Realistic expectations for Region 3 teams heading into the 2018 season are about as wide-ranging as any region in the state.
At the top is East, with its annual state championship-or-bust mentality. Herriman is a notch below, but there’s always enough talent and depth within the program to think a title run is possible like in 2015.
Expectations for West Jordan are always bigger internally than externally, and the Jags need a statement win over a major program to change that reality.
Taylorsville missed the playoffs last year, but with Dane Leituala returning for his fourth year as starting QB the program is poised to earn more respect as well.
Riverton has a new coach who is simply trying to bring stability back to the program that won 10 games in 2014.
Copper Hills, meanwhile, has been one of the doormats of the state’s largest classification for a couple decades now and second-year coach Corey Dodds is working his players hard to change that culture of losing.
East is the clear front-runner in Region 3, and it’s as hungry as ever. Despite dominating region foes last year it came short of its ultimate goal by falling to Bingham 27-13 in the championship game in its first year playing up a classification.
East’s offense and defense took a big hit because of graduation, with 13 players moving on to play college football on some sort of scholarship. Even though coach Brandon Matich acknowledges his team has big holes to fill, he’s confident the personnel is there to get the job done.
This year’s team might even surprise some people with explosiveness.
“People know that we’re physical. They know we’ll always be good in the trenches. We’ll build from the ground up with the line and work our way back. This year is going to be the same, but this is the most skill we’ve ever had. I’ve never had this much speed in our program — perimeter speed, skill speed, receivers, DBs,” said Matich.
That speed should help East be a bit more diverse offensively when it needs it in big games.
One of those games should be against Herriman.
A year ago Herriman got off to a rough start because of its tough schedule, opening the season with a 1-4 record. In Week 6 it narrowly lost to East 14-10, and that game turned the season around. The Mustangs won five straight games to advance to the semifinals where it eventually lost to Bingham.
Coach Dustin Pearce believes a similar run is possible, he just hopes it doesn’t take half the season to figure it out.
"I believe that the expectations and athletic abilities are there," said Pearce. "It’s just a matter of putting things together and making sure we can get this thing right."
A year ago West Jordan suffered through a lot of injuries which forced younger players into early varsity action. What was a drawback last year can pay dividends this year with a lot of returning experience that extends beyond just the traditional returning starters.
“We return our starting QB who tore his ACL in Game 4 of last year and played a lot of young guys on the offensive line. Both of our lines have developed well in the offseason and will anchor our team. We look forward to taking the next step and competing with the top teams in our division and region,” said fourth-year West Jordan coach Mike Meifu.
Riverton begins the season with a different head coach for the fourth time in the past five seasons, and Jody Morgan hopes to bring stability to Riverton after serving as an assistant coach at Herriman for the past three years.
"I’m telling them as long as they listen to me I’ll stay here for 20 years. As long as my message is still getting across and we're creating good young men and we're preparing them for life, I’ll be here as long as they’ll allow me to. It’s a great community,” said Morgan.
He inherits a team with seven returning starters offensively, which should help Riverton be competitive right away this season.
Taylorsville missed the playoffs last year, but QB Dane Leituala is hungry to end his high school career on a positive note. The three-year starter has racked up 6,883 passing yards and 4,485 rushing yards along with 107 total touchdowns the past three years.
He’s 1,300 yards shy of moving into second place all-time in state history in total offense.
As good as Leituala is, he’ll need support offensively for Taylorsville to try and improve on last year’s 1-4 region finish.
Copper Hills ranked 21st in 6A in scoring offense last season (11.9 ppg) and 22nd in scoring defense (42.8 ppg). Corey Dodds has been working his players hard this offseason to change the work ethic associated with the program. He frequently draws upon his experience playing for Urban Meyer at the University of Utah.
“I was part of that whole Urban Meyer experience at Utah. I watched how a simple change in attitude and work ethic changes a program,” said Dodds. “I want to go to the playoffs. I think this community deserves a shot in the playoffs. My goal is above .500, which is something the school’s never done before, gone .500 once."
Deseret News projections for Region 3 football teams in 2018
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. EAST: Sam Langi is a strong returning talent on the offensive line, but after that the O-line will feature a bunch of talented newcomers. East’s offense has talented returners at the skill positions with Charlie Vincent and Tutu Spann at running back and Andre Toilolo and Chase Peterson at receiver. Anchoring the defense are returning starters Apu Ika on the defensive line, Toilolo at linebacker and then Peterson and Mekelee Gautavai in the second secondary. Newcomers Joe Teisina and Talin Finau will help bolster the defensive front. 2017 RECORD: 11-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham 27-14 in championship.
2. HERRIMAN: A year after ranking fifth in 6A scoring defense, that side of the ball should again be the catalyst for the Mustangs with a strong returning linebacking core that includes Ngana Leakehe, Austin Pursley and Carter Pearce. The defensive line will be anchored by Mana Kula and newcomer Sii Fifita. The offense returns six starters, led by offensive lineman Ahio Siasie and Wyatt Ziegenhorn. Carson Castro will be a key weapon at linebacker, while Blake Freeland shifts from QB to tight end this season. The new QB will either be Jaxon James or Tyler Murray. 2017 RECORD: 6-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham 31-7 in semifinals.
3. WEST JORDAN: The offensive line is anchored by returning starters Jaden Webster and Devon Slater. The Jags get senior QB Oakley Kopp back after he injured his ACL early in his junior season. McKendrick Johnson will be a key weapon in the running game, while Kalleb Klenk should emerge as the top receiver. West Jordan’s defense returns five starters led by returning linebackers Helaman Sosi and Tavake Ngalo. The defensive line should be strong as well with returners Omarion Fa’amoe and Tavake Ngalo. 2017 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Syracuse 28-7 in first round.
4. TAYLORSVILLE: Dane Leituala is back for his fourth year as T-ville’s starting QB. He rushed for 1,715 yards and passed for 2,481 yards with 43 total TDs a year ago. Only one returning starter will be blocking for him again, Tela Mulitalo. Marshallfaulk Vaitu’u could have a big year at running back. Linebacker should be the strength of the defense with Leituala, Vaitu’u and David Sterzer all back at that position. Sterzer led the team with 91 tackles last season to go along with five sacks. Tavita Taukeiaho is a key returning starter on the defensive line. 2017 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
5. RIVERTON: New coach Jody Morgan has spent the past three years as an assistant at Riverton and is hoping for a quick bounce-back season. He has a pair of returning starters on the offensive line, Aiden Gordon and Brandon Minson, and experience behind the line with QB Cannon Coggins and RB Blake Chapman. Riverton’s defense allowed 31.1 ppg last season but returning linebackers Kaige Roberts and Nate Hamblin should strengthen the heart of the defense. Tristyn Hymas is a key returning starter in the secondary. 2017 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Weber 31-13 in first round.1 comment on this story
6. COPPER HILLS: Only win came against 4A’s Ben Lomond last year, but second-year coach Corey Dodds is optimistic about a bounce back. A big reason why is a strong returning offensive line that includes Jay Archibald, Gabe Conriquez, D.J. Jackson and Carston Hiller. Dallon Jones will lead the way at QB, the coaching staff expects big things out of him. Defensively, linebacker Dakota Buckner and safety Kiona Gasu are among the three returning starters expected to the lead a group that struggled last year. 2017 RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.