The unofficial end of the summer is rapidly approaching. It may not feel like it with temperatures still in the 90s, but the 2009 high school football season is just around the corner — Aug. 21 to be exact — and excitement is at an all-time high as well.
The quality of high school football in Utah continues to get better each year, and last year's championship games were collectively some of the best in recent memory. The average margin of victory in the five title games was five points.
A record 99 schools will field teams this year, including two new schools in Utah County and another in Tooele County. Even though not much is expected of these new schools, big things are expected of powerhouse programs such as Alta and Timpview in their quest for more hardware. Beginning Sunday, the Deseret News will start offering insight into the 2009 season and what fans can expect with previews from all 15 regions.
Individual previews for all 99 teams will also be published in the coming weeks online at deseretnews.com.
Twenty-one of these schools begin the 2009 season under the direction of new coaches, which includes some familiar faces such as Jay Graft, Clint Christiansen and Mike Smith. This season is also a realignment year, with 20 schools changing classifications.
Here's a look at five compelling stories to pay attention to heading into the 2009 season.
1. Realignment's impact: When the UHSAA released its final draft regarding realignment last November, it had some dramatic implications on 20 schools in particular. Many people were shocked that schools such as Cyprus, Granger, Murray, West and Roy were being bumped up to 5A despite considerable struggles competing in 4A.
The same was said in 4A about the promotion of Ogden and Uintah from 3A.
Realistically, realignment's biggest impact was felt in the smaller classifications. Four 2A schools made the jump to 3A, and four 1A schools made the jump to 2A. The departure of those bigger 1A schools encouraged Whitehorse and Monument Valley to abandon their independent schedule and return to play football in Utah.
Of all the teams that bounced around, Cottonwood is the most likely to make an impact in its new classification. It finished with a 13-1 record in 4A last year, and figures to be a top-five team in 5A in 2009.
2. The super regions: Realignment didn't just shuffle teams around, it created a few super regions. One coach went so far as to call his region the SEC of Utah high school football. But will Regions 4 and 11 be as good as advertised?
Region 4 features Alta, American Fork, Brighton, Hillcrest, Jordan, Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove. Their combined record in 2008 was 47-36 and in the past five years the seven teams in Region 4 have made eight appearances in the semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Two-time 5A state champion Alta is the obvious team to beat, but after that it's wide open.
Class 3A's Region 11 is loaded at the top with Juan Diego, Morgan, Bear River and Judge. Even though teams in smaller classifications are more susceptible to up-and-down years, each of these teams have made semifinal appearances at the U. in the past three years. The potential is there for two and possibly three of these Region 11 teams to advance to the semis again this year.
3. Alta vs. Bingham: This fierce rivalry has become the second-most anticipated November football game in Utah. In each of the past three seasons, these schools have met in the playoffs at Rice-Eccles Stadium, with Bingham winning 21-19 in 2006 and Alta returning the favor with the same 21-17 score line in 2007 and again in 2008.
Alta's 2007 victory was in the semifinals, but the other two were championship games played in front of nearly 20,000 fans.
Since this series resumed in 2001 following a 12-year break, Bingham clings to a 6-5 series edge but Alta has won three straight.
The rivalry resumes at Bingham on Aug. 28. Assuming each team wins its respective region title, another black and blue semifinal showdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium seems inevitable.
4. Timpview's streak: With last year's second straight undefeated state championship season, Timpview extended its improbable winning streak to 36 straight, shattering the previous state record of 28 by Rich High.
The question heading into 2009 is how long can Timpview keep this up? With 13 games on the schedule this year, another undefeated season would extend the streak to 49.
Timpview's two biggest tests will come in the first three weeks of the season. It hosts Pleasant Grove in Week 1, and then makes the long-awaited trip to Alta on Sept. 4 for a Week 3 showdown. If the T-Birds can upset Alta, it would probably be the most impressive victory during its magical streak. Timpview's last loss was 10-0 against Lone Peak on Sept. 1, 2006.
5. Preseason Mr. Football watch: The past four Deseret News Mr. Football recipients were Timpview's Craig Bills, Alta's Boo Andersen, Alta's Sausan Shakerin and Logan's Riley Nelson. Two of these athletes are now at Utah and two are at BYU.
Which players are frontrunners to follow in their footsteps in 2009?
Class 5A features two outstanding tailbacks in Bingham junior Harvey Langi and Davis senior Tanner Hinds. Alta has another candidate of its own. Alta's quarterbacks have been sensational the past two years, and even though Jordan Brown has never started a varsity game, he may end up being the best of the three.
Another quarterback worth watching is Mountain Crest junior Alex Kuresa. He dazzled the state as a sophomore last year in a semifinal loss to Timpview, and he should be even better this year.
Defensively, Alta linebacker Taloai Ho-Ching and Timpview defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi might be the most dominant players in the state.