Billy Pluim, the first-year football coach at Clearfield High, has admitted to feeling some pressure over replacing longtime Falcon coach Randy Johnson.
That's understandable. After all, Johnson basically built Clearfield's football program into a perennial contender. During his 16-year tenure, the school won a state championship, several region titles and produced a couple of NFL players (Kevin and Andre Dyson).
But according to his new peers, Pluim shouldn't feel any pressure at all. In their annual preseason straw poll for the Deseret Morning News, the Region 1 coaches picked Clearfield to finish at the bottom of the league.
Don't mind the Falcons if they happen to disagree with being picked seventh — even with a new coach.
"We expect to be very competitive in a tough Region 1," Pluim said.
The fact that Pluim coached under Johnson for nine years (the past three as offensive coordinator) should help the Falcons transition into a new era. Pluim, a Clearfield alum who played at Dixie State and graduated from the University of Utah, has also helped coach track, so the school's athletes know him well.
"The kids have been around me," he said. "They know what kind of coach I am and what my expectations are."
Clearfield should also benefit from having its starting quarterback return for his senior season. The Falcons will count on Casey Hill, who threw for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns in 2005, to provide leadership and smoothly run their spread offense.
One of Hill's top targets should be Cameron Evans, a junior tight end who had 600 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season. Receiver/return specialist Tanner Hansen is another threat.
And Clearfield might have a secret weapon. Joe Marelli, a quick 6-2, 195-pounder, platooned on defense last year but has been turning heads so far as the team's top running back.
"He's been a real bright spot for us," Pluim said. "I think he's going to surprise teams this year."
Clearfield's defense is also under new leadership. Coach Dave Aoyogi joined Pluim's staff to spearhead the D after coaching stints at Southern Utah, Viewmont and in Arizona. Defensive back Chase Allen, a two-year starter who had 52 tackles last season, and linebacker Jessie Smith are a couple of their top stoppers.
Clearfield returns 10 starters — five apiece on offense and defense — from last year's squad, which battled to a playoff spot after losing its first four games (and first six out of seven).
"We won't be real big, but we do have good team speed," Pluim said. "The kids have worked hard this offseason and have put themselves in position to be successful."
And so far, he likes what he's seen this summer from his new view as head honcho, especially on offense.
"We're ahead of where we were at last year," he said, "so I feel pretty good."
Coaches needing a scouting report from football teams in the northern part of the state will be able to give Pluim a call. The Falcons' schedule doesn't include any opponents south of Bountiful. Along with their Region 1 slate — which includes schools from Davis and Weber counties — the Falcons play more than half the teams from Region 5, including Bonneville, Bountiful, Box Elder and Sky View. They open Aug. 18 at Utah State against the Bobcats.
"We kind of wanted to reestablish rivalries we had," Pluim said. Another benefit is reduced traveling costs.
Clearfield Falcons 2006 football preview
Coach: University of Utah alum Billy Pluim takes over at his alma mater for longtime Falcon coach Randy Johnson, who retired after picking up his 100th win last season.
Key players: Casey Hill, quarterback; Cameron Evans, TE; Joe Marelli, RB; Chase Allen, DB; Jessie Smith, LB; Tanner Hansen, WR.
Strengths: Getting their starting quarterback back for another year is a bonus, and the Falcons seem to have good speed and a strong work ethic. They also return 10 starters from a squad that overcame early season adversity to make the playoffs last year.
Question marks: Rookie coach is a product of Clearfield, but it remains to be seen how players will react to the new blood, new wrinkles and new system.
Last season: 4-7 overall (4-2, second in Region 1); lost in first round of 5A playoffs
Projected Region 1 finish: Seventh (last) by league coaches
Postseason possibilities: Expectations by others are low, but that's why they play the game, right?
Aug. 18 — vs. Sky View (at Utah State), 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — BOUNTIFUL, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — BONNEVILLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — FREMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — at Davis, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — VIEWMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 — at Box Elder, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — LAYTON, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 — at Northridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 — at Weber, 7 p.m.