Scroll down to see Hillcrest High's Felt's Facts
Note: Hillcrest finished with a 3-7 overall record and a 1-4 record in Region 7 in 2011. It did not qualify for the playoffs.
MIDVALE — Negative stereotypes are extremely difficult to overcome. Once something becomes ingrained, established and written as law — it becomes the truth.
That’s why second-year Hillcrest coach Casey Miller is painting a new image of a program that has had the reputation of not being competitive — at all. Miller is tired of the Huskies being nothing more than a punch line.
“I don’t want anyone to think Hillcrest is even the same school,” Miller said. “That word "Hillcrest" with the bad attitude towards it — I want that gone.”
Construction is currently underway for a new field turf to accentuate one of the most unique stadium structures in the state. New uniforms complimented with a different logo resembling the Washington Huskies dog rather than the Hawaii “H” will also be unveiled this fall.
“You’ve got to change the culture. When I came in I got rid of all the black and dark green,” Miller said. “We don’t use any black in our jersey anymore. We’re back to Kelly green and white. I’m trying to change the helmet color, jersey color, what we do in practice — I’m trying to change everything.”
The only thing left after Miller’s inaugural year as the headset at Hillcrest is the white visiting jerseys.
“My coaches and I are half serious, half joking — 'cause I could only buy one set of jerseys last year; we played awful in our white jerseys every single game. We were like we’re going to burn these jerseys after the year,” Miller quipped. “I want to burn them right now, but we need money so we need to sell them. I was going to burn them and make the whole team watch. It’s the last thing that’s part of the old program that’s still here.”
The changes are definitely not limited to fashion and equipment, however. Everything within the football infrastructure has been remodeled, including offensive and defensive philosophies, structure, expectations and the inclusion of mandatory study hall before every practice.
“I think the kids know what they’re being asked to do. They know what’s expected of them, so now it’s just a matter of getting it done,” Miller said. “They feel like they know there’s a goal, whereas before we had some kids pushing for one goal, some kids push for another. We’re all pushing in the same direction.”
The program is still very much a work in progress. The Huskies will be one of the youngest teams in the state with nine sophomores starting — including five on the defense alone. Youth dominates the second- and third-string positions on the depth charts, too.
So growing pains are around the corner.
“We’re going to have some issues. They’re going to make some mistakes but they’re 15,” Miller said.
Last year, cognizant of a hugely unfavorable turnover ratio, Miller invaded the little league and promoted a swarm of freshman to the JV level in preparation for this season.
“We kind of planned ahead. We had 28 seniors, no juniors. It was a sparse sophomore class and then I had this huge freshman group,” Miller explained. “So, we kind of said, ‘We would love to keep all these freshman down but some of them have to start varsity next year.’ So, we kind of picked that group and put them on JV and trained them to expect to be varsity players now.”
The results have shown.
“I think it helped a lot,” Miller said. “The freshman that played last year compared to the kids that stayed down in little league — they’re light years ahead. They know the schedule, the plan. They understand high school football.”
Hillcrest Huskies at a glance
Coach: This is Casey Miller’s second year as the coach of the Huskies. He’s a graduate of Cyprus High and played college quarterback at Benedict College in Kansas.
(3 returning starters; I-back/pro-set offense)
Hillcrest switched from a gung-ho pass heavy offense to a more traditional pro set offense. Miller described the offense as a combination of two elite collegiate programs.
It is “a mix between Wisconsin and USC’s offense,” he explained. “You see Wisconsin running the zone out of one back — with one back we basically run Wisconsin’s offense. With two backs, USC — when they had Reggie Bush — ran power-counter and play-action.”
Bailey Ammons is a three-year starter on the outskirts, but with the majority of the offense being untested opposing defenses may blanket the 6-foot-3 receiver.
“Teams are going to start drifting towards Bailey. We need (the sophomores) to do well enough that defenses can’t cheat,” Miller said.
That bodes well for sophomore quarterback Tanner Thompson. The 5-foot-10, 150-pounder is still undeveloped and learning the intricacies of the game. Keeping him off the turf is crucial to speeding up his learning curve.
(2 returning starters; Base 4-3 defense)
Hillcrest has three sophomores hunting the secondary and two more on the defensive line. It could be a long season for the Huskies if the underclassmen don’t adapt to the varsity game at light speed.
Jake Fife, an imposing 6-foot-4 225-pound senior linebacker, tallied 103 tackles last season. His responsibilities increased significantly, and the Huskies will rely on his leadership this season immensely.
Hillcrest will employ a conservative approach on defense. Blitzing — similar to a Solar eclipse — will be a rare sight, but when it happens it should be special.
“It’s hard for a high school team to put together 11 good plays in a row — really hard,” Miller said. “So, my philosophy is bend but don’t break. If they’re good enough to bleed us out, they’re probably going to win anyway.”
If Hillcrest expects to lower its opponents' scoring after coughing up 35.1 points per game last season it has to get opposing offenses off the field.
In a game against eventual region champion Olympus, the Huskies were down 14-7 with five minutes to go. The Titans scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, however.
“The wheels fell off. The defense ran out of gas ‘cause they were on the field the whole game. The defense just wore down,” Miller said. “Our defense was on the field twice as much as our offense. The defense will automatically get better if they only have to tackle the other team 60 times instead of 80 times.”
Coaches’ Region 7 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 7 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: It’s hard to imagine that a team mostly comprised of sophomores can legitimately challenge for a playoff position. Hillcrest in years past was complacent with losing, but that attitude has begun to dissipate. This year could be rough at times, but in the long run it could serve the Huskies tremendously. For now, Hillcrest is still looking up at the top four teams in the region.
Aug. 17 — at Riverton, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 — at Taylorsville, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 — COPPER HILLS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — TOOELE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — at Heriman, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — WESTLAKE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — at Skyline, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — MURRAY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 — at Cyprus, 7 p.m.
Felts Facts for Hillcrest High School
All-time record: 213-265-8 (50 years)
Region championships: 7 (1966 co, 1968, 1975, 1980, 1981 co, 1983, 1984 co)
Playoff appearances: 20
All-time playoff record: 10-20
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-0
Most played rivalry: 41 meetings with Brighton dating back to 1969. Brighton leads 29-12. Last met in 2010.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Hillcrest holds the school and individual (Brad Leggat) single-game passing yards record of 538 set in 2001.
Hillcrest coaching history
2011-current — Casey Miller (3-7)
2005-2010 — Kirk Merhish (15-44)
2000-2004 — Bruce Takeno (29-33)Comment on this story
1993-1999 — Lee Leslie (34-34)
1986-1992 — Jerry Haslam (25-38)
1978-1985 — Jerry Simonson (49-33)
1975-1977 — Robert Burns (12-16)
1967-1974 — Raynor Pearce (44-32)
1964-1966 — Tom Lovat (11-14-3)
1962-1963 — Mickey Culletson (1-14-3)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2004 — Zane Beadles, OL
2004 — Robert Takeno, LB
2003 — John Eastman, QB
2003 — Fesi Sitake, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.