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Looking for the state's toughest region? Try Region 4 on for size. Two state champions and a boatload of contenders call the southernmost 5A region home. Growing enrollment forced the transfer of 4A champion Jordan to the higher classification and into league play with defending 5A kingpin Orem and powers Alta, American Fork, Brighton, Hillcrest and Mountain View.

Welcome to 5A football and welcome to Region 4.League coaches, in a preseason straw poll, anticipate a tight race with Orem leading the charge. The Golden Tigers have reached the state finals in each of the past two seasons and will likely begin the year atop the Deseret News 5A rankings. American Fork checked in at second with Hillcrest, Alta, Brighton, Jordan and Mountain View following in order. However, with an abundance of talent and depth leaguewide, Region 4 could finish in any order. Take a card, any card. Toss a coin. Throw a dart. Pick a number. This league is nothing short of being a prognosticator's nightmare - a bad dream that will certainly haunt the rest of the state. Color this circuit gold.

OREM: The defending 5A champions remain the team to beat. Despite significant graduation losses (just three starters return), the Tigers have their sights set on a third consecutive trip to the finals. Linebacker Jon Guenter and safety Jason Gonzalez, mainstays on Orem's premier defensive unit a year ago, are back as is lineman Mike Tuiasoa who played behind two all-staters in 1994. Another key addition is junior linebacker Mike Tanner (6-3, 220) who moved to Orem over the summer. "Our defense should be our real strength," said coach Paul Clark, 43-19 as head coach of the Tigers.

AMERICAN FORK: Last season's craziness is prehistoric history to the Cavemen. After winning six games and frequently visiting the rankings, coach Davis Knight's squad somehow managed to miss the playoffs last year (thanks to a tiebreaker loss to Hillcrest). A talented crew returns in hopes of reaching the postseason this time around. Seniors James Bromley (lineman), Jon Scoresby (running back), Aaron Bowen (linebacker) and Ben Welch (linebacker) form a solid nucleus with juniors Isaac Kelly (quarterback) and Toby Christensen (receiver).

HILLCREST: Coach Lee Leslie would make a lousy used car salesman. "We should be very, very poor," he deadpanned after his Huskies took top honors in the Ute Shoot, West Jordan passing competition and Utah camp. Speed and depth best described this talented bunch. Quarterback Doug Smith, strong safety Nate Bowlden, wide receiver Jeremy Schultz and running back Wade Hanberg headline the senior class, while Jerry Montgomery (6-3, 270) tops the underclassmen. The sophomore standout will see action at full back and nose guard. Other players to watch include kickers Aaron Chamberlain and Zane Smith.

ALTA: The Hawks have a feeling - a good feeling according to coach Mitch Lunak. "I feel if things go right (as in a lack of injuries), we'll at least have a shot at it." It being region and state honors. And speaking of state, make that all-state, three second teamers return to the nest: tight end/defensive end Aaron Pelch, lineman Jesse Bullock and wide receiver/defensive back Jared Colton. "They anchor things but we have a good supporting cast. Atop the list is 6-foot-4 sophomore quarterback Lance Jensen. Seniors Aaron Weaver and Mike Gough are other players of note.

BRIGHTON: With the passing of time comes change, so says Bengals coach Lynn Freestone. "I think we're a little bigger than last year, but I don't think we are as fast. That's the tradeoff." An inexperienced backfield is the glaring concern with another trip to the playoffs the main objective. Seniors Darin Johnson (defensive end/tight end), Jared Chappell (wide receiver), Stan Bonnemort (tackle) and Sam Harvey (defensive line) give Freestone reason to be "optimistic." Advancing to within a game of the state finals a year ago adds hope and incentive to the cause.

JORDAN: Months after winning their first state football title in 44 years, the Beetdiggers were dispatched from the 4A to 5A ranks. How they will handle the transition into the state's toughest league is anybody's guess? Graduation has taken its toll but not all was lost. "We will be big and fast," said coach Jim Birch. "But very, very young." First team all-stater Blake Johnson is the top returnee in a line-up that includes junior lineman Jason Fullmer as well as seniors Steve Albrecht (quarterback), Anthony Berg (receiver) Andy Reed (tackle) and move-in Jim Abbott (linebacker) from West.

MOUNTAIN VIEW: New coach Randy Rehrer made the jump from Idaho to Utah late this summer leaving questions about how quickly he can put his system in place. Former coach Bryce Monsen left the cupboard fairly stocked when he left the program for a assistant coaching position in Texas. Returning starters Nate Sorenson (quarterback), Craig Cardin (defensive back), Matt Monson (receiver) and Ifo Pili (defensive tackle) hope to erase last year's disappointing 2-7 campaign. The Bruins best epitomize Region 4: They could finish anywhere in this talented grouping if it weren't for the "ifs."

NEW COACH: Randy Rehrer, who held the highest active winning percentage in Idaho high school football, has moved to Utah and the helm of the Mountain View Bruins. During his 10 years at Highland High in Pocatello, Rehrer's teams went 81-26 and took state twice. He places Bryce Monsen who left the Orem school for a job in Texas.



Region 4

Results of the league coaches straw poll

1st Orem

2nd American Fork

3rd Hillcrest

4th Alta

5th Brighton

6th Jordan

7th Mountain View