Stability at the quarterback position is something every coach craves.
Lehi had it last year with Cammon Cooper and, combined with many other key pieces on the roster, the Pioneers were able to ride his arm to a state title.
Heading into the 2018 season, Lehi finds itself in the same position as every other team in Region 6 — breaking in a new quarterback.
Highland, Lehi, Olympus, Skyline, West, and Murray will all have new players taking snaps this season, and that uncertainty at the most important position on the field has created a lot of question marks heading into the season.
Offensive line play and the ability to run the football will be huge to help with that transition for the newcomers, as will a strong defense that can help set those QBs up for success will quality field position.
Highland (Trajan Benson), Olympus (Jackson Frank), Skyline (Chris Dudley) and West (Abraham Williams) have all settled on their QBs heading into the new season. Lehi and Murray, meanwhile, are still trying to figure out which direction to go.
For defending 5A champ Lehi, quarterback isn’t the only position it has holes to fill. Only three starters are back on either side of the ball from a group that ranked fourth in 5A in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense.
“It was a special team and a special class of seniors, but hopefully they left a legacy and what it's supposed to look like. Now we just need to develop what will be a much younger and inexperienced team. It's a new challenge,” said Lehi coach Ed Larson.
Lehi’s competition at QB is between Hayden Betts and Creyton Cooper, the younger brother of last year’s Deseret News Mr. Football recipient, Cammon Cooper.
Lehi will rely on a young core of talent this season so the Pioneers might be a year away from contending again.
Highland, meanwhile, meanwhile returns six offensive starters and seven defensive starters and is the projected front-runner to claim the Region 6 title.
“We have a good group coming back. They have been working hard. What they lack in experience they make up for in effort and leadership,” said Brody Benson
Highland ranked sixth in scoring offense (34.5 ppg) and 10th in scoring defense (23.3 ppg), but both were nonexistent in a 37-0 playoff ouster to Corner Canyon last season. Finding a way to be more consistent in those big games will determine Highland’s long-term success.
Olympus stumbled a bit in 2017 finishing below .500 for the first time since missing the playoffs in 2014. With seven starters back on offense — including four offensive lineman — a bounce-back season seems inevitable.
“We have leadership of course. That's a really good benefit. Anytime you have a returning starter you have people who are experienced playing at the varsity level and then going into the game situation. Sure they'll have butterflies but they have the experience to where it's not new to them. It's always a benefit to have guys return,” said Olympus coach Aaron Whitehead.
Skyline finished third in Region 6 last season, but its two losses were blowout losses to Highland and Lehi. It was then blown out by Skyridge in the 5A first round.
Closing the gap defensively will be key.
“It’s been four years since we made it out of the first round so we'd like to make it out of the first round,” said Skyline coach Zac Erekson.
Murray was on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, but second-year coach Todd Thompson expects his team to make a jump with a full year under its belt playing in his system.
“We just need to continue to work hard. Kids need to continue to be coachable. Our numbers are up this year our numbers are up this year compared to where they were so just consistency and continuing to work hard in the weight room and on the field,” said Thompson.
West finished last in Region 6 last year without a win, but coach Justin Thompson is optimistic that he’s got a good foundation laid for the program now that he’s entering his third year as head coach — and that extends beyond the field.
“In the last six to eight months we have really come to realize that our football program exists to drive excellence in the classroom so we have really doubled down on giving our athletes the support they need to excel in the classroom,” said Thompson.
Deseret News projections for Region 7 football teams in 2018
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. HIGHLAND: Had a strong season last year, but a big playoff loss in the quarterfinals exposed the gap between where Highland was and where it wants to be. With seven returning starters on defense and six on offense, experience could help it close the gap. Leading the way offensively is fullback Colton White and running backs Matt Lloyd and Bronson Olevao. The team returns just one starter on the O-line, Tevita Tuha. The defense is led by Caden Hilborn and Fusi Pakofe on the defensive line, while Olevao is a strong returning safety. 2017 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Corner Canyon 37-0 in quarterfinals.
2. LEHI: Only three starters from last year’s state title team are back, but one of them is standout running back Carsen Manookin who rushed for 1,192 yards last season. Blocking for him are two other returning starters, Ammon Critchfield and Bridger Rhoades. The defense will be anchored by Dallin Green, a part-time starter at linebacker last season. The secondary features two players with plenty of experience, Jacob Vasquez and Oakley Krumvieda. 2017 RECORD: 12-2. PLAYOFFS: Beat Skyridge 55-17 in championship.
3. OLYMPUS: Josh Mondale, Malosi Neria, Emerson Conlan and Lucas Spillett are all returning starters on the offensive line, and they should be able to open up holes for returning running back starters Tommy Poulton and Jack Hollberg. Jackson Frank takes over at QB after starting in the secondary last season. Noah Bennee will be a dangerous weapon in the passing game. The Titans allowed four touchdowns per game last season, an area they need to get better in this year. Isaac Wilcox will anchor the middle of the defense at linebacker, while Uriah Te’o is the lone returning starter on the D-line. 2017 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Springville 28-14 in first round.
4. SKYLINE: The Eagles ranked seventh offensively in 5A last year, and with Chris Dudley taking over at QB that trend could continue. His top offensive weapon figures to be Hayden Hansen, who finished with 556 yards last season. Jacob Walker is the lone returning starter on the offensive and defensive line, and will be a key two-way starter. Cameron Sueoka played sparingly at linebacker last year, but he’ll take on a much larger role at the heart of the defense this season. Mosese Tauteoli is the only other returning defensive starter. 2017 RECORD: 6-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Skyridge 55-0 in first round.
5. WEST: Jayden Johnson and Jesse Ah See are both returning starters on the offensive line, and they’ll open up holes for returning running back Faysal Aden. Abraham Williams takes over at QB and he’s an explosive athlete who might really cause problems for opposing defenses. West’s defense has five returning starters, primarily in the secondary as Kevin Ho, Treyson Johnson, Musa Traore and Felix Ortiz are all back. Caleb Aiono is the lone starter back on the D-line. The linebacking corps will be led by newcomers James Vanleeuwen and Armando Tuikolongahau. 2017 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.1 comment on this story
6. MURRAY: Because of a bunch of injuries last season, eight players who started multiple games offensively are back for Murray, including all five offensive linemen, Colton Gardner, Jackson Rose, Kasen Nielsen, Tyler Walsh and Ryan King. They’ll be opening holes for top returning running back Logan Jones. On the defensive line, Gardner and Christian Alvarez return to anchor that squad, while Jackson Rose and Shayne Zullo are the top starters back at linebacker. 2017 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.