Note: South Summit finished with an 8-3 overall record in 2012 and was second in 2A North with a 6-1 record. It lost to San Juan 15-9 in the 2A semifinals.
KAMAS — On a sunny July morning during a team workout, South Summit football coach Jerry Parker scanned the field when asked about his general thoughts on the upcoming season.
One question mark immediately popped into his head — leadership. He’s not worried about experience or size or speed, all of which should be strengths for the perennial 2A contenders. At the time, he wasn’t quite so confident about the leadership on the team.
“If we find some senior leadership, we’re going to be pretty good. That’s the only question mark we have,” said Parker. “If we get that senior leadership we’re as good as we’ve been.”
If that leadership comes around as he hopes, and the players start putting the team first, this could be the season the Wildcats finally get over the hump and win their first state title since 1988.
South Summit lost back-to-back 2A title games to San Juan in 2009 and 2010, and then lost to Manti and San Juan, respectively, in the semifinals in 2011 and 2012.
With Manti, Richfield and Emery no longer in the 2A equation, and No. 1 San Juan a bit vulnerable with only seven seniors, there are plenty of reasons to believe this could be a breakthrough season.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the excitement is the return of an experienced offensive line. Brad Richins, Breydon Crystal, Victory Thornton and Ty Clegg all return with experience, and they all have size. Richins is a returning Deseret News first-team all-stater.
“We have kids who can get after it. Technically, we could put anybody behind them the way they block,” said Parker.
Realistically though, South Summit has an arsenal of talented runners to put behind that line. Carson Freestone is a big, powerful back who rushed for 283 yards and five touchdowns last season, while players like senior Keyton Gines and sophomore Isaac Tillett are burners.
Gines was fourth in the 100 meters at last year’s state track meet, while Tillett was sixth in the 200 meters. Most of the kids who beat them graduated, making the duo two of the fastest kids in 2A.
Colby Averett could also be in line for a big season after carrying the ball sparingly in 2012 with 157 yards.
Quarterback Caden Christenson is South Summit’s top returning rusher with 557 yards, but he’ll be suspended the first two games. Ty Jones will start in his place against 3A teams Park City and Morgan, arguably the two toughest games on the schedule for the Wildcats. If the junior is successful, Parker could have a quarterback controversy on his hands.
Both Jones and Christenson are excellent runners, and whoever doesn’t play quarterback will certainly see plenty of action in the backfield.
Defensively, South Summit was one of the elite teams in 2A a year ago, and that will continue to be the case this season.
“I think defensively we’ll be better. We have a whole bunch of D-linemen and really good linebackers behind them,” said Parker. “I think our defense is going to be outstanding.”
South Summit’s size and strength on the defensive line could be the best in 2A. Crystal and Richins are studs on the defensive line, while Averett figures to be the anchor of a very strong linebacking corps.
Clegg said it’s important the team doesn’t just rely on its talent and become complacent.
“We’ve just got to keep pushing, keep pushing as hard as we can, working out,” said Clegg.
With Manti no longer in the 2A North region, the league title will likely be a two-team race between South Summit and Millard. The two square off in the regular-season finale at Millard on Oct. 18. Last season the Wildcats easily won 30-7.
South Summit Wildcats at a glance
Coach: Jerry Parker is entering his 12th overall season as head coach at South Summit, even though it’s been over two stints. A graduate of South Summit, Parker’s career coaching record is 71-48.
(3 returning starters; option offense)
The Wildcats led all of 2A last season averaging 37 ppg, and even though the majority of those skill-position players graduated, don’t expect much of a drop-off. Keyton Gines, Isaac Tillett, Colby Averett and Carson Freestone could all have great years running the ball, while Ty Jones has the potential to emerge as a great quarterback both running and throwing the ball. All of them will benefit from a talented offensive line headlined by Brad Richins, Breydon Crystal, Victory Thornton and Ty Clegg.
(4 returning starters)
South Summit has a run defense that should be able to hold most teams in check. The secondary is the biggest question mark, according to coach Parker, with questions at cornerback. Steven Flinders, however, has the potential to be an asset at free safety. Colby Averett will anchor the linebacking corps, while Crystal, Richins and Thornton will be just as dominant on the offensive line as they are on the defensive line. Caden Christenson will be another strong linebacker for the Wildcats after he serves a two-game suspension.
Coaches preseason 2A North straw poll: First
Deseret News 2A North prediction: First
Bottom line: Bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago, expectations are sky high for the Wildcats heading into the 2013 season. South Summit has been a contender the past four years, but it always ran into better teams like San Juan and Manti in the playoffs. This season, however, on paper it’s the most talented team in 2A. The only thing holding this team back is leadership, something coach Parker seemed pretty concerned about last month.
South Summit coaching history
2005-current —Jerry Parker (58-31)
1997-2005 — Garry Walker (52-55)
1995-1996 — Tom Crittenden (1-17)
1992-1994 — Jerry Parker (13-17)
1975-1991 — Tom Crittenden (113-62)
1972-1974 — Roy Ritchins (14-18)
1970-1971 — Unknown (10-8)
1969 — Doug Toole (4-4)
1967-1968 — Roy Ritchins (5-13)
1958-1966 — Unknown (25-35-1)
1952-1957 — Hue Jewkes (23-16-2)
1913-1951 — Unknown (13-58-2)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Hayden Packard, RB/DB
2012 — Jay Reidhead, RB/LB
2012 — Brad Richins, OL/DE
2011 — Bonner Mitchell, OL/DL
2011 — Lucas Rydalch, OL/DL
2010 — Parker Anderson, QB/DB
2010 — Cody Angell, OL/DL
2010 — Chance Field, OL/LB
2010 — Levi Thompson, RB/LB
2010 — Trevor Rydalch, Specialist
2009 — Judd Rydalch, TE/DE
2009 — Trevor Rydalch, Specialist
2009 — Trevor Lewis, QB
2009 — Levi Thompson, RB/LB
2007 — Harley Atkinson, RB/DL
2007 — Conor Peterson, QB/DB
2007 — Marc Yos, RB/LB
2006 — Brayden Stembridge, RB/LB
2005 — Clif Leavitt, RB/DB
2003 — Kolton Buckner, RB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Follow Deseret News prep editor James Edward on Twitter @DNewsPreps