Note: Manti finished with an 11-1 overall record in 2012 and was first in the 2A North region with a 7-0 record. It beat Manti 16-13 in the 2A championship game.
MANTI — It’s an odd year on the calendar, and for Manti football that means one thing — time for a new classification.
For the third time in the past five years, Manti is changing classifications because of another round of football realignment by the UHSAA. Unlike previous changes, the latest realignment seems to be one everyone is pleased with.
After winning two straight 2A state championships, Manti's football team is being bumped up to the smaller 3A and will compete week in and week out with schools with similar enrollment.
“From the smallest to the biggest in the whole 3A, I doubt there’s a 200-kid difference. It’s teams we ought to be able to compete with, but it’s going to be a tough, competitive game every week,” said Manti coach Cole Meacham.
Instead of facing region foes like ALA, Gunnison, North Sevier and North Summit — teams the Templars soundly beat the past two years — Manti’s region slate now includes teams like Delta, Juab and Canyon View.
Despite the jump, Meacham said the program is used to success and he doesn’t expect that to change one bit.
“They’re used to wining; they expect to win; and we try and push it that we’re not going to lose. There’s times it’s going to happen, but we’re not going to live with it,” said Meacham.
In an effort to prepare his team for the increased challenges — both physically and mentally — Meacham went out and scheduled a pair of 4A teams — Mountain View and Provo — the first two weeks of the 2013 season.
The message to his team about the schedule is a simple one: “Get used to it.”
Fortunately for the Templars, they return roughly half the starters from last year’s championship team, which could help for a smooth transition to 3A. The biggest strength will be in the trenches.
Manti returns three of five starters on the offensive line and two of three starters on the defensive line.
“Our strength will be upfront. I think we can be pretty solid upfront,” said Meacham.
Offensively, Keltn Pritchard and Dane Howe are both returning starters at tackle, while Dylan Brown returns at center. Blocking tight end Jared Schiess is also back, which leaves a pair of guard positions to fill.
Those positions may end up being filled by Penisamani Taufa and Tristan Olsen, part-time defensive starters a year ago.
Manti has numerous holes to fill at running back and speed back in its fly offense, but returning starting quarterback Connor Aste will no doubt help with the transition.
“Connor throws the ball really well, so I think that can take some of the pressure off our running game. We still want to be a run-first team, but we don’t have to be a run-only team,” said Meacham.
Aste had a very strong junior season last year completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,529 yards and 15 TDs. His top target, TJ Pogroszewski, is back this year, but the senior will be moving from tight end to running back.
The biggest question mark for Manti lies on the defensive side of the ball. Even though Pogroszewski is a returning starter at middle linebacker, three-year outside starting linebackers Austin Jackson and Zane Stevens both graduated.
“What those outsides can do dictates what the rest of the defense has to do,” said Meacham.
Jackson and Stevens were so dominant at OLB, they were a big reason Manti’s defense only allowed 10.5 ppg.
Finding adequate replacements from a group on unproven linebackers could ultimately determine whether Manti’s jump to 3A is a successful one in 2013.
A year after all-state kicker Carlo Garcia booted a 54-yard game-winning field goal in overtime of the 2A state championship, Meacham said the kicking game will be a strength again this year. Lalo Munoz may actually be a more consistent kicker inside 30 yards and on PATs.
Manti Templars at a glance
Coach: Cole Meacham is entering his 13th season as Manti’s head coach. He’s amassed a 99-43 record and led Manti to 2A state titles in 2003, 2011 and 2012. He’s a graduate of Richfield High School.
(7 returning starters; Fly offense)
Quarterback Connor Aste is back after anchoring a very strong offense a year ago. The skill positions are the big question marks. Both running backs graduated from last year, and Meacham is counting on Kamren Fowles, TJ Pogroszewski, Lalo Munoz and Seth Jenkins to fill those roles collectively. Fowles was part of a three-man rotation at speed back last year and rushed for 126 yards on 34 carries. Pogroszewski was a starter at tight end last year. All three Manti speed backs will be new as well, but the coaching staff believes Bradly Sego, Tyler Albee and Eric Lee can fill those roles.
(5 returning starters)
The strength up this team is upfront as Penisamani Tafua, Tristan Olsen and Jared Schiess are all returning starters in the trenches. Pogroszewski is back after racking up 32 tackles at middle linebacker last season, but the outside linebackers are all unproven. The coaching staff has spent the summer trying to find replacements, which has involved moving secondary starters to linebacker.
Coaches preseason 3A South straw poll: First
Deseret News 3A South prediction: First
Bottom line: Manti went 11-1 each of the past two seasons, and never lost to a 2A team. Realistically, it was too good for 2A. Now, the Templars are paired with schools of similar enrollment, and battling programs like Juab, Delta and North Sanpete will be much more difficult. Realistically, there’s too much tradition at Manti to expect a significant drop off. However, winning a third-straight state championship seems highly unlikely considering the increased competition.
Manti coaching history
2000-current — Cole Meacham (100-42)
1992-1999 — Brennan Jackson (50-33)
1988-1991 — Bill Sullivan (13-24)
1985-1987 — Robert Gent (16-13)
1982-1984 — Cliff Hughes (1-24)
1980-1981 — Dewey Brundage (3-15)
1977-1979 — Ken Van Tasell (5-23)
1976 — Phil Hall (2-8)
1972-1975 — Russ Felt (17-18)
1971 — David Jensen (3-7)
1969-1970 — Bill Brown (7-11)
Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years
2012 — Austin Jackson, RB/LB
2011 — Aaron Austad, DL
2003 — Jason Thomson, OL
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Zane Stevens, RB/LB
2012 — Jamen Miller, RB/DB
2012 — Koleton Moon, OL/DL
2012 — Carlo Garcia, K
2011 — Brady Aste, QB/DB
2011 — Austin Jackson, RB/LB
2011 — Landon Carter, OL/DL
2011 — Chris Lauti, OL/DL
2008 — Griffin Aste, QB/DL
2008 — Nick Brown, WR/DB
2008 — Seth Gergetz, OL/DL
2008 — Mathew Olson, RB/LB
2008 — Chase Stevens, RB/LB
2007 — Saula Taufa, OL/DL
2005 — Brandon Puett, TE/LB
2005 — Tim Dalene, TE/DE
2005 — Russell Petersen, OL/DL
2005 — Jace Moore, RB/LB
2004 — Taylor Salanoa, QB
2004 — Devin Frischknecht, WR
2003 — Spencer Harman, RB
2003 — Beau Braithwaite, OL
2003 — Kurt Richards, DL
2003 — Austin Soper, LB
2003 — Nolan Taylor, LB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.