaVaughn Jackson is squatting 500 pounds and benching 305. Middle linebacker Shay Kopecky, poised to have a breakout season, benches 375, squats 425, power cleans 235 and recently ran a 4.3 40-yard dash.
Coach Jim Batchelor's biggest concern regarding his team this season is complacency. But if the Lancers' work in the weight room is any indication, he can rest easily at night.
"Last year's success was great," Batchelor said. "But last year was last year. It's a whole new season. No one is going to lay down for them. In fact, if anything, it will make them (Layton's opponents) go after us harder."
The Lancers, picked to take first in Region 1 by the league's coaches, know they'll be wearing a big target in region games this season. Fortunately for Layton, it has the players to fire back.
Jackson is among the state's most exciting players. He rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season while splitting carries with two seniors. He'll be helped in the backfield by Karl "The Truth" Williams, who can wear defenses down with his punishing running style.
Applegate is Layton's new starting quarterback. He got the chance to briefly spell Gavin Green, last year's starting quarterback, in the 5A semifinals at Rice-Eccles last season.
"He's a smart quarterback" Batchelor said. "When Gavin went out, we didn't even worry about what we were going to call. He's a kid who's very good under pressure. He'll make good decisions."
Applegate hopes the attention defenses pay to Jackson and Williams will open up the passing game for him. His main target will be Thomas Bryson, who will be a big factor in the team's offense at tight end. Dallin Powell and Taylor Hatch are returning linemen with experience.
Batchelor, the team's defensive coordinator, believes his defense will be solid this season. He expects Kopecky to have a big year. Linebackers Nick Ciancone and Sean Pickett also should contribute.
"I like our defense," Batchelor said. "We have good team speed on defense. I'm a defensive guy, so I'd rather see a big hit or a tackle for a loss. I'm a little crazy that way."
The Lancers return just four starters from last year's state runner-up squad."We aren't the biggest team, but we have great teamwork and unity," Kopecky said. "We have the ability to do anything we want to. I'm really confident in our team."
Layton Lancers 2008
COACH: Jim Batchelor (4th year)
KEY PLAYERS: On offense, the key for Layton will be to get (RB) LaVaughn Jackson in space so that he can do his thing. (RB) Karl Williams will spell Jackson and punish defenses. (QB) Camren Applegate is a smart player, and he will do a fine job of running the offense. (TE) Thomas Bryson will be Applegate's top target, and (OL) Dallin Powell and (OL) Taylor Hatch will be counted on to protect him. Look for (LB) Shay Kopecky to lead the defense, and for (LB) Sean Pickett and (LB) Nick Ciancone to contribute as well.
QUESTION MARK: The Lancers have to replace two all-state linemen, and are admittedly thin in that position.
PREDICTED REGION 1 FINISH: First
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: The Lancers should finish in the top two in Region 1 and get to host at least one playoff game. Expect Layton to advance to the 5A quarterfinals, and a return trip to Rice-Eccles turf is not out of the question.