KAMAS — Dramatic changes have overtaken South Summit in a short time and the end result could mean good things for the Wildcats.
Going into last season, South Summit fielded a team that embodied the idea of raw and inexperienced. Wildcats head coach Jerry Parker dipped deeply into his sophomore class just to come up with enough starters for Friday nights. A great majority of those players were undersized at their positions and, not surprisingly, South Summit took its share of lumps along the way.
Now those raw sophomores and juniors are back as battle-tested juniors and seniors.
"We have a lot returners," Parker said. "They're still underclassmen — a lot of them — too. We had a lot of sophomores play that got quality time last year. So we should see the dividends of it now."
If preseason predictions hold to form, those dividends could potentially include region and state titles. A healthy mix of talent and experience are in place at enough key positions for the Wildcats to make those championship dreams a reality.
It all starts in the backfield. Lead rusher Jace Johnson graduated last spring, but Levi Thompson, Niko Klus and Denver Hansen still remain a part of the stable of running backs. All of them present different running styles and that should only help South Summit pull a few surprises out of its traditional run-based offense.
"Teams are not going to know which way we are going," senior quarterback Trevor Lewis said. "It gives more options in who to give the ball to. We have some athletes this year — not just one main player."
If a lead back does emerge, Klus is the most likely candidate. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, he seems a bit small on paper. But few players can match his toughness. The senior wrestled at 189 pounds this past winter and managed to finish third at the 2A meet while going against other grapplers that, at times, had 10 to 15 more pounds on their frames than him.
"He's an animal and you're going to see that this year in football," Parker said.
South Summit will be breaking in a new quarterback in Lewis that promises a little more versatility than his predecessors. Stopping the Wildcats in past seasons came down to simply containing the run, since their quarterback typically lacked the arm or accuracy to be a threat through the air. Lewis might be the one to finally break that mold.
He led the junior varsity team a year ago and has made strides over the summer in improving both his timing and his accuracy.
"He's a lot more on target with spirals," Klus said. "He gets (the ball) where it needs to be. He'll put it in the (right) spot. You just have to go get it."
Defensively, things look equally solid. Hansen, Thompson, and Klus will serves as anchors at linebacker. Up front, the Wildcats will rely on returning linemen Judd Rydalch, Chance Feild and Danny Jackson.
The only real question marks are in a secondary where the Wildcats must break in a pair of new cornerbacks. Many returning starters have added weight and strength to their frames over the summer. It can only help South Summit's efforts to shut down opposing offenses more consistently.
"Last year we didn't have one kid over 200 pounds on the varsity (team) and this year we have six or seven," Parker said. "The kids have grown a lot. It's going to make a big difference."
The Wildcats feel like their time to shine has finally arrived. All the right pieces seem to finally be in place to make a 2A championship run that has eluded the school for so long.
"We're a team," Klus said. "We know how to play together. We all get along with each other. We know what to do to make each other better."
South Summit Wildcats at a glance:
Coach: Jerry Parker is entering his eighth season in his second stint heading up the Wildcats. He has compiled a record of 35-37 during those seven seasons.
Key Players: The Wildcat offense should receive a nice boost from the return of so many running backs. Niko Klus, Levi Thompson and Denver Hansen will share in running duties. New quarterback Trevor Lewis is a solid leader and has a better arm than his predecessors. The front seven should be strong on defense with the running backs handling linebacker duties and Judd Rydalch, Danny Jackson and Chance Feild anchoring things on the line.
Strengths: The backfield has loads of experience and depth, which is critical for South Summit to be successful offensively. A tough experienced line should make things even easier for the ground game. The defense should be stronger, too, with several returning starters.
Concerns: If South Summit wishes to claim a region or state title, a serviceable passing game is essential to keep defenses honest. It has not been a strong point of the offense in the past and it remains to be seen if Lewis can change that. The secondary could become the weak link in the defense if the cornerbacks take time to get used to varsity play.
Predicted 2A East Finish: First.
Postseason Possibilities: Everything hinges on how well the Wildcats do in region play. If it can claim a region title in the stronger one of the twin 2A regions, chances are South Summit will have a fantastic shot at nabbing their first state title since joining the 2A ranks.
Aug. 21 - at Altamont, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 - DUCHESNE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 - at Parowan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 - DELTA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 - GRAND, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 - at San Juan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 - NORTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 - Bye
Oct. 9 - at Gunnison, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 - NORTH SUMMIT, 7 p.m.