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Ben Brewer, Deseret News
Utah High School 2A Football championship game between San Juan and Manti, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012.
We try to emphasize and help these kids realize that this is their year. They get to create their own identity. This is their year and their team. —San Juan football coach Monty Lee

Coming TUESDAY: 2A North Preview

Year in and year out, San Juan coach Monty Lee tries to downplay the success and shortcomings of the previous season.

“We try to emphasize and help these kids realize that this is their year. They get to create their own identity. This is their year and their team,” said Lee.

That’s particularly the case this season. Most of San Juan’s projected starters were spectators on the sidelines as Manti booted a 53-yard field goal in overtime to claim last year’s 2A state title over the Broncos. Though the loss still stung, those underclassmen knew there was always next year.

That 2013 season has finally arrived, and with two-time state champion Manti now in 3A, San Juan’s tradition of excellence makes it the clear-cut favorite in 2A.

In the 2A South region, that separation is even greater.

San Juan heads into the season on a 27-game winning streak against the other six teams in the 2A South region. Its last loss to either Beaver, Grand, South Sevier, Enterprise, Parowan or North Sevier was a 26-12 setback to Grand on Aug. 18, 2006.

The Broncos are 70-10 since that loss, including an 8-0 record against Grand, a 7-0 record against South Sevier, a 5-0 record against Beaver and a combined 7-0 record against Enterprise, Parowan and North Sevier.

It went 5-0 against those six teams last year with an average margin of victory of 35 points.

“Obviously San Juan is the team that has the target on their back 'cause they do so well,” said Parowan coach Brigham Nielsen.

Even with only seven seniors this season, and just three returning starters, San Juan still has that target. Lee believes his players are mature enough to handle the expectations.

“They’re wanting their turn. They’ve waited for a chance to show what they can do. It’s kind of fun to coach these kids who are really excited, and who really wanted to work,” said Lee.

Heading into the 2013 season, the 2A South region appears to be a three-tier league. San Juan is deservedly alone at the top tier by virtue of its 27-game winning streak against the rest of the region. The second tier includes Beaver, South Sevier and Grand, all capable of finishing second and perhaps upsetting inexperienced San Juan in a perfect scenario.

Grand returns three first-team all-staters from last year’s 2A semifinal team in Koi Cook, Jacob Francis and Edgar Gomez.

Beaver will lean heavily on returning 1,000-yard rusher Jesse McMullin, while South Sevier will be led by returning all-stater Wyatt Anderson on the offensive and defensive line.

“A solid core returning on defense should help the program take the next step. We’re hoping to get a better playoff seed and compete for a region title,” said South Sevier coach Weston Zabriskie.

The bottom tier includes Enterprise, Parowan and North Sevier, three teams that were discussed as potentially being small enough to drop into 1A in the latest UHSAA realignment.

Enterprise, Parowan and North Sevier went a combined 4-23 last year, but all enter the year with loftier ambitions.

North Sevier returns the bulk of its starters, and new coach Chuck Woodhouse believes a shift to the spread offense will make the Wolves much more competitive.

Parowan also returns the bulk of its starters, and Nielsen expects much more from his team in his second year as head coach.

“I’m excited about the region. I think we should be able to be competitive every game, and beat some of those teams. I don’t say that cocky, but I believe we have the talent and the kids have been working hard enough if they keep it up we’ll be in a position to do that,” said Nielsen.

Deseret News projections for 2A South football teams in 2013

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. SAN JUAN: By San Juan standards, there’s a serious shortage of returning varsity experience. However, year after year, this program never rebuilds — it reloads — and many figure that will be the case again this year. What little experience San Juan does return is on the offensive line. Chase Richmond, Ben Brewer and Braydon Giddings are all returning starters. Senior Terrence Tate takes over at quarterback for the Broncos, a very smart and unselfish player. Senior Jens Grover could be poised for a breakout year. Not only will he start at fullback, but he’ll be the leader of the defense at linebacker. Sophomore RB/LB Bronze Eldredge is a star in waiting, a player colleges are already taking notice of. 2012 RECORD: 11-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Manti in 2A championship.

2. BEAVER: Coming off an 8-3 season, their best record since 2002, the Beavers have some question marks if they hope to duplicate the success they enjoyed in 2012. That’s particularly the case on the offensive line, where the Beavers figure to be very young. Fortunately for coach Steve Hutchings, he has some experience at the skill positions. Senior fullback Jesse McMullin is back after rushing for 1,061 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Senior Bailey Bradshaw also returns after adding 389 yards. Michael Roberts started half the season last year at QB, and he’s also returning. Defensively, Beaver has holes to fill on the defensive line but should be tough at linebacker and defensive back. 2012 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Manti in 2A quarterfinals.

3. GRAND: The Red Devils return seven starters on offense and six on defense, and are certainly capable of competing with the top teams in 2A. Seniors Jacob Francis, Koi Cook and Edgar Gomez were Deseret News first-team all-staters last year. Francis will lead the way at QB, while Cook is a standout running back and Gomez is dominant on both sides of the line. Defensively, Cook led the team with 118 tackles a year ago, and he’ll again be the heart of the defense. In general, the coaching staff is thrilled with the leadership from the senior class, and believes the team will benefit from last year’s semifinal run. Big things are also expected of junior receiver Kobe Sobremesana. 2012 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Manti in 2A semifinals.

4. SOUTH SEVIER: With returning experience on the O-line and quarterback, depth at running back and a solid core of returning defensive starters, fourth-year coach Weston Zabriskie is hopeful this could be the breakthrough year he’s been waiting for. Offensively, four-year starter Wyatt Anderson and three-year starter Wyatt Hansen anchor what could be a strong offensive unit. Trevor Jones is back at QB after passing for 1,252 yards and 10 TDs. Riley Blackham could emerge as the Rams’ top running threat, but Zabriskie believes there’s three or four other guys ready to contribute. Defensively, MaCalin Mitchell will anchor a strong linebacking corps, while Anderson and Hansen will anchor the D-line. 2012 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Millard in 2A first round.

5. ENTERPRISE: There seems to be a pretty clear-cut top four in the 2A South region, but after that it will be a dogfight for playoff seeding, and Enterprise figures to be right in the thick of it under second-year coach Malin Williams. After starting last season 3-0, Enterprise lost its last six games to miss the playoffs. With six starters returning, the Wolves hope the lumps from a year ago pay off this fall. The team will lean heavily offensively on Kanton Vause and Dustin Tullis at running back, along with Dallin Holt at tight end. Tullis was Enterprise’s second-leading rusher a year ago. 2012 RECORD: 3-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

6. PAROWAN: With nine returning starters on each side of the ball, second-year coach Brigham Nielsen expects his team to be much more competitive this season. It starts on the offensive line where Cannon Brunzvick, Fernando Carrillo, Dallin Benson, Marty Stubbs and Anthony Shaw are all expected to make solid contributions. Caleb Murphy would be right in the heart of the O-line, but he made a move to QB late last season and that’s where he’ll start this season. Jake Topham could be the key offensively, a fullback coach Nielsen said needs to involved much more this season. Cody Hartlmaier and Kirk Harrison are solid receivers who will be expected to make plays when Parowan throws. 2012 RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

7. NORTH SEVIER: First-year coach Chuck Woodhouse inherited a pretty decent team heading into the 2013 season. With roughly nine returning starters on each side of the ball, including four offensive linemen, it’s hard to imagine North Sevier going winless again this season. Offensively the Wolves also return quarterback Fisher Andersen, who started as a freshman last year, along with running back Desmond Honeycutt and Brendon Sorenson. Woodhouse is making a switch to the spread offense, and he expects big things from receiver Collin Rasmussen. Defensively, Marshall Roundy, Colton Mayo and Honeycutt will anchor a linebacking corps that could be pretty decent. Nose guard Jake Thompson will be a tough assignment for opposing offenses. 2012 RECORD: 0-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

Follow Deseret News prep editor James Edward on Twitter @DNewsPreps