Football season is officially upon us. You can count it down with just one hand now. Everything gets underway this Friday night with the opening of the 2013 high school football season, which will be followed in the coming weeks by the start of college football and the NFL. As is always the case in Utah, high school football kicks everything off, and this year there are 103 teams competing at the varsity level. You can bet there's anxiety and tension at every school. What programs will take the next step? What programs will take steps backward? For some, two or three wins would be considered a good season, while others will settle for nothing less than a state championship. To get fans geared up for what should be another fantastic season, here are 10 notable stories worth paying attention to this season.
The Duchesne Eagles are just a few weeks away from the records books.
The 1A football power has won 34 straight games — which includes three 1A state championships — and Timpview's state-record 36-game winning streak is easily within reach.
Duchesne opens the season against underdog Layton Christian this Friday, which should easily result in win No. 35. After that, the Eagles hit the road for games against North Summit (2A) and Carbon (3A), games they'll also be favored in.
If Duchesne gets through the first three weeks unscathed, it could be well on its way to shattering the record book with another 13-0 season. Kanab, Rich and Monticello are the three toughest 1A games on the schedule this season, and Duchesne faces them all at home.
Head coach Jerry Cowan is doing his best to keep his team focused.
"We just talk about how we're trying to be 1-0. We're looking at our first game. What happened the last three years means nothing to this team. They have their own thing to prove, and they have to set their own destiny."
The addition of a sixth football classification by the UHSAA realistically only impacts a dozen or so schools, but for those specific programs it has completely altered the competition landscape.
The new classification was created by simply splitting 3A into a 14-team larger classification (3AA) and a 12-team smaller classification (3A). The split doesn't really impact 3AA, because those larger teams were the only programs with a realistic shot of winning a state title anyway.
It has a major impact, however, on the smaller 3A schools, who suddenly are state title contenders in the diluted classification. For programs like Delta, Juab, North Sanpete, Grantsville and Morgan, it's an exciting change in scenery.
The trickle-down effect will have a significant impact on 2A as well. With two-time 2A champ Manti jumping to 3A, along with Richfield and Emery, their departure waters down 2A and increases the odds of San Juan, South Summit and Millard claiming the 2A title.
According to East coach Brandon Matich, the drama that surrounded East's football program last October and November is over. He insists the team has moved on from the forfeitures and disappointing playoff exit.
With that said, only time will tell if the program has truly moved by dominating opponents in 2013 the same way it did prior to everything unraveling late in 2012.
The Leopards will certainly have a chance to silence their detractors with an extremely difficult schedule that includes nonregion games against Alta, Kahuku (Hawaii), Jordan and Mountain Crest, and region games against Highland and Bountiful.
"If we continue to harbor those emotions we won't be very good," said Matich. "I think the biggest thing that we try and take from it is: we're learning that there were mistakes made, and we have to deal with adversity. … What we went through — the emotion and the pain — my whole program, families and everything, you can't duplicate that."
Behind one of the greatest offensive lines in state history last season, Jordan High School overwhelmed the 5A field on its way to an impressive state title.
Quarterback Austin Kafentzis and running back Clay Moss dominated the headlines throughout the campaign by combining for 2,800 yards and 45 touchdowns. None of that would've been possible had offensive linemen B.J. Cavendar, Tyshon Mosely, Zach Larsen, Ian Moes and Aarron Reupena not been around to open gaping holes all season.
All five of those linemen graduated, and Jordan's hopes of repeating as 5A champs rest on the shoulders of their replacements.
The coaching staff hasn't determined yet who the five replacements will be, but Alex Kabwere (left tackle), Spencer Hallings (right tackle) and Parker Williams (center) are among those expected to be impact starters.
If they do end up making an impact, Kafentzis and Moss could be in line for another big season.
Some of the top programs in Utah will test themselves again this season against strong out-of-state competition, led by Jordan High School.
The Beetdiggers, who are ranked No. 32 in the MaxPreps preseason national rankings, travel to No. 446 Cathedral Catholic out of San Diego on Aug. 30 and then face No. 49 Bergen Catholic out of Oradell, N.J., at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sept. 14.
If Jordan hopes to track the final top 25 MaxPreps rankings again this season, wins in both games are a must.
Deseret News preseason No. 1 Bingham faces two out-of-state teams as well, most notably a game at Valor Christian out of Highlands Ranch, Colo., on Sept. 7. Valor Christian is ranked No. 105, according to MaxPreps.
East hosts No. 160 Kahuku, Hawaii, on Aug. 31.
Other Utah teams that face tough out-of-state foes are Lone Peak at Mullen, Colo., on Sept. 7; Northridge at Helix, Calif., on Sept. 6; and then Alta vs. Allentown, N.J., at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sept. 14.
The quarterback factory that is Logan High appears to be in great hands again this season — another Nelson is leading the way.
Chase Nelson, the younger brother of Riley and D.J. Nelson, will start at quarterback this season, and that's gotta be extremely comforting for Logan's coaching staff.
Riley Nelson led Logan to a state title in 2005 and his younger brother D.J. Nelson followed suit by spearheading another title in 2011.
Those are big shoes to fill for Chase Nelson, and his coach said patience will be important.
"Chase has got a lot of potential, but he's gonna have to do it on the field and then we'll evaluate how good he is," Favero said. "He's never taken a varsity snap; actually, I think he took one and threw an interception.
"He's very talented; he's a dual-threat guy; he's very competitive; he's strong; and he's put in the time and effort to be ready to have a good season."
It seems that every August tragedy strikes at least one high school football program, and sadly Grand High School and Park City High School are coping with that reality this season.
Grand sophomore Sam Woodruff passed away at his home Saturday, Aug. 10, and his funeral was held in Moab last Thursday.
"The glow and smile on his face was all you needed to see to know just how happy and content he was with football," said his mom, Merry Woodruff. "Football and his team really meant the world to him. It was the center of his social life."
Park City assistant coach Aaron Alford, 39, died of an apparent heart attack at practice a couple of days after Woodruff passed away.
Last season Juan Diego played with heavy hearts when Adam Colosimo passed away following a summer accident, and the year before Wasatch mourned the loss of star athlete Kalem Franco, who drowned at Deer Creek reservoir.
While everyone declares Region 3 the SEC region of Utah high school football with Jordan, Bingham, Brighton and Alta all lumped together, you can bet teams up North are feeling slighted again.
After all, a Region 1 team has advanced to the 5A state championship game five of the past six years, which includes Syracuse last season.
With Syracuse loaded defensively again this season and Davis expected to be improved, Region 1 is more than capable of crashing the 5A party at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Is this the year of the elusive breakthrough?
Since Davis won the 5A title in 2004, Region 1 teams are 0-5 in championship games. That includes Syracuse's crushing 56-2 defeat to Jordan last season; Fremont losing to Lone Peak in 2011 and Bingham in 2010; Davis falling to Bingham in 2009; and Layton losing to Alta in 2007.
There are 18 schools being guided by new football coaches this season — 19 if you count new school Corner Canyon — and no doubt all go into the season with lofty ambitions of either turning a program around or continuing a history of success.
Of the 18 newcomers, only three are inheriting programs that had winning records last season: Lone Peak's Mike Mower, Herriman's Dustin Pearce and Snow Canyon's Marcus Matua.
As for the other 15, most have difficult rebuilding projects in front of them. Several others, however, hope last year's struggles were just an aberration.
Delta has always been one of the elite 3A programs, and first-year coach Russ Fowles is hoping for a quick bounce-back season after the Rabbits went 3-8. Park City's Mike Shephard is hoping for the same after several disappointing seasons.
Class 5A has the most turnover this season with seven new coaches: Copper Hills' John Teuscher, Herriman's Pearce, Kearns' Matt Rickards, Lone Peak's Mower, Weber's Matt Hammer, Westlake's Steve Clements and West Jordan's Daniel Dupaix.
Some of the best defensive teams in recent memory in Utah were the 2006 and 2007 Timpview teams that were led by standouts like Craig Bills, Kevin Bills and Bronson Kaufusi.
Don't be surprise if the 2013 T-Birds are mentioned in that same sentence later this season.
The defending 4A champs were already going to be loaded defensively this season, and then four-star defensive end recruit Isaiah Nacua transferred to Timpview from Bishop Gorman (Nev.). He's regarded as the fourth-best recruit in Utah from the 2014 graduating class
His arrival, combined with Timpview's six returning defensive starters (including Emmett Tela and Gabe Reid), is a big reason why the T-Birds are capable of challenging the 2006 and 2007 teams that only allowed 5.9 ppg and 7.1 ppg, respectively.