Losing linebacker Paul Buck — the All-American high school football star from Taylorsville High who took his own life a week and a half ago — left a humongous hole in the Warriors' defense. Humongous doesn't even start to describe the hole his unexplainable death left in their hearts, though.
Coming off the best football year ever in the school's history, it's with deeply sad and mourning spirits — and with the painful questions "Why?" and "What if?" ringing in their heads — that the Taylorsville program readies itself for the upcoming campaign and life without Buck.
"It came as a complete shock to all of us," said Taylorsville coach Brad Molen, who said Buck practiced as hard as ever and seemed his usual cheerful self when the team last saw him at practice on Thursday night hours before the tragedy happened.
But the next day, Molen had to painfully organize an emergency meeting for all of Buck's stunned football friends after they learned of the horrible news on Friday morning. Many memories were shared between the guys, and a video of Buck's highlights was played.
"This is one of the toughest things I've ever had to deal with," Molen said. "I wouldn't want anyone to go through this."
The Warriors' baseball players had his name and jersey number chalked into their hats while winning the American Legion Western Regional championship this past weekend. And the football team will do a similar tribute, having a decal placed on the back of their helmets in his memory.
"It's just devastating," said Taylorsville athletic director Dan Leatherwood. "He was always such a great leader on the field and off. All the kids looked up to him."
They still do fondly remember the gifted and vibrant athlete, but the painful questions and the stinging emptiness in their hearts remain. And a new season of hope begins.
Here's a look at Region 2, the tough league that saw Taylorsville, Granger, Bingham and West Jordan crowned quad-champions last year, with teams listed in the coaches' predicted order of finish:
1. HUNTER: It's almost as common at Hunter as great running backs — the Wolverines make it to the semifinals and then lose in double overtime. The uncanny coincidence has happened twice in a row. Now "this year's team is excited about the challenge to get to the title and win," said second-year coach Wes Wilcken. This could be a team capable of going at Skyline if all falls into place.
The Wolverines will again be a model of proficiency at the tailback spot, and in no small part due to the great O-line of Brett Bird, Josh Thomas, Tyler Tyson and Panasai Soakai. Those hole-creating hogs will protect junior QB Terrell Richards, a fine passer and and exciting rusher. Fullback David Fangupo will be counted on for his bruising blocks, too.
Hunter's fast and physical brand of defense will be keyed by frontliners Tevita MauMau, Nick Fonua, Cole Helm and Bird. Wilcken said a key will be for his players to stay mentally strong.
2. WEST JORDAN: The Jaguars certainly aren't going to sneak up on anyone this year after stringing together a fantastic and unexpected co-championship season in 1999. Eight starters are back, and they're champing at the bit to get rid of the bitter taste left from a disappointing first-round loss.
Experienced talent is in no short supply in West Jordan. EricPettit, a 6-4, 250-pound hard-nosed defensive lineman, will terrorize opposing offenses for the third straight year. And the Jags' offense has skilled players aplenty in quarterback Jack Roberts, halfbacks Bridger Bateman, John Maroni and Mike Martin as well as receivers McAllister Gentry and Casey Springer. The offensive trenches will be anchored by Ryan Burns and Scott Judd, who is also the beefiest kicker around.
3. BINGHAM: It seems as if Sonny Sudbury and Dave Peck did each other a favor when they switched jobs this off-season between Cyprus and Bingham. Both squads have a solid nucleus of talent for their new coaches, leaving Peck "thrilled" with his new surroundings.
"We're all really excited. I think we're going to be pretty decent," Peck said. "Everything seems to be going real well."
Defense might be a strong point of Bingham's at first as players adjust to Peck's offensive system. The Miners should be tough up front with basketball standout Matt Brimhall, potential lineman star D.J. Gould and workhorses Jeff Rhea, TysonSchumaker and CadeFullmer toiling in the trenches. Carson Pendleton, DougMackay and Tyler DeBry will be needed to produce to their potential on both sides.
4. TAYLORSVILLE: Before Buck's death, Molen had high hopes for the Warriors. He even believed the dominating player could have led T-Ville back to the championship game. But that has changed drastically now as the Warriors have no starters back on defense and nobody anywhere near the quality of Buck on the squad.
"If they don't get discouraged early, we'll be all right," Molen said. "We should be a good team by the end of the year."
Some of Taylorsville's best players this season have familiar last names and some rather large shoes to fill. The brothers of T-Ville's upcoming standouts Gerry Swanson (Andy), Mike Filipe (Ryan) and Richard McDonald (Hyrum) all played huge roles in guiding the school to its first-ever finals.
The Warriors will be without their starting quarterback for a while. Kellen Carsey is leaving for the Legion World Series this weekend and won't get into the swing of football things for a couple more weeks, adding to T-Ville's trials. But players like Mark McGowan and Joe Fitisemanu could help them get back on track fast.
5. KEARNS: The Cougars had the distinction of being the best team in the state not to make it to the playoffs last season when they finished 4-5 but lost three games by a combined five points. If Kearns is as hard to beat as its players' names are hard to spell, the Cougars could be in for a terrific season.
Coach Marvin Magalei is ecstatic about his D-line, certainly one of the strongest in Utah. Wayne Fa'amausili (squats 525, benches 340) is a future star, while Sonny Ama'ama (benches 365) and Sama Aiono (strong all-around) could be, too. Middle linebacker Paulo "Bobo" Fuali'i, a sturdy 6-3, 240-pound junior who runs the 40 in 4.6, is "the real deal" and is one of the state's elite underclassmen. Teamed witih Nick Dalgerakis, they are set at linebacker. Corner Matt Thornton, who had seven INTs last year, solidifies the' defensive backfield.
The key to success is whether they can put points on the board with new QB Danny Rodarte, who's surrounded by solid players such as tailback Derrick Broadhead and fullback Eldon Aiono.
6. GRANGER: The Lancers have to overcome a topsy-turvy off-season, which included the firing of their longtime coach Ray Groth and the departure of their best player, DL star Pani Brown. Both are at Highland now, leaving Granger searching for new direction.
Dan Eckert has the task of smoothing things over at the proud program that has a lot of unfamiliar faces. Jeff Rutherford will be handed the reins for the offense from his quarterback position. He'll find good protection behind massive lineman Manoa Benjamin, a 6-4, 320-pound force.
7. RIVERTON: If any team in the state has reason to be optimistic for an improved season, it's easily the Silverwolves. After all, they only need one win to better themselves by 100 percent after going winless in their maiden voyage.
Rick Bojak's crew has a slew of seniors — most of his first team, in fact — who put in some major minutes as underclassmen. Riverton only lost a couple of guys on each side and Bojak has instilled a weight-lifting program to help put some extra meat on the players.
Paul Budd, a two-way star, will be the Silverwolves' main cog again. Also expected to contribute and perhaps push Riverton higher in the standings are all-region standouts Riley Peck (LB/TE), Chet Wanlass (QB/CB), Ryan Jensen (leading defensive point-getter), the athletic Brandon Hermansen and sophomores Todd Jensen and Brian Brooks, who both started as freshmen.
8. COPPER HILLS: The Grizzlies are coming off the best season in their school's short history — a three-win year, including two in a row to open begin things. Problem is, they have to start over from scratch this fall with a new batch of players and a new chef. Mike Smith uprooted himself from Dixie High to take over at the West Jordan school.
Smith is a bit unsure what to think of his team so far as he says the players are still "learning" his system. Christian Nye, a fleet-footed receiver/cornerback, is probably the best player.