We don’t have a lot coming back, so we’re really in a rebuilding mode. We’re going to be really young. We’re probably going to have some sophomores seeing some significant playing time. —Morgan coach Kovi Christiansen
Every team in the revamped 3A North region has something to prove, and there’s no way of knowing how everything will shake out.
Morgan is the defending region champ but graduated almost everyone of note from last year, and could start as many as six to seven sophomores this season. Judge is coming off an 0-10 season in 3AA, but three years ago when it competed in 3A it won back-to-back state titles.
Grantsville has a new coach and a new offense. Union missed the playoffs a year ago, but returns the majority of its starters and is poised for a potentially big season.
Emery is switching offenses but returns virtually no varsity experience, while Carbon is always facing an uphill battle with a 5-45 the past five years.
With uncertainty seemingly across the board in 3A North, Morgan seems like the safest pick to repeat as region champs.
“We don’t have a lot coming back, so we’re really in a rebuilding mode. We’re going to be really young. We’re probably going to have some sophomores seeing some significant playing time,” said Morgan coach Kovi Christiansen.
That sophomore class is really good though, going undefeated as freshmen and winning all of their games by at least 18 points.
Counting on too many sophomores at the varsity level isn’t ideal, especially when they’re usually undersized and not used to the speed of play. If those Morgan sophomores pick things up quickly enough in the first four weeks of the preseason, the Trojans will be tough to beat.
Judge is the biggest mystery. It dominated 3A in the last go around in 2013 and 2014, posting a combined 23-3 record and winning both titles in dominant fashion. Competing in the larger 3AA classification the past two years though Judge went 3-19, and the swagger from just a few years ago is long gone.
“We have very limited numbers, guessing around 35 to 40 kids, so that is a challenge,” said Judge coach James Cordova.
The drop in classification brings a new-found energy though for a program that’s surprisingly small in numbers.
Grantsville and Emery both have question marks of their own as they shift from Pistol/Wing-T offenses to spread offenses. The emphasis for both will still be on the running game, but Grantsville seems better equipped for the quicker adjustment with Coy Johnson returning at quarterback.
“He’s worked hard, done a lot of work in the offseason, going to different camps and clinics. I’ve been very impressed with him. Hopefully we can keep him healthy. He’s definitely a competitor,” said first-year Grantsville coach Kody Byrd.
Emery’s success hinges much more on the defensive side of the field, as it ranked third in 3A scoring defense a year ago at 20.5 ppg. The offense averaged only 16.2 ppg and as a result Emery won just four games.
While every other 3A North team breaks in new offensive personnel this fall, Union returns nine starters and hopes to hit the ground running in Week 1.
“The summer lifting and conditioning program is key to our success. We must be tougher and faster than we were last year,” said Union coach Matt Labrum. “The 3A classification is tough, it will be a fight throughout the entire year.”
Carbon finished last season 0-10, and with only five seniors again this year finding that breakthrough victory will again be difficult.
Deseret News projections for 3A North football teams in 2017
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. MORGAN: After reaching the semifinals last year, Morgan will be in a bit of a rebuilding mode this year with just two offensive and defensive starters returning. Chase Trussell accounts for two of those spots. He started at linebacker and on the offensive line last year, but this year he’s moving to running back. Defensively he was third on the team with 49 tackles. Bronson Neuenschwander is a returning starter at safety. Senior Jake Stephens takes over at QB after getting playing time in the quarterfinals because of an injury. 2016 RECORD: 8-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost Delta 21-14 in 3A semifinals.
2. JUDGE MEMORIAL: Parker Edgington started the last three games of the season as QB last year, and Judge hopes that experience translates to early success this season. Tanner Jones and Casey Randazzo are returning starters on the offensive line who look to protect Edgington. Kayden Milburn (S) is the top returning defensive player as he recorded 31 tackles a year ago. Casey Bouillon (S), Andrew Cotter (DE) and Johan Hester (DE) are also returning defensive contributors. 2016 RECORD: 0-10. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify in 4A.
3. GRANTSVILLE: Kody Byrd takes over as head coach at Grantsville and will be changing the offense to a spread offense. Coy Johnson returns at QB and could have a big season after passing for 912 yards in the running offense last season. AJ Rainer and Brady Arbon are his two biggest offensive weapons, but all five offensive line starters will be new. The defense will be anchored by returning starting linebackers Conner Ware and Jake Paxton. 2016 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Delta 19-18 in 3A quarterfinals.
4. UNION: Chase Laing, Loni Lutui, Tevita Kaufusi and Brigg Edwards all gained valuable starting experience on the offensive line a year ago and will be key to Union’s success. Gage Roberts and Chase Birchell were among the team’s leading receivers last year, and they’re both back along with sophomore QB Lincoln Labrum who started the last two games. Union’s scoring defense gave up a dreadful 31.8 ppg last year, but it should be improved with eight returning starters, including Colby Hyder (LB), Roberts (DB) and Tevita Kaufusi (DL). 2016 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
5. EMERY: Emery started 18 seniors last year, but the downside of that senior dominance could be felt early this season. The team returns just two players with varsity experience. Easton Gordon was a two-way starter (RB/S) a year ago while Drake Hoffman started on the defensive line. Emery’s defensive line should be the strength with Landon Fairbanks, Aaron Reeve and Gustavo Garcia all contributing. Offensively Emery is switching to a spread offense, and junior Kyson Stilson takes over the reins at QB. 2016 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juab 35-14 in 3A quarterfinals.
6. CARBON: Nate Olson rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, and he’ll be the focal point of the offense as coach Josh Huntsman switches to an I-formation. Collin Lewis is a bruising fullback who should open up a lot of holes for Olsen downfield. Tight end Chance LeCheminant could be a weapon if junior QB Noah Jones gets protection up front from the young line. Defensively Carbon returns four starters and if the group can stay healthy should be decent this season. 2016 RECORD: 0-10. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.