Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Duchesne's Max Lewis (#51) plays against Layton Christian in the 1A Football State Championship game at Wasatch High School in Heber on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011.

A year ago, everybody in 1A football was playing for second place. Whether they admitted it or not was irrelevant. Duchesne was just too good.

In nine games against fellow 1A teams, the Eagles won by a combined score of 417-55. They even beat 3A and 2A playoff-caliber teams in the preseason. It was a special year that the community of Duchesne won't soon forget.

Fortunately for the rest of 1A, most of last year's main contributors have graduated, and the state championship is no longer a foregone conclusion.

"I don't think there's going to be any dominant team. I would think looking at kids and who has what coming back, it should be pretty open," said Altamont coach Mick Fieldstead.

One coach went so far as to proclaim that six or seven teams might have a shot at the title this year. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, there's certainly more than one team with their eye on the November prize.

With four new coaches in the classification, a new school and three schools with the bulk of their returning starters back, it should be a pretty exciting season for 1A football.

Make no mistake about it though, two-time state champion Duchesne is still the team to beat regardless of who graduated. It enters the season on a 22-game winning streak, and even though coach Jerry Cowan said this year's team isn't as athletic, it has some intangibles to build on.

"The group we have isn't as athletic, but potentially could be the hardest working and hard-nosed type kids. Things have never come as easy to them," said Cowan, who begins his second stint as Duchesne's head coach.

Cowan was the head coach from 2003 to 2007, but stepped aside and served as an assistant coach the past four years to Billy Hoopes.

Last year's runner-up, Layton Christian, is also being led by a new coach after former coach Will Haws took over the head coaching job at Clearfield.

Kitt Rawlings inherits a team that came on late last year to advance to the championship, and a program most 1A coaches expect to be even better this year.

Even though Duchesne and Layton Christian graduated the bulk of their starters, both return key contributors from a year ago, and their region clash on Sept. 21 could be a preview of the 1A championship game again like last season.

Based on tradition and returning personnel, Rich and Monticello are two teams to keep an eye on this season.

Monticello should be the class of the Southern region with seven returning starters on each side of the ball, including outstanding junior running backs Austin Wilcox and Austin Maloy.

"We don't have the depth that maybe we had, but we do have an awful lot of talent and ability coming back and feel pretty confident in that. 1A football is all about who can avoid injuries," said Monticello coach Lee Chadwick.

Rich, the 2009 champs and an overtime runner-up to Duchesne in 2010, should be back in the thick of the 1A race again this year. Even though there are question marks on the line, coach Ashley Brown said this year's team is hungry to make some noise.

Summit Academy based in Draper joins the 1A ranks this season. Even though the program is new and will feature almost entirely sophomore starters, it's drawing kids from the Alta, Bingham, Herriman and Riverton area, and that alone should make the program an up-and-comer in 1A.

"We sit in a pretty decent area as far as overflow. There's been some kids who've transferred into the school who are pretty decent, but the majority will be young," said coach Scott Gorringe.

Diamond Ranch should be better this season as well. Coach Robbie Dias said he took 55 kids to Kanab's camp this summer, and for whatever reason this year's class of kids enjoys and has a good understanding of football.

MONDAY: 2A South preview

Deseret News projections for 1A North football teams in 2011

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. DUCHESNE: A year after beating every 1A team it faced by 20-plus points, Duchesne is still the favorite in 1A this year, but it's not unbeatable with just three offensive returning starters and five defensive returning starters. This year's team won't be as athletic as last year's, but might be harder working. Kaden Moon is back at linebacker after leading the team in tackles last year, while McKade Nielsen is back after leading the team in receiving. Wade Shepard was a two-way starter on the lines and will be counted on heavily this season. Junior QB quarterback Trent Roberts is an unknown quantity in 1A right now, but coach Jerry Cowan said he has the potential to be the best player in 1A. 2011 RECORD: 12-0. PLAYOFFS: Beat Layton Christian in championship.

2. LAYTON CHRISTIAN: Burst onto the 1A scene last year by advancing to its first state championship game in school history. Despite a coaching change that sees Kitt Rawlings take over the program, the Eagles should be just as good this year. Kyle Yockey is back at quarterback after a productive season, and he's also an incredible weapon in the kicking game with long FGs and long punts. Nick Edwards won the 100-meter state title in the spring, and is poised for a breakout season. Jake Warden will anchor the offensive and defensive lines, while linebacker Collin Greenhill is back after leading the team in tackles a year ago. 2011 RECORD: 6-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Duchesne in championship.

3. RICH: In two games against Duchesne last season, Rich was outscored 88-0. That's the gap the Rebels are trying to close this season. With quite a few holes to fill on the offensive and defensive line, it won't be easy. The return of quarterback Austin Groll and running back Kaden Thomson should help. They combined to rush for over 1,200 yards and 15 TDs last year. Kade Earley and Bradly Gurr are the lone returning starters in the trenches. Defensively, along with the contributions of Groll, Thomson and Dyson Barker, Rich is counting on the continued improvement of sophomore linebacker Wyatt Muirbrook and sophomore safety Cache Sabey this season. 2011 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Duchesne in semifinals.

4. ALTAMONT: Like a lot of teams in 1A, the Longhorns return the majority of their starters from a year ago. For a team that lost to eventual 1A runner-up Layton Christian in the quarterfinals by just seven points, that's an encouraging sign. Altamont will lean heavily on Kyle Foy after he rushed for over 1,400 yards last year and 10 TDs. With returning offensive line starters Tony Brown and Denver Knights, as well as tight end Chance Goodrich, Foy could easily eclipse that production. The QB position is a bit up in the air with Cassidy Smith and Alex Mackey vying for the starting job. 2011 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Layton Christian in quarterfinals.

5. SUMMIT ACADEMY: Coach Scott Gorringe estimates that 90 to 95 percent of his starters will be sophomores in the school's first season playing varsity football. The potential is there to be pretty good though, and Summit Academy has already had some success at 7 on 7 camps this summer. Despite the youth, two seniors will be counted on to lead the team. Chris Apple was a student at the school last year, and he'll play receiver and defensive tackle. Bingham transfer Brody Strong will start at tailback. The quarterback position in the spread offense will be occupied by sophomore Christian Miller, while this three primary receiving threats will be Steven Harp, Hayden Henriod and Wyatt Gorringe. 2011 RECORD: N/A. PLAYOFFS: N/A.

Deseret News projections for 1A South football teams in 2011

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. MONTICELLO: A semifinalist a year ago, the Buckaroos are poised for an even deeper run in the playoffs this year with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. It starts with a couple of junior running backs. Austin Wilcox rushed for 1,031 yards and 15 TDs last year while Austin Maloy added 760 yards and 8 TDs. PJ Leiataua will anchor the defense, which is where the Buckaroos need the most improvement. They gave up 42 points to Duchesne in their second-to-last game of the season last year, and then 35 points to Layton Christian in the semifinals. Wilcox and Maloy also start on defense, and an extra year of weightlifting should help on the defensive side as well. 2011 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Layton Christian in semifinals.

2. DIAMOND RANCH: Roster turnover will be the norm for this program, and that's the case again this year with just one returning starter. The one returner is a dandy, though. Defensive end Tion Timmel from California already has offers from both Utah and Utah State. Despite the lack of returning experience in Utah, many of this year's contributors have experience in their home state. Andrew Miller was a starting safety on his 5A team in Texas last season. Three other players expected to make solid contributions are tailback Eric Upson, receiver River Aguire and lineman Joe Yeager. 2011 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Rich in quarterfinals.

3. MILFORD: Starting mostly freshmen and sophomores last year, Milford was overmatched almost every time it stepped on the field. This season, the youngsters are physically more ready to compete. It starts in the red zone, where coach Brian Williamson said the team is ready to score TDs, not throw interceptions. Milford returns all but one starter on defense and all but three starters offensively. Braxton Higgins has put in a ton of work in the offseason and will carry the bulk of the rushing load. Wade Netto is a tough kid at quarterback. The team's lone starting senior, Jacob Swanson, will help anchor the lines, as will Lucas O'Daniel. 2011 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Monticello in quarterfinals.

4. MONUMENT VALLEY: After a two-year hiatus, Jim Dandy is back at head coach and excited to get the program pointed in the right direction. Junior quarterback Lawrence Atine will be the focal point of the offense. Last year he passed for nearly 2,200 yards and 22 touchdowns. Running back Kirby Atene and Anthony James are also returning this year. The Cougars' squad only consists of about five or six seniors, but Dandy said the junior class is pretty strong. Of its five wins last year, three were against out-of-state teams and two were against rival Whitehorse. Dandy hopes to help the program be a bit more competitive with the Utah schools. 2011 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Duchesne in quarterfinals.

5. WHITEHORSE: The Raiders only won one game last season, but the school is hoping the hiring of Colin Jackson as head coach can change that. Jackson is a graduate of Whitehorse, and he's working hard to get the kids ready for their Aug. 17 opener at Monticello. The Raiders' lone victory last year came against Shonto Prep, who they'll face again this year in Week 6. 2011 RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.