PAYSON — With a new region full of Nebo School District opponents and headed by a new coach, the 2009 Payson Lions are optimistic about the opportunity their fresh start holds this season.
"The optimism, this year, for this group of kids is higher than I've seen in the past," first-year head coach Jeremy Chapman said.
A former Payson Lion himself, Chapman is taking over the reins after serving as defensive coordinator on coach Jared Woolstenhulme's staff last season. Having coached with the team for the past five years, Chapman already has a good relationship with his team. He knows his players' abilities on the field and they know what he expects as a coach.
"These young men know me and I know them," Chapman said. "They understand me and the way I expect things and the differences between me and the previous coach."
After taking part in the season's first practice Monday, Chapman said he's impressed by his team's willingness to take on challenges. He said his players have hit the ground running after a majority of his players prepared well in the off-season.
"We've got great kids," Chapman said. "We've demanded a lot, and I'd say these kids have risen to every challenge... they haven't questioned it. They've gotten down to work and they've met every challenge we've put in front of them."
Even though Payson struggled through a 2-8 (1-5, Region) campaign in 2008, some players experienced winning as freshmen or sophomores, and are excited to for an opportunity to win again.
"A lot of them got varsity playing time last year," Chapman said. "They understand what to expect going into games Friday night and they know how to handle the pressure and the adversity."
Not the biggest team in the state, Chapman said his team isn't going bowl any other teams over. Instead, he said, the Lions should have the most success when relying on an unconventional defensive scheme against opponents.
He said his offense, which will still primarily focus on the run, will also include more passing than before, but only as established by the Lions' run game. In an effort to be less predictable, the Payson offense will be more unconventional than in the past.
"We're going to try to mix it up," he said. "We're just going to move the ball around and, at times, get a little crazy with what we're doing to try to keep things off balance for the defense."
Playing in a new region this year, Chapman said the Lions' schedule features rivalry games almost every week. He said they have a chance to come out and establish a tradition of winning. Payson will renew its long-time rivalry with Spanish Fork as well as compete against Uinta. The Lions will also face some newer teams in Salem Hills and Maple Mountain.
Payson Lions 2009 prep football preview
Coach: Jeremy Chapman, first year coach. Was an assistant coach under Colby Knight and a defensive coordinator for the Lions in 2008. As a prep, Chapman played football at Payson, graduating in 1996. He also played at Dixie State and graduated from Utah Valley State College. The rest of Chapman's coaching staff will be a mix between old and new Payson coaches.
Key Players: Offensively, Chapman said he's still deciding between Colton Cannon, who played quarterback some last season, and C.J. Ford. He should have his quarterback by the end of the week, but either way he goes, the other should still be on the field making plays for the Lions. Others expected to contribute on offense this season include: Brady Loveless, Jeremiah Guzman, and Dallan Lindquist. Defensively, Chapman expects his top offensive players to also contribute. Additionally, the Lions feature Tyler Kearl at linebacker as well as Tyson Allsop. While mostly, weighing in at about 200 pounds, the Lion line will feature Nathan Cunningham, Josh Ross, Garrett Sorenson, Dylan Clark and Mike Cole.
Strengths: The team's main strength is the players' physical and mental toughness. Chapman said his players have risen time and again to each of his requests without backing down.
Weakness: Being a team with smaller numbers, Chapman sees depth as the biggest concern the Lions will face. While not so worried about his first-string players, Chapman said there's a bit of disparity between those players and his second unit. His team could struggle if it faces injuries to key players.
Last year: 2-8, failed to qualify for postseason
Predicted Region 8 finish: Third
Postseason possibilities: Since the league's coaches picked the Lions to finish third, they must think they're a playoff-caliber team. If that prediction comes to fruition, history would say that the Lions would still have a tough time getting past the first round.
Aug. 21 – TIMPANOGOS, 6 p.m.
Aug. 28 – at Orem, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 – at Westlake, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 – at Juab, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 – SPRINGVILLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 – MAPLE MOUNTAIN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 – at Spanish Fork, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 – at Salem Hills, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 – WEST JORDAN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 – at UINTAH, 7 p.m.