When Les Hamilton took over the program at Alta, the first thing he noticed was the numbers.
"The number of players difference is just huge," said Hamilton, after moving from 3A Grantsville. "I had talented players before, but now I've just got a whole lot more of them. Alta is one of the biggest schools in the state, and football seems to be king around here."
Alta hopes that with the new coach and a new system, it adds up to the Hawks being the kings of Region 2. What it certainly means is a shift in philosophy and coaching technique. It's something that all-American lineman Braden Hansen has noticed right away.
"I don't want to put down the old coaches, but our new coaches just seem to know everything," he said. "They really help us learn what we are suppose to be doing and give us a lot of confidence. I am sure it is going to help out on the year."
With a new coach, it means new plays, so to have all the players buying into what the coaches are trying to do, like Hansen has said, will be paramount to the team's success.
"There is definitely not a shortage of talent around here," said Hamilton. "The thing is we need to see how fast they can learn the new offense and defense. What we want to do is give some of the talented guys a chance to get into open space where good things can happen."
Hamilton said it was hard to leave Grantsville after growing close to the people and players, but he just thought the opportunity at Alta was too good to pass up.
"I loved it there," he said. "The whole town turned up for the games on Friday nights, but I felt overwhelming support and excitement from the community here from the moment I arrived. It's 5A football, the biggest you can get in Utah."
As Alta struggled through a losing season last year, the players knew that some things were going to change, but what they did not know, was how significantly.
"The attitude was the first thing we noticed," said senior running back Austin Whittenburg. "Coach brought a new energy and focus to the team. We are working twice as hard, but you don't really notice it because we are having so much fun, you forget about how hard you're working."
With talented players such as Hansen, Whittenburg, running back Boston Walbeck, receiver Matt Frogley and tight end Nick Hatch, it could be easy to see Hamilton turning the program back to its winning ways, but the new coach knows that it is not always up to just the talent.
"We are bigger, stronger and faster," he said. "But football is football. It all comes down to the fundamentals and who performs them better on the field. That is what makes up a good football team, and that is where I want this group heading."
Team by team look at Region 2
(preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. SKYLINE: Perhaps no team fits the powerhouse cliche of "they don't rebuild, they just reload" better than coach Roger DuPaix's squad. Plugging in new quarterback Matt Marshall to team up with fullback Leka Moeaki and speedy halfback Toa Taeoalii, should continue the Eagles' long tradition of advancing far into the state playoffs. Sam Walton will anchor the lines, but with only two returning starters on each side of the ball, it may take some time for the team to gel. 2004 RECORD: 11-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost in semifinals.
2. BRIGHTON: The Bengals return four starters on a defense that was one of the best in the state. Jesse Taylor will start at inside linebacker for the third straight year, and when teaming him with players like BYU recruit Mike Hague, Colby Barber and Visesio Salt Junior, the offense may not have to score a lot of points for this team to win. Of course, with Hague at running back and quarterback Matt Marietta, coach Tom Cushing still expects to put points on the board. 2004 RECORD: 12-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost in semifinals.
3. ALTA: Hamilton takes over a program that expects big things. Those expectations can be met if the talented players can catch on to a new system. Hansen, who was named to a preseason all-America team, anchors the line, and with Hansen opening holes, Walbeck and Wittenburg should put up big rushing numbers. Chris Owen and Jordan Herkimer fortify the linebackers and Matt Frogley can be a shutdown defensive back. 2004 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost in first round.
4. HILLCREST: The Huskies return a top passer in Adam Eastman. If he can get the timing down with his two top receivers in Jace Allen and Dex Olsen, Hillcrest could make some noise in this region. New coach Kirk Merhish is going to bring a more wide-open offense, but the defense could be the key to this team. Josh Hooper, Mike Lehr and Jake Buddell make up the core of the offensive and defensive lines. 2004 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost in first round.
5. JORDAN: The Beetdiggers may return the most experience of any team in this league. With five returning starters on each side of the ball, it will not take as long for this team to hit its stride. Cody Larsen and Jordan Lundstrom are both all-region, and their athleticism is evident in that they both play linebacker and offensive line. The skill positions should be improved after they were tutored this summer by Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and Rams' wide receiver Kevin Curtis. 2004 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Missed.
6. TAYLORSVILLE: Coach Scott Henderson feels that his team will be much improved, simply by what has gone on in the offseason. A full year in the weight room and conditioning should make the Warriors a much tougher team physically. Aisea Maafu is the real deal at running back and defensive back, and junior Matt Anderson is ready to take control of the quarterback position. Kuika Taufa and Kyle Olson will be the centerpieces for the lines. 2004 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Missed.
WEDNESDAY: Region 1 & complete team-by-team schedules