We’re going to be young, and maybe that’s a good thing starting fresh and young. We definitely feel like we’re in a rebuilding phase. If we can find a few linemen we feel like we’re going to be good again. —Chris Horner, Hurricane football head coach
HURRICANE — Sometimes, football is a matter of inches.
For Hurricane those inches were the difference between losing a triple-overtime game to Desert Hills last year instead of winning it. The trickle-down effect from that region loss was very significant.
Instead of heading into the playoffs with a perfect record and a clear path to Rice-Eccles Stadium, Hurricane went in as a No. 2 seed from Region 9 and was forced to travel in the quarterfinals. That ended very badly as nemesis Juan Diego destroyed the Tigers 38-0.
Coach Chris Homer thought his team was fine heading into the Juan Diego game after a great week of practice, but that obviously wasn’t the case.
“Juan Diego has our number,” said Homer.
It was a devastating loss for a team with state championship aspirations, but now it’s time for some fresh blood to take over the program.
“We’re going to be young, and maybe that’s a good thing starting fresh and young. We definitely feel like we’re in a rebuilding phase. If we can find a few linemen we feel like we’re going to be good again,” said Homer.
Like any team in 3A, Hurricane’s gotta stay healthy.
Ironically enough, a late-season injury to starting quarterback Zach Prince — his leadership was sorely missed in the Tigers' playoff ouster — will benefit Hurricane a year later.
Adlai Elison was thrust into the starting quarterback position the last three games in 2012, and the big-game experience he gained in a pair of playoff games gives him plenty of confidence heading into his senior season.
He’s not a big quarterback by any means, but his athleticism is very good.
“I think he’s a scary quarterback. He throws well. He does a lot of really good things that we’re really excited about,” said Homer.
Another player Hurricane is very excited about is junior fullback Jeremiah Ieremia.
Jared Edwards was a great fullback for the Tigers last year, but by the end of the season the shifty fullback was down from 180 pounds to 165 and was beat up after the Region 9 grind. At 6 foot 2, 220 pounds, Ieremia is more in the mold of a Brian Scott-type bruiser, and Hurricane is at its best with a dominant fullback.
“This Ieremia kid is big legs and someone who can run people over,” said Homer.
That could be important down the road somewhere in a big game if Hurricane is faced with fourth-and-inches. During the program’s four-year run of 3A championship game appearances, a subtle stat Homer said was a reflection of the program’s dominance was a 90-percent conversion rate on fourth-and-1.
Last year that percent dipped to around 50 percent, and Homer said that proved costly — in particular in the Desert Hills triple-overtime loss. Leading 28-7 in the third quarter and out of field-goal range, Hurricane went for it on fourth-and-1 but was stuffed. Desert Hills quickly marched down and scored to make a game of it.
If Hurricane converted that play, Desert Hills might’ve never seized momentum.
“Those are things we like the big backs for,” said Homer.
Over the past five years, Hurricane has a combined 57-10 record, and from year to year there have been carryover star players that kept the tradition alive. Guys like Ryan Butler, Ian Gates, Taylor Parker, Daniel Nielson, Brian Scott and Adam Thompson were great players their junior years who provided excellent leadership the following years.
This year, however, there’s not a holdover all-stater on offense or defense for Hurricane, which is an awkward reality after some dominant years.
“Am I fearful of going 2-8? Yeah, 'cause it could happen with a young team and we got out of the blocks really slow and we had a key injury here or there,” said Homer.
Or, some quality linemen could emerge and a talented junior class of skill position players could have the Tigers right in the hunt for the Region 9 title again.
One area that isn’t a concern is the kicking game with returning all-stater Ethan Stratton. He puts 90 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone and consistently makes his field goals.
“Every coach would love to have a great kicker, and we are lucky enough to have one again,” said Homer.
Hurricane Tigers at a glance
Coach: Chris Homer is entering his 12th season as Hurricane's head coach. The Bear Lake (Idaho) High graduate has amassed an 85-44 record during that span.
(3 returning starters; Wing-T offense)
With just one returning starter on the offensive line, Jordan Ence, and a tough preseason schedule with three straight road games, Hurricane’s offense definitely has a bit of a learning curve. Ence is a great returning starter on the O-line though, a basketball-type kid with good hands and good feet, who can get out and block. Despite the lack of experience on the line, the good news for the Tigers is they have plenty of skill position players. A lot of them are juniors, but coach Homer believes the next Adam Thompson and Weston Yardley are in that group. The only player with much offensive experience is Adlai Elison, who started the last three games in 2012 at QB. Big things are expected of Jeremiah Ieremia as well at fullback.
(3 returning starters)
Like the offensive, the defense is very much a work in progress with only a handful of returning starters. Just like on the offensive line, the defensive line needs great leadership from Ence as the younger guys adjust to the varsity level. Ieremia is a junior with “next-level” talent at linebacker, according to Homer. Elison played some safety last year for the Tigers, but may play sparingly this season as to avoid an injury and cripple the offense.
Coaches preseason 3AA South straw poll: Third
Deseret News 3AA South prediction: Fourth
Bottom line: This is a big year for the Tigers. They’ve been the second-best program in 3A over the past five years and have 57 wins to prove it. This year, however, there are several question marks with very little returning varsity experience and the sting of last year’s blowout loss to Juan Diego in the playoffs still present. Great programs reload; they don’t rebuild. This is a season that may ultimately define Hurricane as a great program if it rises above the uncertainty and competes for another region title. That certainly won’t be easy in the very difficult Region 9.
Hurricane coaching history
2001-current — Chris Homer (89-49)
1989-2000 — Wes Christiansen (54-57)
1983-1988 — Wayne Edwards (20-37)
1972-1982 — Wes Christiansen (57-58)
1957-1971 — Unknown (41-75-9)
1954-1956 — Jim Richardson (11-11)
1950-1953 — Unknown (16-10-3)
1949 — Edgar Lempold (4-2)
Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years
2011 — Brian Scott, RB
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Jared Edwards, RB
2012 — Sean Hafen, DL
2012 — Ethan Stratton, K
2011 — Alex Sefita, OL
2011 — Kevin Mortensen, DL
2011 — Taylor Parker, DB
2011 — Weston Yardley, SP
2010 — Daniel Nielson, OL
2010 — Jarom Healey, RB
2010 — Taylor Parker, DB
2010 — Eric Canfield, DL
2010 — Corey Edwards, K
2009 — Ian Gates, LB/OL
2009 — Kylynn Iverson, OL
2009 — Jeff Staples, DL
2009 — Corey Edwards, K
2008 — Gordie Dotson, RB
2008 — Ryan Butler, OL
2008 — Riley Pentico, LB
2008 — Gary Bracken, DB
2007 — Ryan Butler, OL
2005 — Kenny Scott, RB
2005 — Tyler Bishop, OL
2005 — Callin Nay, LB
2005 — Cody Olsen, DB
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