Region 1 will always be a dogfight, every night, every week. There's no easy ones. —Fremont head coach Ross Arnold
Region realignment can often ruin long-standing, traditional high school rivalries and make for some pretty strange bedfellows at times.
But that certainly won't be the case this year in Region 1, where the five schools on the north end of Davis County — Clearfield, Northridge, Layton, Syracuse and Davis — will join the Weber County twosome of Fremont and Weber to form a strong new 6A league that's solid from top to bottom.
And there won't be any strangers in this new seven-team alignment. After all, all of these same schools were squaring off in Region 1 back from 2007-10 and, as recently as 2014, all of them except Clearfield were in the same region before realignment separated them in 2015-16.
Well, the ol' gang is back together again, and it should make for some tremendous matchups between teams that know each other very, very well.
"It's gonna be like we never left," said longtime Layton head coach Jim Batchelor who, entering his 13th year at the Lancers' helm, is the dean of Region 1 football coaches. "I've been playing against those guys for so long, you just kind of know what to expect from them. It's gonna be tough; it'll be a tough league."
One thing that might throw some new wrinkles into the mix is that four of Region 1's seven schools — Davis, Syracuse, Northridge and Fremont — have new head coaches running the show this year.
But three of them — the Titans' Mike Knight, the Knights' Braden Mitchell and the Silver Wolves' Ross Arnold — have been serving as assistant coaches on those staffs for several years. And the fourth one, the Darts' Mitch Arquette, spent time on the Davis staff, too, before coaching high school ball in Texas last year.
"That's crazy that there's four new coaches in the same region," said Knight, whose Syracuse squad has been installed as the preseason favorite to take this year's Region 1 title.
"I love our league, I love being back in this league. We've had some good games with Fremont over the years, and I really respect all the coaches in this league. I know what they put into it, and a lot of people at the southern schools just think we're a nice, cute football league that doesn't compete at the state level.
"But we have tough kids up in this area, and we have great coaching," said Knight, who spent the past nine years on the Syracuse staff. "I think these guys up here play with chips on their shoulders because it's Northern Utah, and they get tired of hearing about the teams from Salt Lake City and Utah County. I think everybody up here does a heck of a job preparing their kids week to week."
If Knight was going to pick a team to beat, he'd pick Weber High, which is coached by his good friend and former college teammate Matt Hammer.
"Weber's gonna have a special group," Knight said. "Not a lot of people are talking about them, but that's a team you've got to watch out for ... and, if I'm gonna pick a team, I probably would pick Weber. I know Matt so well and know what he can do as a coach."
Coach Hammer, in turn, said he thinks Syracuse should be the squad with the favorite's bulls-eye on its back.
"Syracuse is gonna be really good, I think," Hammer said. "I think Syracuse is the team to beat. ... I think Northridge will be solid; I think Clearfield will be solid, too.
"We just have a bunch of really good, solid teams up here that you have to play against each week. ... There's good teams in our region and good coaches in our region. Our region is very competitive. From one through seven, you've gotta show up and play every week."
Coach Arquette sized up the challenge that lies ahead for his team.
"Syracuse and Weber are the ones that we're chasing right now, and Fremont's always tough," Arquette said. "Northridge is always tough, too, and Layton and Clearfield are always gonna get up for Davis High.
"So we don't have an off week; everybody wants to beat Davis, whether it's because they want to beat us or they hate us, I can't say one way or another."
Coach Arnold, who spent the past 13 seasons as Fremont's defensive coordinator, sizes things up much the same way as Batchelor does — a difficult region lineup with no patsies along the way.
"It's a seven-team region unlike the rest, and we only get four seeds (to the playoffs), so it's gonna be a dogfight," he said. "I think you always have to put Davis in the mix because they just win year after year after year and have great talent and tradition. They always seem to have really good size and really good athletes.
"Syracuse is always good and they have their quarterback (Ty Metcalfe) back and he's a good one. They're well-coached and Mike (Knight) has got a great staff around him, which is important. Weber obviously is very talented. I think those are the guys right at the top right there. Northridge has a lot of guys coming back, so we'll see how that goes. And Clearfield will be better, too, there's no doubt about that.
"Region 1 will always be a dogfight, every night, every week. There's no easy ones," Arnold said.
Mitchell, who spent the past eight seasons on the Northridge staff, is glad to see some old rivals back in Region 1 this year.
"It's gonna be fun getting back to the old Region 1 now, bringing Syracuse, Layton and Davis back," Mitchell said. "It'll be your typical Region 1 where it's competitive as can be and on any given week, somebody's gonna have a big upset win.
"It's gonna be a battle, and every day I go back and forth on where I think it'll play out. I look at how big Syracuse is, how skilled Fremont's been in the past, and Weber's supposed to have a good team and Davis is always good. So we could be really good and still be a No. 5 seed."
And while Clearfield coach Andre Dyson sees no clear-cut favorite for the Region 1 title, he's expecting big things from Weber.
"I think it's always a really good region, and I think everyone's pretty equal," Dyson said. "Syracuse and Davis are favored because they're Syracuse and Davis, and everyone always gives them the upper edge.
"But I think Weber's gonna be the team, to be honest with you ... because this is Coach Hammer's group that went undefeated as sophomores, then last year they competed with everyone, and this year as seniors, I think they're gonna be the team to beat. I think Weber is the team that people may be overlooking, and I think they're gonna be tough.
"All these schools have pride and their kids play for their school and they're always gonna be tough," he said. "... To me, this region is going to be about who can make the right adjustments because we all pretty much know each other, and which kids are gonna just step up and just play. To me, those schools, Syracuse and Davis, those kids just play. Those kids just play and have fun."
Yes, indeed, it'll be fun to have that ol' gang all back together again, knocking heads — and helmets — on Friday nights.
Deseret News projections for Region 1 football teams in 2017
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. SYRACUSE: The Titans, under first-year head coach Mike Knight, will be led by quarterback Ty Metcalfe, a three-year starter who threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 20 TDs last year. Alex Forbush and Austin Kirkman will spearhead the running game, while Wyatt Bowles and Duncen Millberg are three-year starters on the O-line. Linebackers Ty Bartels, Kirkman and Forbush, along with safety Garrett Burke, are stellar returnees on defense.
2016 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to American Fork, 31-13, in 5A quarterfinals.
2. DAVIS: First-year head coach Mitch Arquette has just three returning starters on his squad in wide receiver Jace Hinton, who led the team in receptions last year, offensive guard Trace Dunn and linebacker Zack Hoskins, who piled up 104 tackles and two sacks last season. Thus, a lot of newcomers will be called upon to step into key roles for the Darts’ offense this year, with starting positions still to be decided at several spots. Linebacker Max Tupuola, nose guard Spencer Iniguez and safeties Lance Spjut and Landon Burningham will help lead the defense, and place-kicker Will Ferrin is also a potent weapon.
2016 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Taylorsville 28-27 in 5A first round.
3. FREMONT: The Silver Wolves handed their head coaching reins to longtime defensive coordinator Ross Arnold, and they graduated a trio of stars — Saxton Morby, Austin Freeman and Haze Hadley — that ignited their high-powered offense. Only two starters, center Tony Bodily and tackle Owen Stewart, return on offense, but running back Jay Scott is expected to step in and keep the chains moving. Five starters return on defense, including linebackers Heston Hobbs (130 tackles last year), Chaedon Dayton (68 tackles) and Scott (65 tackles), along with lineman Dakota Thompson and cornerback Jake Douglas, from a stout unit that allowed just 19.2 points per game last year — the sixth-best 5A mark in the state.
2016: 10-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham 35-12 in 5A semifinals.
4. WEBER: The Warriors have a whopping nine returning starters on offense, including their top three playmakers in quarterback Austin Bartholomew, running back Carter Green and wide receiver Hudson Schenck. Top returnees on defense include linebackers Jace Campbell and Brandt Opheikens, cornerback Ryan Hogge and safety Hunter Neilson, and Warriors head coach Matt Hammer has high hopes that this is the Warriors’ year to make some noise in Region 1.
2016: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
5. NORTHRIDGE: Another first-year head coach, Braden Mitchell, takes over the Knights’ program where he previously served on their staff for eight years. They’ve got a bevy of returning starters on offense, including running back/slot receiver Hunter Harris, who had over 600 combined rushing and receiving yards last year, linemen Matt Adamson, Jack Stuart and Korgan Green, running back Brevin Perkins and receivers Scott Daybell and Jake Porters. And there are seven more returning starters back on defense as well, including defensive ends Tavis Fitzgerald and Jacob Rhoades, tackles Tavion Martinez and Myles Anderson, linebacker Carson Stokes, and Josiah Kelley, Lawrence Yarbrough and Perkins in the secondary.
2016: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak 51-7 in 5A first round.
6. CLEARFIELD: The Falcons have their own returning starter at quarterback in Jaxon Mansfield, who accounted for around 1,600 total yards and 16 touchdowns last year, and he’s joined by running backs Isaiah Belford and Mason Moea’i, receiver Colton Manning and linemen Ben Brakey and Thomas Taylor. Manning, their leading tackler at linebacker, and Mansfield, at safety, also return to help lead a defense that also features end Devon Poll, linebacker Anthony Surles and cornerbacks Orion Santiago and Yo Finlinson.
2016: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
7. LAYTON: The Lancers have just two returning starters on offense in running back Mike Laumua and tight end Jonathan Hunt, and the strong-armed Hunt has been pressed into service to take over as their starting quarterback due to an injury. On defense, Hunt started at D-end last year and linebackers Drew Ferneau (40 tackles last year) and Vincent Cancione also return for a group that allowed just 15.5 ppg last season, the third-best mark in all of 5A.
2016: 6-4. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.