NOTE: Bonneville finished with a 4-7 overall record in 2014 and tied for fourth in Region 5 with a 2-4 record. It did not qualify for the playoffs.
WASHINGTON TERRACE — Bonneville High School's football players definitely deserve to be rewarded for all the dedication, sacrifice and hard work they've shown over the past couple of years.
Whether or not that will happen this season, well, we'll find out soon enough.
Regardless of whether his team receives its just reward on the field, the Lakers' third-year head coach, Jantz Afuvai, has great respect and admiration for the effort his young men have been willing to put forth — not just pertaining to football, but to their school work and how they conduct themselves away from the game as well.
"I want to thank the kids for buying into the program and to me and my staff," he said. "They've done everything we've asked them to do. These kids will do anything you ask them to do and they're willing to work. Some kids this age are not willing to put the time in and they don't have a physical work ethic. It takes a lot of guts to keep coming in and working out every day.
"These guys came in when I started, so they've been under one system. Watching them grow up has been really fun for me to experience that with them, and I've really pushed 'em hard in the weight room in the offseason. I have a football class, and our summer conditioning is pretty intense. Now they have a full understanding of what's expected of them, and they have a lot better grasp of what the tradition is here as far as football and how many people have gone through and played here and what it means to them.
"So that's where I'm hoping that these guys can really turn the corner for our program and really put us back on the map,"Afuvai said, "because they've done everything I've asked them to do as far as making this a priority in their lives. It's reflected in their grades, their attendance, their weight room numbers — in everything they do."
This proud program, which won or shared 18 region championships and captured a state title in a glory-filled 33-year span from 1970-2002, has fallen on tough times over the past decade. The Lakers haven't been to the state playoffs since 2009, which was also their last winning season.
Last year, though, they barely missed out on reaching postseason play, losing out in a three-way playoff for the final playoff spot from Region 5.
Getting there might be even tougher this year, however. The newly aligned Region 5 lineup includes a juggernaut of strong programs — Woods Cross, Bountiful, East, Highland and Box Elder — all of whom reached the state playoffs in 2014, and all of which have developed a perennial playoff pedigree.
That's something Bonneville enjoyed for more than four decades, and Afuvai is determined to help push the proud program, where he played in the late 1980s, back to that level of prominence.
"If I'm gonna make a difference here, I have to change the mentality of this place," he said. "And now, after seeing them compete against other people, they're taking ownership of all the work that they've done, and that means something.
"So when they look at themselves in the mirror, they can say 'I'm physically stronger, I've put in the time, I want that and you're not going to stop me from getting it.'
"I'm really excited to see what this looks like for real on the field, and I am really excited about this group of kids," Afuvai said.
Leading the way for the Lakers' offense this year will be three returning starters — senior center Noah Atagi, and senior guards Cory Hauenstein and Christian Stofferahn — who will serve as a strong suit for the O-line.
"I really believe our strength is in our offensive line," Afuvai said. "Noah, Cory and Christian are a huge part of that and having three returning starters on the O-line is huge.
"Noah really anchors our whole team. He's probably got the most varsity game experience of anybody on our team. The kid is just fantastic and everything you could hope for. He's a 4.0 student, he represents himself and his family well, and he's the prototype of what you want in a player and in a young man.
"He's 6-5 and 240 pounds, and he's so versatile, smart and understands our system so well that he's really fun to watch," the Lakers' coach continued. "He understands what we're trying to do, and he uses not only his size but his brains to put us in positions where we can be successful. It all starts and ends on the offensive and defensive line — I truly believe that."
Another force on the O-line is senior Alex Martinez, who Afuvai calls "a big bruiser-type of lineman that really solidified our offensive line."
A couple of juniors are fighting for the last starting spot on the O-line, and Afuvai points out that "those seniors really work well together and back each other up, and they communicate very effectively."
The guy lining up to call the offensive signals behind that big O-line is senior quarterback Braxton Wright, whom Afuvai has plenty of faith and trust in.
"Braxton didn't play a lot at the varsity level last year, but he excelled at the junior varsity level," the Lakers' head coach said of Wright, who suffered a serious injury to his foot as a sophomore. "Mobility-wise, he wasn't ready for varsity last year, but the kid's got a cannon for an arm, and he could throw it 80 yards on a dime if I needed him to.
"He's a lefty, too, so that opens up a whole 'nother level of options for us because most people are used to a right-handed quarterback and will have to game-plan for that. To his credit, he's really put in the time in the weight room to get himself where he needs to be, and he's probably one of the strongest kids on the team.
"And when he runs, he's a load to take down," Afuvai said. "He recognizes how big he is and how strong he is. He's always had a really strong arm, and now his whole body is physically strong. So I'm excited to turn him loose and watch him play."
"Drew is a power running back," Afuvai said. "He hits the hole hard and is a grinder.
"Kobe is quick and shifty, and he brings a whole new level of shiftiness for us. He has great speed and makes it hard for guys to get a bead on him and try to hit him.
"Between those two, it's going to be fun to watch the dynamic of the running game because they're so different, and they accommodate each other in our offense," he said.
At wide receiver, senior Tyrus Peck displays plenty of promise.
"That kid is fun to watch," Afuvai said. "He catches everything you throw to him, and he's shifty enough that he'll leave guys standing there looking silly, or he'll run 'em over. He's deceivingly strong, and we'll look to him to be really successful to help us sustain drives."
Other top receivers for the Lakers are seniors Jaysten Flowers and J.T. Wood, whose size makes him not only "a phenomenal receiver" and a great target, but who also gives Bonneville a solid scoring threat in the kicking game.
"He's probably the most underrated kicker in the state," Afuvai said. "He can boot 'em from 45 yards out pretty consistently and, as far as kickers go, I'd put him up there among probably the top three in the state. I'd put him in that category."
"Athletically, we've got a lot of guys that can play some football," Afuvai said.
Defensively, Atagi and Bell again anchor the Lakers' line at the tackle and end positions, respectively.
"We hand pick our defensive ends," Afuvai said. "We take pride in that position in the sense that if we don't get that right, we're not going to be very successful."
Michael Milliner, a smallish but powerful senior, gives Bonneville another returning starter at D-tackle, and Afuvai said admiringly "that kid is fun to watch."
Three more seniors — David Duran, Hauenstein and Stofferahn -- will also see plenty of playing time along the defensive line, and juniors Josh Spivey, Hendrick Buckway, Carson Conolly and Carson Rowser provide valuable depth.
DeHart is a returning starter at middle linebacker, where he piled up 89 tackles and a sack last season.
"He's an old-school guy with a real good nose for the ball," Afuvai said. "A lot of college scouts are looking at him, and they like his size and ability."
Ford is another returning starter at linebacker who had 50 tackles with four sacks last season, while seniors Jaden Sears, Casey Connors and Sesili Taukiuvea will also be vying for time at the other linebackere spot.
Beatty is a returning starter at cornerback, where the quick senior had 48 tackles, a sack and a pair of interceptions last season as a junior.
Joining him in the defensive backfield will be junior cornerback Tate MacFarlane, who has looked strong and is "a lock-down corner who's really stepped it up," his coach says, and Peck, who had 47 tackles with a sack and an interception last year.
The Lakers' schedule doesn't do them any favors, with defending Region 1 champion Fremont, 5A playoff qualifier and Northridge on the preseason slate. And, for the first time since traditional neighboring rival Roy High opened in the mid-1960s, the Royals and Lakers will not meet on the football field this year, a casualty of realignment.
"I'm sad about that," Afuvai said, "because that's always been a great game for both communities."
Realignment will also force the Lakers to alter their defensive scheme somewhat, as they've left their former pass-happy region for one in which teams really like to grind it out on the ground.
"In the region we're in now, they really like to run the ball, so that's going to be a change for us because we're going to have to shift gears and game plan to accommodate more of a running style of play," Afuvai said. "I really think we have one of the hardest schedules, week in and week out, as anybody in the state, so I'm really excited for that challenge.
"Bountiful is always tough, East and Box Elder are always in the mix, the Woods Cross program has really taken off, and Highland had a really good playoff rivalry with Bonneville back in the day. So we've really got our work cut out for us.
"I can't ask for anything more than these kids are giving me right now," he said. "I believe in what we're doing, and I believe in our guys. And at the end of the day, I want 'em to look back at this and say, 'I've learned something and I'm a better person because of it.' And then I'll feel like I've done my job and I can feel pretty good about that."
Bonneville Lakers at a glance
Head coach: Jantz Afuvai is entering his third season as Bonneville's head coach. He has compiled a 5-16 record over his first two seasons at the school. He's a graduate of Bonneville High and Weber State University.
Offense (4 returning starters; Spread formation)
Offensive coordinator: Jantz Afuvai (total of 9 years coaching at the school)
Returning offensive starters
Noah Atagi (OL)
Cory Hauenstein (OL)
Christian Stofferahn (OL)
J.T. Wood (WR)
Offensive newcomers to watch
Braxton Wright (QB)
Tyrus Peck (WR)
Drew Thorngren (RB)
Kobe Beatty (RB)
Defense (6 returning starters; 4-3 formation)
Defensive coordinator: Darce Afuvai (9 years as assistant at the school)
Defensive returning starters
Noah Atagi (DT)
Michael Milliner (DT)
Candon Bell (DE)
Andrew DeHart (LB)
Nathan Ford (LB)
Kobe Beatty (CB)
Defensive newcomers to watch
Josh Spivey (DT)
David Duran (DL)
Jaden Sears (LB)
Casey Connors (LB)
Tate MacFarlane (CB)
Sage Thornock (S)
Coaches preseason Region 5 straw poll: Sixth
Deseret News Region 5 prediction: Sixth
Bottom line: Having a trio of returning starters along the offensive line in Atagi, Hauenstein and Stofferahn should pay dividends for the offense, and Wright, Thorngren, Beatty, Peck, Wood, Ford and Bell give the Lakers plenty of potential playmakers. With Atagi, Bell and Millinerl up front, DeHart and Ford at linebacker, and Beatty, Peck and MacFarlane in the secondary, the defense should be improved from a year ago, when they allowed more than 26 points per game. But a brutal schedule filled with seven teams that qualified for last year's state playoffs will be a tall task to tackle for a program that's trying to regain its winning ways.
2014 — 4-7 (2-4 in Region 5 -- Missed playoffs)
2013 — 1-8 (1-5 in Region 5 -- Missed playoffs)
2012 — 3-7 (0-5 in Region 5 -- Missed playoffs)
2011 — 5-5 (1-4 in Region 5 -- Missed playoffs)
2010 — 2-7 (1-4 in Region 5 -- Missed playoffs)
Bonneville coaching history
2013-current — Jantz Afuvai (5-16)
2012 — Tyler Gladwell (3-7)
2011 — Randy Johnson (5-5)
2006-2010 — Matt Williams (21-31)
1975-2005 — Thom Budge (237-104)
1972-1974 — Brent Hancock (14-12)
1968-1971 — Larry Neves (25-11)
1960-1967 — Harry Burchell (31-40)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2009 — Connor Stephens, DL
2007 — Jim Eskelsen, OL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.