The Woods Cross High football team has a couple of new secret weapons that could have big impacts on the squad's success this upcoming season — despite the fact they'll actually only step onto the playing surface during an occasional time-out.
And, no, we're not talking about the water boys here.
Though usually referred to as being a soccer school, the Wildcats administration scored a big offseason coup in America's version of football by recruiting a powerhouse coaching staff to patrol the sidelines. Not only did Woods Cross entice Russ Jones, who turned Viewmont into a winner a few years ago, out of retirement to be head coach, but the lowly pigskin program also brought aboard the two coaches most responsible for building Northridge into a juggernaut this past decade.
Yes, opponents, you are seeing things right: That indeed is Fred Fernandes, who led Northridge to three straight championships, sporting Woods Cross garb. And, yep, that's also his former defensive sidekick guru, Eric Grisby, on the Wildcats' sideline.
Throw former University of Utah running back Pierre Jones and experienced specialists such as Chad Watson, Eric Johnson, Kenny Blair, Andy Harestad and Rodrigis Smith into the coaching mix, and it's no wonder Jones is jacked up about the future of Woods Cross football.
Somebody might want to open the Region 5 cellar door up before the Wildcats kick it off its hinges.
"These kids in this community need to realize what caliber coaches they have," said Jones, who's hoping to convince more kids to start playing and more Woods Cross residents to stop going elsewhere.
"How do you find a staff better than that? I'm really lucky and fortunate to have these guys helping. I tell you what, they're awesome coaches. I've got to be one of the luckiest guys in the world to fall into that."
It's certainly making him feel better about his decision to leave his position as a vice principal at Davis High and return to the coaching ranks. A few years ago, he guided Viewmont to a 20-13 record before leaving to become an administrator.
Though he enjoyed his stint with the Darts, Jones said he missed the kids, coaches and camaraderie of being involved hands-on with the football team.
He lucked out in a way because Grisby, whose solid defenses at Northridge were overshadowed by their high-flying offenses, recently took a job as a counselor at Woods Cross. And he really hit the jackpot when Fernandes, who left coaching last season to pursue a personal business with blocking machines, offered to help out as much as he can while he's not traveling to market his pigskin product called the Decleater.
Jones isn't just inheriting some great coaches, either. He says his new players are "awesome." Returning contributors include T.J. Knudson, Heinrich Mokofisi, Kyle Thomas, Ben Carlson, Josh O'Toole, Blake Thane, Toelaki Taiti and Cody Moss.
Before the football practices even started, they benefited from a new weight room that was built after Jones helped convince administrators and boosters it was needed for all athletic programs. "They were good enough to give it to us," Jones said. "The community's been an unbelievable support."
Jones is also hoping to instill a winning attitude among the football program, which will get the Wildcats into the playoffs and hopefully get more students into the program and take it to a "higher level."
"We want to just pick up some wins, pick up some momentum and steam, and try and to gather a few more kids along the way as we go. I think they're really missing the boat if they don't come out."
If they can execute as planned, the Wildcats should have an entertaining spread offense. It's a new system for the school, and Jones believes it will take advantage of some good speed they have. Jack McAfee will be the quarterback. He'll be protected by the likes of Patrick Pead and Clark Evans.
They're the types of players, Jones believes, who could help turn things around and make Woods Cross a contender. He says it's simply a matter of changing the "mentality" here.
"You mention Woods Cross, and they mention soccer and dance around everything but football," he said. "We could be a good program to reckon with if we could just convince these kids in the community it's worth coming out for and doing."
Aug. 19 — WEST, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — at Ogden, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — at Granite, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — SKY VIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Mtn. Crest, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — at Roy, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — BOUNTIFUL, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — BONNEVILLE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — at Box Elder, 7 p.m.
Woods Cross Wildcats,
COACH: Not only did the Wildcats get a proven winner in former Viewmont coach Russ Jones , they also get two standout coaches from Northridge, Fred Fernandes on a part-time basis and Eric Grisby, to help try to build up the program. Jones was 20-13 in at Viewmont, while Fernandes and Grisby led the Knights to three 5A titles.
KEY PLAYERS: The Wildcats have plenty of solid players in the offensive backfield and in the linebacker corps. QB Jack McAfee will lead the new spread offense, while T.J. Knudson, Heinrich Mokofisi, Kyle Thomas, Ben Carlson, Josh O'Toole, Blake Thane, Toelaki Taiti, Cody Moss, Patrick Pead and Clark Evans will be counted on to contribute.
STRENGTHS: The coaching staff is an obvious strong point here, but the Wildcats' speed, new weight room and improved attitude could make them a 4A dark horse.
QUESTION MARKS: Can this school really be a contender in football? Will the big-time coaching staff have enough talent to put Ws in the standings? Can they get kids to stop leaving the boundaries for Bountiful? It'll be interesting to see how they fare in a revamped Region 5 with northern Utah teams Box Elder, Mountain Crest, Bonneville, Roy and Sky View, along with Bountiful.
LAST SEASON: Didn't make the playoffs after going 2-8, with wins over new region foe Sky View and old league rival West.
PROJECTED REGION 5 FINISH: Seventh (of seven)
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Don't count the Wildcats out, especially considering they only have to beat out one team as Region 5 gets six playoff invitations.