OREM — When a football team begins the season with few familiar faces in the starting lineup, the expectations are usually much lower.
This is one of those years for the Orem Tigers, a team that has only a few starters returning and no returning starters in the skill positions. The Tigers are replacing their quarterback, and all of their starting running backs and receivers.
"We have a lot of kids who played last year, but as far as kids who actually started we have only three," Tigers coach Robert Steele said.
But even though the Tigers are lacking experience, they have one thing in their favor — the school's tradition of almost always fielding a playoff-caliber team. Steele is confident this year's team will again reach that point once it has time to develop it's own identify and a high level of confidence.
"When you look at our experience and the number of returning players coming back, I don't think we're expected to do great things. But this is a pretty good team and we have a great tradition here at Orem High and usually put very competitive teams on the field," he said.
Orem's schedule should allow the Tigers' new starters ample time to get comfortable with their roles and competing at the varsity level. The Tigers have four non-league games before their first region game five weeks into the slate when they travel to Timpview.
"Week 5 is going to be a big test for us, and hopefully we'll be ready," Steele said.
Though young and inexperienced, the Tigers are still deep in several positions — especially so at running back and on both lines.
"Hopefully, we won't have too many guys who have to go both ways and we'll be able to do more platooning this year," Steele said.
Last season the Tigers had a strong throwing QB and went to the air a little more than usual. Look for the Tigers to return to a ground game more this season with their big offensive line (Quinn Lawlor, Brett Orgill,, Harrison Custer and Kai Fa'alafua) and powerful running back Jeremiah Tiatia.
"We really feel like we're going to be able to take it right at people a little bit more," Steele said.
Other running backs — Matia Arujo, Josiah Tiatia and Jordan Byers — and receivers Keenan Karratti and Harrison Gray, and quarterback Brayden Hills, give the Tigers plenty of offensive firepower. Defensively, the Tigers have plenty of speed in the backfield and enough hard hitters at linebacker to again be a difficult team to move the football on.
"If the chemistry comes through, we have the potential to be a pretty good team. We should get to the playoffs, I'd think, and I'd hope that we're playing well enough by then that we can get past the first or second round," Steele said.
Orem Tigers 2009 prep football preview
Coach: Robert Steele, who also graduated from Orem High, is beginning his seventh season as the Tigers head coach. During that tenure he's compiled a record of 38-29.
Key Players: Most of Orem's success will fall on the shoulders of the offensive line — comprised of Brett Orgill, Quinn Lawlor, Kai Fa'alafua and Harrison Custer — and the hard-to-bring-down fullback Jeremiah Tiatia. If the power game is successful, new quarterback Brayden Hill should have plenty of time to find receivers Harrison Gray, Keenan Karratti and Derek Latimer. On the defensive side of the ball, Orem will lean on DBs Collin Gleason, B.J. Logan and Brandon Erickson, and linebackers Jordan Byers and Josh Thomsen, and lineman Scott Carlile.
Strengths: The Tigers should have a powerful running game, and good depth in the offensive backfield. The line is plenty deep and plenty big. They are very athletic on the defensive side of the ball and have better-than-average overall team speed.
Concerns: The lack of players with substantial varsity experience will require substantial development time early in the schedule. Most of the skill-position players, though athletic and quick, are basically untested in varsity games. Several players will need to develop into team leaders early in the season.
Last year: 6-5, second in Region 7 and lost in first round of playoffs to Cottonwood
Predicted Region 7 finish: Third
Postseason possibilities: Under Steele, the Tigers have had a fairly solid tradition of being competitive every night out, and getting enough done to reach the playoffs. They should do the same again this season but probably won't go very deep once they get there.
Aug. 21 — at Salem Hills, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — PAYSON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — at Spanish Fork, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — RAYMOND, CANADA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Timpview, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — WESTLAKE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 — TIMPANOGOS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 — at Lehi, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — PROVO, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — at Mountain View, 7 p.m.