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Highland is above the rest in Region 5

SHARE Highland is above the rest in Region 5

Most Region 5 coaches dubbed the Highland High football team as the team to beat in their preseason questionnaires earlier this summer.

And that, by the way, happened before anybody learned that the most dominating defensive player in the state decided to change ZIP codes. Had all coaches known Pani Brown, who co-starred at Granger High last year with his Nebraska-bound brother, Manaia Brown, was moving into an apartment in the Highland boundaries with his wife and newborn child, the vote probably would have been unanimous for the Rams.

The addition of Pani Brown very well could be the final piece of the Rams' championship

puzzle. But he's not the only talented piece Highland has.

"He's definitely an impact player, and he definitely helps us," said Highland coach Larry Wilson. "But football is the ultimate team game. No matter how good you are (individually), you have to have 11 guys who are going to play together."

Wilson also insists the Rams need to build some better depth to have a legitimate shot at a region title, state title or both.

"It's an honor to be picked No. 1 (in the region), but this team hasn't done anything yet," Wilson said. "We were 5-5 last year, and there are a lot of good teams out there with more players back than us."

Here's a look at Region 5 with teams listed in predicted order of finish according to a Deseret News preseason polling of the coaches:

Region 5

1. HIGHLAND: Even before getting a bonus player, the Rams had a good nucleus of experienced players. Quarterback Mike Holton's back, and he's surrounded with solid talent in running backs Mike Mallei, Reno Fonua and Andrew Jenkins as well as receivers Jackson Owen and Josh Steele.

Highland should have the fiercest defensive front line around now as Brown joins punishing hitters Haloti Ngata and Victor Filipe. They'll also do some offensive trench work along with Dustin Schroeder, Travis Wilde and JustinNielsen.

2. BOUNTIFUL: Zero. Zip. Zilch. That's how many starters the Braves have back from their runner-up campaign of 1999, when the Region 5 champs went undefeated until the 4A championship game against Weber. "We have very little experience!" exclaimed Bountiful coach Larry Wall on his questionnaire.

The new generation Braves were quite successful at the junior varsity level, although "sometimes that's a little misleading," Wall added. "Some juniors will have to step up and contribute."

New faces to keep an eye on — especially if you're an opponent — include JensHorrocks, ChrisMetcalfe, RyanWall, DereckHess, MarkNelson and JoeChild.

3. OLYMPUS: Don't try to belittle the somewhat young Titans just because they are, well, a bit little this year. They're also pretty dang quick, which should make them a nightmare to contain on the tricky double wing-T.

Quarterback Cam Nelson logged some time at the end of last season as the Titans' playmaker, so that should be beneficial. Another weapon in Oly's backfield will be Casey Evans, who started as a sophomore and averaged a whopping 8.8 yards per carry.

Mark Van Dyken, who played a big role in Oly's championship season two years ago as a 10th-grader, and Nate Herrscher, a relentless defensive tackle, should also shine as seniors.

4. WEST: Several coaches think the Panthers could be the team to watch out for here. Two things certainly make them scary — experience and team speed.

Most of the Panthers' offensive power is back, with quarterback Dallas Drecksel, flashy junior receiver T.J. Stokes, bruising rusher Sterling Alo and tight end William Taukiuvea all primed to do some damage to defenses. West also has one of the beefiest lines around, with big boys Mike Christensen (6-3, 265), Alex Dardon (6-0, 260), Sam Tupou (5-11, 275) and Ben Fonua (6-1, 270) up front.

Singa Iloa, Steven Vaenuku, Wally Doi and Ryan Adams are some of the hard-hitting defenders West will count on.

5. CYPRUS: Optimism is running high in Magna, with the homecoming of Cyprus grad Sonny Sudbury. The longtime Bingham High coach has been encouraged by the attitude of his new players. As usual, Cyprus boasts one of the strongest squads around thanks to the great weightlifting program Dave Peck instituted there prior to his switching of jobs with Sudbury. Mike Nay, a 6-6, 280-pounder, has been one to take full advantage of that and he should have a big season.

All-staters BrandonWebb and GaryNye will also cleat up again for Cyprus, which hopes to build on its quarterfinal appearance last year.

6. EAST: Coach Keeko Georgelas believes the Leopards are already improved on their 3-5 team from a year ago with a strong defense and outstanding skill players. He also feels they'll finish much higher than sixth — under one condition: "If the O-line matures, look for us to compete for the region title," he said.

Viha Tuikolovatu, a 5-10, 250-pound senior, will be the anchor of a pivotal front line that has excellent talent behind it. Eric Aikhionbare, who seems to have been at East forever, is one of the most explosive and quickest running backs in the state. Receiver Nate McConkie and quarterback ParleyBaldwin, the nephew of former East High and U. standout SamBaldwin, should also shine showing their stuff.

7. MURRAY: The stacks came crashing down across the street last week, and the inexperienced Spartans will need some young guys to pick up the pace to avoid the same tumbling results from their football program this season.

"We have a lot of key spots to fill this year," said Murray coach Wade Meier. "The good, young talent coming up will be a key to our success."

Junior RyanMcCann is one of the young guys who'll help spearhead the defensive attack. As for the offense, quarterback JonMann, a strong thrower who has a good feel for the option, will be handed the offensive reins. Running backs Kent Lundeberg and DougDavenport will also get their touches. Murray's offensive line is completely revamped, with ColeRobinson being one of the more dependable blockers.

8. WOODS CROSS: First-year coach Alema Te'o has the tough task of rebuilding the Wildcats' program, which has struggled to get over the hump recently. Though the coaches picked WX last, Te'o is well-respected.

"He is a good person and will do a good job for those kids," said the coach.

Mitchell Malmrose is one of the top returners for the Wildcats.

E-mail: jody@desnews.com