Note: Woods Cross finished with a 9-3 overall record in 2012 and tied for first in Region 6 with a 4-1 record. It lost to Timpview 35-14 in the 4A quarterfinals.
WOODS CROSS — In his first year at the helm of the Woods Cross program last fall, Justin Spencer strapped the reins and harnessed the proclaimed best class in school history.
“One of the things that I’m proud of is — that group had gone through a lot with coaches, (having) four in four years,” Spencer said of the 2012 season, which technically started with six straight wins. “We were able to come together and do some good things.”
This season, Spencer holds the ropes to a much different carriage.
“Coming into this year we’ve made some adjustments to put (the) boys in the best possible position,” Spencer said. “We have high hopes.”
After suffering a massive attrition rate because of graduation, the Wildcats are left with many unanswered and unproven positional questions, and will feature packages with potentially up to nine underclassmen on the field at one time.
“That’s where we made mistakes was in our youth,” Spencer said in reference to a recent offseason camp against Region 1 competition. “For those that played soph and are trying to bump to varsity and skip JV, the speed level is an adjustment.”
Spencer highlighted four juniors who saw significant action last season that he believes will “anchor” the defense this fall.
First among those is Mason Newton, who makes the switch from the offensive line over to defense at the middle linebacker position. Then on the defensive front, Spencer pointed to Tomasi Giles, Siale Mausia and Deion Saumalu, who at a recent practice disrupted the workout to the point an assistant coach started keeping track of how many times the offensive line got beat.
“He’s a two-year starter at defensive line, and he’s going to be kind of moving around all over the place,” Spencer said of Saumalu. “He’ll be a defensive lineman primarily, but will also play middle ‘backer and safety. That’s how crazy that kid is. He’s an unbelievable athlete. He can play anywhere on the field — maybe not corner — but anywhere else.”
In the notoriously run-dominated Region 6 — especially considering the addition of another power rushing attack with Kearns — Woods Cross is toying around with an up-tempo offense. At the same practice the Wildcats were rotating two sets of offenses to increase reps and eliminate unnecessary downtime. In the format they were averaging 15 to 22 seconds between snaps.
“That’s something we’re experimenting with. Right now I wouldn’t call us an up-tempo team. I’m not 100 percent sold,” Spencer said. “It’s kind of a situational up-tempo — if we need it, we have it. If we need to grind it out and finish jobs then we’ll do it. We’re training them to play fast. We want to play fast, but we also want to run the football.”
Woods Cross Wildcats at a glance
Coach: Justin Spencer enters his second season at Woods Cross after a 9-3 campaign. After four years of coaching he’s tallied an overall record of 27-18, and is a graduate of West High and the University of Utah.
(5 returning starters; Spread offense)
Getting Xequille Harry the rock. Currently that’s the main conundrum on offense.
“He’s our best player,” Spencer said of Harry, who steps into a more prominent role on offense after securing four interceptions on defense last season. “He’s the best player on the team. Our thing is (getting) him the football. What do we have to do to get him the football? He’s going to be a two-way starter. He’s going to play corner and lock down one side of the field, and as a receiver he’s our go-to guy. He’s a college football player in the making.”
Exactly who will serve as the quarterback for Harry and Co. has yet to be determined. Luke Jowers, who Spencer tabbed as “the No. 1 based on last year,” and Clay Kidman, who has “put himself in really good position to battle,” are both receiving first-team reps.
“It’s likely we could play two early and let them continue to battle. Luke is a great athlete, great leadership — everything you want out of your quarterback spot,” Spencer said. “Clay has worked so hard and done everything we’ve asked him to do and beyond. I feel if I were to just say, ‘Luke, (the) job is yours,’ that sends the message to everybody else that is watching Clay work that that doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that Luke hasn’t worked, but I feel like it’s important to give those boys every opportunity they can.”
(5 returning starters)
In addition to the players Spencer highlighted, he raved about sophomore Braxton Gunther, who started last season. He compared Gunther to former Woods Cross star and Stanford signee Sean Barton in terms of potential.
Speed is the emphasis to compensate for youth. The defense features five track stars from last year’s state championship track team.
Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 6 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: It’s evident that Woods Cross has undeniable speed throughout the depth chart, and using that in an up-tempo scheme will benefit the Wildcats in region. That said, considering last year’s team was supposed to be the best in school history, this squad is facing much different odds. Right now, East, Highland and Bountiful are clearly the upper echelon of the region, and Woods Cross plays all three on the road. Then, with Kearns fielding one of the more talented teams it’s had in recent years, the Wildcats need to pull off an upset or two or potentially risk missing the playoffs.
Woods Cross coaching history
2012 — Justin Spencer (9-3)
2011 — Nick Longshore (4-6)
2007-2010 — Fred Fernandes (18-20)
2005-2006 — Russ Jones (5-14)
2000-2004 — Alema Te'o (7-42)
1986-1999 — John Hanning (61-81)
1981-1985 — Larry Eldracher (18-29)
1977-1980 — Joseph Hawkins (13-22)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Felipo Mokofisi, DL
2012 — Sean Barton, DB
2011 — Sean Barton, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.