Restoring a winning tradition has progressed in small stages at Richfield.
The Wildcats made a return to the 2A playoffs in 2006 after a postseason dry spell and followed up that initial trip with back-to-back play-in game victories in 2007 and 2008. Richfield is hoping those small steps will lead to bigger strides as the team transitions to 3A this fall.
"It gives the kids a little bit of confidence," Wildcats coach Corey Morrison said. "The last couple of years we've been in the quarterfinals and we'd like to improve on that obviously. But, yeah, it gives them at least a little confidence going into 3A."
One thing giving Richfield confidence is junior quarterback Tyler Sorensen. Thrust into taking the reins of the offense as a sophomore, Sorensen totaled 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns. With two full seasons still ahead of him, Morrison knows the offense will be in good hands for the immediate future.
"To have a kid with that type of experience at quarterback makes all the difference in the world," Morrison said. "The kids on that offense look up to him and look to him as a leader."
Sorensen will have a solid chance to improve on his numbers from last season if the Wildcats can find someone to fill holes at receiver and running back to replace graduated stars J.D. Michaelson, Trent Nielson and Zach Cropper. Jared Barney and Eric Peterson could become the new targets for Sorensen at receiver and tight end, respectively.
Barney, who also plays at defensive back, almost transferred from Richfield when his father took a new job in Moab. But he and his mother decided to stay behind so he could finish out high school at Richfield. The running game may end up being manned by committee. Morrison will look to Andy Geigel, Tyler Giddings, Colton Torgersen and potentially Ben Jorgensen to share the ball in the backfield.
"There won't be any one running back that's going to be focused on this year," Morrison said. "It will be mixed up pretty good."
When it comes to the defense, the Wildcats' strength lies with their line and their secondary. Brandon Henderson had multiple sacks at defensive tackle a year ago and returns to anchor the team up front. Jorgensen, Geigel and Barney will all return to power the secondary.
A really big season could be in store for Jorgensen in particular after he accumulated eight interceptions at defensive back last fall. The only area with question marks is at linebacker where Richfield will have much less experience to fall back on. A switch to 3A seems daunting on the surface for Richfield. The Wildcats were simply a middle-of-the pack 2A team and conventional wisdom suggests that such a team could struggle moving up to 3A.
It does help that Richfield will compete in a region featuring schools with similar student populations who are natural rivals. But the Wildcats could face some harsh realities when they meet up with bigger schools in the 3A playoffs. Still, no one in the program is attempting to hide from the task ahead of the team this season.
"There's a lot of reason for excitement in our program," Morrison said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I know the kids are getting excited to get out there and perform. We're excited to jump into the 3A ranks — even though I don't know, size wise, if we ought to be there. But we're to go give it a shot and get after it."
Richfield Wildcats at a glance:
Coach: Corey Morrison is entering his second season at Richfield and has compiled a record of 5-6. He has coached six seasons overall with an 8-46 record.
Key Players: With a year under his belt, junior quarterback Tyler Sorensen should only get better. He will have Jared Barney back at wide receiver as one of his targets downfield. Ben Jorgenson returns to lead a loaded secondary that also features Barney. The Wildcats also have a pair of returning starters on the line in Robert Torgersen and Justin Pei. Eric Peterson is primed for a breakout year at tight end.
Strengths: When you have an experienced quarterback, it helps the other parts of the offense fall into place much easier. Sorensen should improve on his numbers from a year ago, which can only be a good sign for the Wildcats in their quest to be competitive in 3A. The secondary is teeming with depth and is without question the strongest area on defense.
Concerns: With last year's top rusher, Zach Cropper, graduated, Richfield is going to run the ball by committee. It could develop depth at the position, but it could also keep the Wildcats from truly developing a go-to back who can get them reliable yards. On the defensive side, Richfield will need players to step up to fill holes at linebacker.
Predicted Region 12 finish: Fourth.
Postseason Possibilities: The Wildcats have made strides at being more competitive the past couple seasons, but 3A is a huge step up from 2A for the program. They will likely be locked into a lower seed if they make the playoffs - making another first-round exit a certainty.
Aug. 21 - at Enterprise, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 - CANYON VIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 - at ALA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 - SOUTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 - CARBON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 - at Emery, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 - at Juab, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 - DELTA, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 - NORTH SANPETE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 - at Manti, 7 p.m.