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Pioneers may find going in 4A rough

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LEHI — The first season in Class 4A football was one the Lehi Pioneers would like to forget.

One way to do that is to follow up that disappointing 1-8 season with a winning record and a spot in the state playoffs. The 2006 Pioneers, and their coaches, believe that's a goal they can accomplish.

"They've made some goals for themselves and they're not going to have a repeat of last season," coach Joe Hayes said. "They're a harder working group, they're much more dedicated and there's a lot of good leadership on this team."

Hayes said his returning players have been hungry for success ever since last season ended. They've been dedicated to every off-season program he's promoted — the weight room, seven-man passing camps and training camp — with the hopes of exceeding every expectation that the rest of Region 7 might have for them.

"We know we're probably going to be picked to finish at the bottom of the league, but we have our own expectations and we've set our own goals and feel that if we do the right things that we can meet them," he said. "Eventually things are going to click for us and we're going to hit our stride. If it doesn't come in the first few games, it will eventually come if we continue to work hard and not give up on ourselves. I would be very disappointed if we are not in that hunt in our region for a playoff spot."

The Pioneers have several players returning with experience on the defensive side of the ball, and that should be one of Lehi's strengths. They also have good talent in the skill positions. Quarterback Derek Sargent is athletic and has a powerful and accurate arm. Returning all-region receiver Henrique Silva is one of the best in the state. The Pioneers also have a core of quick and speedy running backs.

"We have some real athletic and strong kids who are willing to work hard, and we're hoping that will carry us," Hayes said.

However, the Pioneers are again small and inexperienced in the trenches. But the linemen they do have are stronger and more athletic than in past seasons. Hayes admits the play of his offensive and defensive lines will be the key to Lehi's success.

"If we can get a good performance from those two groups I think we can have some success with this season," he said. "We've got all the tools we need in the skill positions, we just need to get five guys out front who are consistently doing the job for us."

And the Pioneers want no sympathy for having to play stronger 4A opponents. That's a past issue.

"We can't use what-ifs or why-nots, or make any excuses. We have to go out every week and meet the level of our competition," Hayes said.

Lehi Pioneers 2006 football preview

Coach:Joe Hayes is beginning his fourth season as head coach of the Pioneers. At Lehi he's compiled a record of 12-17 and has taken his team to the postseason two of the three seasons, and has one region title under his belt. Prior to taking the Lehi job he was an assistant at Timpanogos for three seasons and head coach at Parowan for three seasons. He's a native of Eldorado, Calif., and played at Southern Utah University.

Key Players: Wide receiver Henrique Silva had an outstanding year last season and is one of the top all-around athletes in Utah County. He should catch more balls this season with strong-armed quarterback Derek Sargent guiding Lehi's offense. Running backs Ben Sunderland and junior Travis Smith are both capable of racking up some big yardage. Defensively the Pioneers should be strong with experienced linebackers Seth Munger and Jason Demke leading the attack. Tyson Colledge will provide most of the pass defense at cornerback.

Strengths: The Pioneers are strong in the skill positions and have a handful of explosive runners and receivers. Defensively they are experienced at linebacker and in the secondary. Their special teams have been getting special attention and should be much improved. The team seems to have solid leadership. Lehi's non-region schedule is one that could help the Pioneers regain confidence after last season's disappointing year.

Question marks: The Pioneers are again smaller on the line than most teams, and will likely be overmatched up front against most opponents. While Lehi's preseason schedule is weaker than most teams, the league schedule is brutal. The Pioneers play their first three region games on the road and have only two region games at home.

Last season: 1-8, last in Region 7

Projected Region 7 finish: Sixth

Postseason possibilities: Getting to the playoffs would be quite an accomplishment, considering it's only the Pioneers second season in 4A and considering they're coming off a one-win season.

2006 Schedule

(home games in bold)

Aug. 18 — Timpanogos

Aug. 25 — Snow Canyon

Sept. 1 — Tooele

Sept. 8 — American Fork

Sept. 15 — Orem

Sept. 22 — Springville

Sept. 29 — Timpview

Oct. 6 — Provo

Oct. 11 — Park City

Oct. 20 — Payson

E-mail: jimr@desnews.com