Scott G Winterton,
Orem's Puka Nacua dives for the end zone with Sky View's Caleb Christensen defending as they play in 4A semifinal football action at Rice Eccles stadium at the University of Utah on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Orem won 28-12.
It really is something special. I’ve known these kids since I was little 10, 12, and to be playing with them in a state championship this week is really amazing. —Orem coach Jeremy Hill

OREM — Jeremy Hill initially had no intention of coaching his son’s football team. He just couldn’t help himself though.

Watching the first 10 minutes of his son Hunter’s football practice in third grade was a train wreck, and he quickly offered to help coach that team in American Fork that also included a few of his nephews. A year later Hill decided to be the head coach of his son’s fourth-grade team, but closer to home in Orem.

Success has followed every year since.

Many of the kids Hill began coaching in fourth grade are now juniors on Orem’s football team that will play for the 4A state championship at Rice-Eccles Stadium this Friday against Mountain Crest at 11 a.m.

Hill’s been with them every step of the way, as their little league coach every season and then as Orem’s high school coach the past two years after taking over the program after several years as an assistant coach.

Eleven of the players from the 2019 graduating class who will play in Saturday’s championship were part of Hill’s initial fourth-grade team.

“All of us kids from the 2019 class we’ve been playing with each other forever, we all know each other and all best friends and now that we’re finally here it’s crazy,” said Orem junior linebacker Ethan Slade, who leads the team in tackles this season.

The other 10 juniors from Hill’s initial fourth-grade team are Jake Wuergler, Tyler Pay, Peni Tuimaseve, Rylen Su’a-Filo, Dallin Boulter, Zakry Stoddard, Hunter Hill, Dylan Petersen, Sione Mo’Unga and Jake Pedersen.

Hill’s coaching plate was full in his first season coaching his son’s team back in 2010. He was also an assistant coach on Orem’s varsity team that practiced from 3:30 to 5:30, and then he immediately began running practice for his little league team at 5:30 p.m. on the same field.

New players joined the team each year, including star receiver Puka Nacua and quarterback Cooper Legas for the start of the seventh-grade season. They’ve been part of the core group ever since, and winning has always come naturally.

“As kids growing up our younger teams were always dominant, and I don’t ever think we thought we were going to be a losing team. Now that we’re in high school we’ve shown our dominance,” said Slade.

That group had an undefeated season in eighth grade and ninth grade, including winning the championship in eighth grade in 2014.

Coach Hill’s son, Hunter Hill, said those back-to-back undefeated seasons had all the players believing they might finally be the class that ends Orem’s state title drought dating back to 1994 — when coach Jeremy Hill was a player on that team.

The younger Hill said it’s a surreal experience to be playing in the championship game with many of the same guys he grew up playing football with.

“It really is something special. I’ve known these kids since I was little 10, 12, and to be playing with them in a state championship this week is really amazing,” said Hill.

Coach Hill said keeping the core group of 2019 players together has been key to Orem’s success, and was pretty easy. Many of those same kids played football, basketball and baseball together and they’ve become inseparable.

“They were just good friends, they played baseball with each other, they played basketball with each other, they played football with each other. We decided let's try to keep these guys together,” said Hill.

Many of those kids played varsity football as sophomores last season, but physically they weren’t ready to be a championship-caliber team.

As juniors though, they’ve been one of the best teams in 4A all season and the group will try to make history this weekend with the first state title at Orem High in 23 years. Who knows ... that 2019 core could be back for seconds next season.