All of the football teams in Region 5 have a couple of great things in common.
First, they've got coaches and kids who are fully invested in their programs. And second, they have supportive communities who deeply care about their high school sports teams.
Up north, there are three perennially strong programs — Logan, Mountain Crest and Sky View — who have created an intense three-way rivalry for bragging rights in Cache Valley.
To the south, longtime Weber County rivals Roy and Bonneville are both trying to resurrect once-proud programs with head coaches who were former stars at their respective schools.
And sandwiched between Cache Valley and Weber County is Box Elder, another strong program steeped in tradition and brimming with plenty of school spirit.
"What I love about Box Elder is, man, they're born bleeding purple here and they are loyal," said head coach Robbie Gunter. "If you're born a Bee, you're a Bee. ... It's fun to coach them, because their grandpa played here or their great grandpa did, and it's a lot of fun to be here for that.
"I love these kids. They are who they are and they've been playing together and have known each other forever, and the community knows who these kids are, too."
It's that way in Cache Valley, too, although there are times when the boundaries between Logan, Hyrum, Smithfield and the smaller towns in between can get blurred a bit.
Still, when it comes to football season, there's a level of dedication and commitment by these teenage athletes that's highly commendable.
And the games themselves are what "Friday Night Lights" is all about.
"We don't have an easy game in this league. There's no guarantee," said Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton.
"These kids up here in this region, for whatever reason, really work hard and I think each program keeps an eye on other programs and their kids see how hard those programs work, and they know they need to put in the time. We never, ever have to ask our kids to put in the time.
"We started in February at 6 in the morning, and we had 120 kids there.
Other teams in the region know our kids work hard, and we know their kids work hard, too. It's a fun community to play for, and the parents up here are great, too."
And even though Roy High has had a tough time fielding a winning team since before most of this year's players were born, it certainly hasn't hurt the Royals' home attendance at Ernest Durbano Field.
"This place fills up whether you're 0-9 or 9-0," said second-year Roy coach Fred Fernandes, who wants to give those diehard fans something to cheer about.
And with the high caliber of teams in Region 5, it's no wonder they draw huge crowds.
After all, Logan went undefeated last season on its way to winning the 4A state championship, and the Grizzlies are loaded for bear — pun intended — again this year.
But that doesn't mean the other teams in the league are going to just lay down and let Logan claim another league crown in a walkover.
"We're a different team from last year," said Mountain Crest senior receiver Faimafili "Mo" Laulu-Pututau, whose team finished second to the Grizzlies in last year's region race. "We're a lot faster and I think we have better work ethic, too."
So how good could the Mustangs be this year? "Region champs and potentially state champs, too," he said. "We're going for it."
Teammate Eddy Hall, who played quarterback last year but will switch to running back and slot back this year, agrees.
"We've been working hard this whole offseason," he said, "so we're looking pretty good this year."
Sky View's Ethan Dursteller, a 6-foot-4 defensive end who earned all-state honors for the Bobcats last year, also feels like he and his teammates have a shot at knocking off the high-flying Grizzlies this year.
"We're expecting to be really good," he said. "We're hoping to be region champions, hopefully. It's a really tough region with Logan and Mountain Crest, but hopefully we can beat 'em both and finish well.
"Logan's definitely the team to beat, coming off a state championship of course, but hopefully we can surprise 'em."
His teammate, junior quarterback Braxton Godderidge, likes the Bobcats' chances, too, especially since nobody's picking them to challenge Logan for the league title.
"We've got some really good wide receivers, our line is looking really good this year and our running back is playing exceptional right now," Godderidge said. "We're looking all right.
"No one's picked us, so we're kinda the underdogs to start the year, and we like that role. It's better than being the target."
The target with the big bull's-eye on its back, of course, is Logan.
And veteran head coach Mike Favero figures having "defending state champion" in front of his team's name will serve as extra incentive to the Grizzlies' opponents.
"It's a new year," he said. "Last year was great but it has no impact on this year, other than people might come after us a little more."
Meanwhile, first-year Bonneville High head coach Tyler Gladwell, like coach Fernandes at Roy, is hoping to turn things around and restore some glory to his once-great program.
"We're expecting a lot. We're putting some high expectations on our players and high expectations with the coaching staff," he said. "We have good athletes here, and we told the kids we just want them to go out and compete and play hard. We have great kids who all want to win, and they're all working hard. Now we need to build their confidence and change the attitude here a little bit."
But it's not going to happen overnight.
"Every team in our region has really good players with really good coaches," Gladwell said. "It's a tough region."
To say the least.
Region 5 projections
(Preseason rankings based on coaches' votes)
1. LOGAN: The Grizzlies come into the season as the defending 4A state champions, and they have a total of 12 returning starters off that powerhouse team that finished 14-0 and piled up 44 points per game in pulverizing most of their opponents. Luke Falk, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior who played in California last season, will step into the void left at quarterback by last year's 4A MVP, D.J. Nelson. Falk has a big-time passing arm and has plenty of talented targets to throw to in receivers Hagan Andersen, Jesse Braddy, Beau Artist, Jake Thompson and running backs Chase Nelson and Chasen Andersen. Seven starters return for a strong defensive unit, led by first team All-State tackle Chasen Andersen and big Jacoby Wildman, but they'll miss first team All-State defensive end Caden Andersen, who's out for the season with an injury. 2011 record: 14-0 PLAYOFFS: Won 4A state championship with a dramatic 18-11 victory over East in the finals.
2. MOUNTAIN CREST: A couple of big-time playmakers -- wide receiver Faimafili "Mo" Laulu-Pututau and running back
slot back Eddy Hall, who starred at quarterback last season -- return for the Mustangs. "Mo" had over 700 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season, while Hall threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran for over 500 yards and eight more TDs. Jamison Webb will step in to run the offense at quarterback this year, and big junior Kyle Christiansen will anchor the offensive and defensive lines. 2011 record: 6-5 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Westlake 23-14 in the first round.
3. SKY VIEW: Junior quarterback Braxton Godderidge takes over control of the Bobcats' offense after starting two games there last season, and tailback Skyler Hunt and H-back Nathan Payne are being counted on make big plays for the offense with Cody Willmore, a two-year starter at offensive tackle, blocking for them. Ethan Dursteller, a rangy 6-foot-4 athlete who earned All-State honors at defensive end last year, returns to anchor the D-line and will also play tight end. 2011 record: 5-6 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Skyline 49-24 in the first round.
4. BOX ELDER: Shad Watson steps in to run the offense at quarterback, and running backs Kasen Flinders and Kyler Allen should be strong for the Bees. Linebacker Britton Gunter, tackle Joe Flores and safety Rasten Yeates will spearhead the defense. Box Elder suffers from a lack of size and experience this season, which may hinder them in their quest to climb up the league ladder, but tremendous team unity should provide strength. 2011 record: 6-5 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Olympus 17-12 in the first round.
5. ROY: Second-year head coach Fred Fernandes feels like the Royals are turning the corner after nearly two decades of losing seasons at the school where he once starred. Connor McGuire and David Hadley give them some experience in the receiving corps, and a strong sophomore class features quarterback Tyler Skidmore, flanker/cornerback Logan LaRose, tight end Cody Hobbs and wide receiver/safety Nathaniel Jones. Fernandes expects to contend for a state playoff spot. 2011 record: 4-5 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
6. BONNEVILLE: Tyler Gladwell, a former star quarterback for the Lakers, takes over as their head coach after six years as an assistant at Davis High. Colby Bedford, Andrew Croyle, Brock Kap and Jaydn Peck can all contribute as running backs and receivers, and Wilson Atagi anchors the offensive line. A senior-laden lineup has ample playing experience and is eager to get the? tradition-rich Bonneville program back where it belongs -- in the state playoffs. 2011 record: 5-5 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify