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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Lone Peak's Quarterback #15 Baron Gajkowski loads up a pass as Mountain Crest and Lone Peak play Friday, Aug. 24, 2012 at Mountain Crest.
They're the team to beat, no question. I think it's pretty much Lone Peak and then everyone else this year, but wow, you have a lot of tough teams in this region — no question. —Westlake coach Steve Clements

Region 4, like other regions, underwent some slight changes after offseason realignment but appears to be as tough as ever for 2013. Coaches have dubbed the region as the “SEC” of Utah prep regions, and the moniker should hold despite the loss of the region’s biggest bully, Bingham.

Lone Peak takes Bingham’s traditional spot, in region, as the team everyone pegged as the favorite despite big changes within the program.

Mike Mower replaces Tony McGeary, who resigned as head coach amidst allegations of rule violations, as Lone Peak's head coach.

“It’s not an easy thing to take over for a great coach like Tony McGeary and try and maintain what he built and maybe even improve on it a bit,” Mower said. “Coach McGeary did so much for this program, and it’s a tough responsibility to follow him up — that’s for sure. But I love the challenge and I love the opportunity.”

Lone Peak will be led by quarterback Baron Gajkowski, who proved to be one of the top playmakers in the entire state last season.

"They're the team to beat, no question," said new Westlake coach Steve Clements about Lone Peak. "I think it's pretty much Lone Peak and then everyone else this year, but wow, you have a lot of tough teams in this region — no question."

Most peg Pleasant Grove the team to most likely take Lone Peak's top designation away by season's end. The Vikings return an impressive roster of playmakers and linemen ready to compete for the region crown.

"We're feeling real good about our chances," said Pleasant Grove coach Les Hamilton. "I think we should be strong at most key positions, and I think this is a team that has a good attitude and work ethic."

New to the region are Westlake and Herriman, both of whom made the leap from 4A to 5A in the offseason.

"I know that Herriman is a rising program, and even though they had some big coaching changes, we think they'll be as tough as anyone," Hamilton said. "I don't know Westlake as well, but I definitely know coach Clements. He's a great coach and he'll have that program going — if not this year, then very soon. Both teams are tough, and we look forward to competing with them."

Region stalwarts American Fork and Riverton are stocked with returning talent and promising playmakers.

"I definitely see American Fork being improved and Riverton — that team is always tough, no matter what," Mower said. "Coach (Mike) Miller does a great job there and coach (Aaron) Behm, he'll have American Fork going. Both will be extremely tough, and I think Lehi is going to be improved."

The Pioneers have struggled in recent years but hope to finally make some noise.

“The region we play in is brutal, but that’s where we’re at and we like it here. We like proving ourselves against the best,” said Lehi coach David Hastings. “I believe we’re improving, and I believe we’re making the necessary strides here to compete in region — and it starts this season.”

Deseret News projections for Region 4 football teams in 2013

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Lone Peak: The Knights are led by quarterback Baron Gajkowski, who accumulated 3,359 yards of total offense and 32 touchdowns last season. He'll be joined by an impressive group of receivers and some good talent at running back. Defensively, the Knights will be led by lineman Austin Kruger and Daniel Auelua along with defensive back Matt Criddle. 2012 RECORD: 10-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost 35-14 to Jordan in the semifinals.

2. Pleasant Grove: The Vikings will feature receiver Spencer Romney at receiver and TJ Wind at running back, but their real strength is along the offensive and defensive lines. Both lines are stocked with returning talent, led by state-champion wrestler, and BYU commit, Zac Dawe. 2012 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost 56-7 to Jordan in the first round.

3. Riverton: The Silverwolves will feature quarterback Connor Henderson, who will also play defensive back. They'll again go high-tempo on offense with a Wing-T system that has given opponents fits through the years. The Silverwolves are also anticipating big things from seniors LeGrand Toiaivao and Dallin Munger and juniors Cam Christiansen and junior Keaton Kimball — all four strong, athletic running backs. 2012 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost 27-14 to Alta in the first round.

4. American Fork: The Cavemen return two of the best playmakers in the state in receivers Jonah Trinnaman and Jade Luker. Jacen Condie will lead the offense while big things are expected from tight end Nate Heaps. Linebacker Riley Smith leads the defense along with defensive tackle Mason Price. 2012 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

5. Herriman: Brandon Farmer will lead the team at running back with Conner Johnson looking poised to lead the team at receiver. Linebacker Ben Richard leads the defense and will be aided by defensive back Kody Jarvis and defensive lineman Kalisi Moli. 2012 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost 27-16 to East in the first round of the 4A playoffs.

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6. Lehi: The Pioneers will be led by Ryan Absher and Derek Hastings at running back and Derik Beeston at quarterback. Absher and Hastings also look to play big roles on defense. 2012 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

7. Westlake: The Thunder feature Gavin Williams at quarterback and speedster Robert Santiago at receiver. Starting linebackers Colton Fairbourn, Jack Harrell and Shea Hildebrandt are expected to be the leaders on defense. 2012 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost 35-0 to Woods Cross in the first round of the 4A playoffs.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney