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Brandon Gurney
Masen Wake, Lone Peak

The level of play seems to ebb and flow a bit in regions around the state, but for Region 4, it's largely the same story, year in and year out. No region is tougher top to bottom most years, and 2018 all five teams seem to have improved on the product put forth last year.

"I feel like I say the same thing every year when asked how the region looks," said American Fork coach Aaron Behm. "It's just a really, really tough region with great coaches, great players — it's the same every year and we love it."

Despite the region being tough from top to bottom, there is a clear team to start things with and that's Bingham. The Miners are two-time defending state champions who lost a lot of key offensive components for the coming year, but still present one of the state's most dynamic playmakers in running back Braedon Wissler and could be as dominant on defense.

"Bingham is so good with what they do," said Lone Peak coach Bart Brockbank. "They have great coaches there and every year they're pretty much the team to beat. This year is no different."

As for the Knights, Bingham coach John Lambourne is equally impressed with the teams the communities of Alpine and Highland put out most years.

"They always have great athletes. They're always well-coached and they're always tough," Lambourne said of Lone Peak. "But I could easily say that about American Fork, Pleasant Grove — this region has some real good teams and we won't be able to take a week off."

The Cavemen featured 6A's top offense last season and return top receiver Chase Roberts, although they'll have to make do with a new quarterback and largely new position players across the board.

"That offense was so tough last year and you have to figure that defense will get better," said Pleasant Grove coach Mark Wootton.

Wootton's team underwent a horrific start to the 2017 season before rebounding and earning a playoff spot. This year, with the return of many players off of last year's team, Wootton hopes his team can rise to a better start to the season and a higher finish in region play.

Bringing up the rear is Westlake, although coaches believe the Thunder will be improved and should not be overlooked.

"They have a lot of players there and a lot of talent to draw on," Behm said. "You really can't overlook anyone in this region."

Who comes out on top of Region 4 play will largely come down to how well teams forge together and how well they manage injuries.

"Every week is like a playoff week in this region and that makes it tough," Brockbank said. "Injuries are a big thing and you're having to play all your top guys every minute of pretty much every game. That takes its toll, but I think it also prepares you for the postseason. Hopefully we can stay healthy, come together and make a good run on this thing. But it's not going to be easy."

Region 4 projections

Deseret News projections for Region 4 football teams in 2018

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. BINGHAM: Lolani Langi is one of the state's top recruits and leads what coaches believe will be the strength of the defense. Other standouts include defensive lineman Simote Pepa and linebacker Junior Tafuna. The big question marks are on the offensive end where the Miners have to replace just about everyone. But no one reloads like the Miners and all signs indicate another top team forming for 2018. 2017 record: 13-0. Playoffs: Defeated East 27-14 in the 6A state championship game.

2. LONE PEAK: The Knights have always featured one of the state's top passing attacks, but the ground game may be what leads them in 2018, considering the return of top backs Kobe Freeman and Masen Wake. The passing game does look promising, with the return of receiver Tommy Doman, among others. On defense, Michael Daley leads the way for a unit that returns seven starters from last year's teams. 2017 record: 9-3. Playoffs: Lost to East 28-13 in the 5A state semifinals.

3. AMERICAN FORK: The Cavemen have to replace a lot of key parts to their 6A-leading offense, but do return arguably their best part in receiver Chase Roberts. Quarterback Boone Abbott will take snaps and has a skill set that could prove highly productive. On defense, the Cavemen should see a lot of improvements. 2017 record: 6-5. Playoffs: Lost to East 67-31 in the 6A state quarterfinals.

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4. PLEASANT GROVE: The Vikings return one of the state's most potent duos in quarterback Jake Jensen and receiver Dayne Christiansen. Combine that with a load of returning starters, along with several coming off of injury, and the Vikings could make some noise and compete for a region championship or at least a deep run in the playoffs. 2017 record: 4-8. Playoffs: Lost to Herriman 21-3 in the 6A state quarterfinals.

5. WESTLAKE: The Thunder returns a lot off of last year's team and should show improvements, although winning even a single game in Region 4 could prove an extremely tough task for even a top team. Westlake was able to put up points against Region 4's top teams and should prove a tougher out in 2018. 2017 record: 0-10. Playoffs: Did not qualify.