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High school football: Teams excited in new Region 7

It's difficult to say which teams benefit most from the new alignment in Region 7, but there isn't one of the seven teams that seem too disappointed with the changes.

Lehi, Westlake and Timpanogos might not be thrilled at the prospect of having to beat Timpview each year to win a region title, but to be the best you've got to beat the best eventually. But even with that annual obstacle now facing those three schools, there are still many other benefits with the league's new makeup.

For Westlake, the new Alpine School District high school in Saratoga Springs, it gives the Thunder a chance to begin its history by establishing some north Utah County rivalries, especially with Lehi - the school from which most of Westlake's students came.

"A lot of those kids at Westlake were Lehi kids who got their start in our program, so that last game of the season (when Lehi visits Westlake) is going to be a big game for both teams," said Lehi coach Derrick Peyton.

On the negative side, the Thunder has to begin its inaugural season facing some stiff 4A competition.

"I think our region is very strong," Mountain View coach Teko Johnson said. "Of course there's Timpview, but there are several other teams in this league that are going to play good football. You're going to have to come ready to play every night."

Lehi and Timpanogos, two football programs that failed to make the 5A playoffs last year, both benefit by dropping down a classification. Lehi, however, lost some of its players to Westlake so won't be quite as strong as it would have been. Timpanogos, also, has some rebuilding to do with new coach Brad King and a roster short on returning starters.

"We've got a lot of good athletes and we're going to end up playing a lot of different kids," King said.

It might take a season or two, but Peyton believes the league will eventually develop parity and be a dogfight annually for playoff spots.

"I think it's going to be fun to see how this all pans out," he said.

For prep sports fans living in Orem, the new alignment's most obvious benefit is increased meaning in the games between the three Orem schools - Orem High, Mountain View High and Timpanogos High.

"I love keeping things right here in the community," Johnson said. "I think it's going to be fun for our kids to play Timpanogos and Orem and against friends they went to junior high with."

Orem High gets its students from the junior high schools that feed both Mountain View and Timpanogos, so both of those games will be extra intense.

"Every team has its own things that motivate the players, and that's one reason why I think this is going to be a very competitive league," Orem coach Robert Steele said.

Timpview and Provo like the fact that their strong rivalry remains intact, and they like the newness of the league as well. It not only keeps the north Utah County 4A schools in the same region, but the region has the makeup to become the strongest 4A league in the state.

"I like who we have in our region," Thunderbirds coach Louis Wong said. "It's going to be 11-man football at its best. Your best 11 against their best 11. Your coaches against their coaches. Your schemes against their schemes. And whichever team wins those three things will win the game."

And even though Wong acknowledges his team's prowess and the intimidation that other teams feel when they face the T-Birds, he knows they're by no means invincible.

"Orem is the last region team that we've lost to and Mountain View has a very good staff and schematically they do things very well. And I know Timpanogos and those other schools have good athletes. It's just a good region and it's going to be very interesting to see how things work out," Wong said.

REGION 7 PROJECTIONS

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. TIMPVIEW: The Thunderbirds, winners of 36 straight games and three straight 4A state titles, have a few more holes to fill than normal this year. Still, with stars like defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, safety Chris Badger, linebacker Ofa Latu and running back Bryson McKenzie returning, the T-Birds are still again the team to beat. Jeremiah Burr and Trevor Brown are battling for the quarterback job, and Jacob Hatch and Colby Jorgensen are solid receivers. Kalvin Cusick, Tyson Tiatia and Tevia Toluta'u lead another quality front line. 2008 RECORD: 13-0. PLAYOFFS: 4A state champions

2. MOUNTAIN VIEW: Third-year coach Teko Johnson has the Bruins moving forward and gaining more respect every season. Even though he lost his main guns in the backfield, he has a committee of athletic kids who have good speed and a nice variety of skills. Dustin Thacker returns at QB, and both Tanner Houston and Bennett Maxwell got some experience last year at running back. James Emerson, Kope Satula, Zach Taylor and Evan Moai can play several spots. The line, with D-1 prospect Taylor Johnson, is the league's biggest. 2008 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bonneville in the first round.

3. OREM: The Tigers might not have many familiar faces on the roster, but coach Robert Steele said fans will know who the stars are come region play. One who is sure to catch some headlines is running back Jeremiah Tiatia, who will carry most of Orem's offensive load. In front of him will be a solid line, comprised of Quinn Lawlor, Kai Fa'alafua and Brett Orgill. The Tigers have many versatile athletes like QB Brayden Hill, receiver Keenan Karratti, Harrison Gray, defensive back B.J. Logan and linebacker Jordan Byers. 2008 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Cottonwood in the first round.

4. TIMPANOGOS: If there's a mystery team in this league, it's the Timberwolves. They were acompetitive in 5A, but lost several key pieces from last year and have a rookie head coach in Brad King. Still, the T-Wolves roster is filled with quality athletes. Damian Rivers and Brooks Fowler will both play QB, Dave McAllister, Parker Almeida and Esi Havili will rotate in the backfield, and Braden Nickle, Josh Harmon, Ryan Hamilton and Jason Fullmer will all get catches in the receiver spots. Tanner Brown, Lexin Rockwood and Mike Dockendorf will handle the blocking duties. 2008 RECORD: 3-6. PLAYOFFS: Missed the playoffs.

5. PROVO: The Bulldogs are more excited about this season than they've been for several years, mainly because second-year coach Saia Pope has almost all of his skill-position players back and many of his guys in the trenches. Matt Griner is back at QB, as is elusive running back Kyler Hamilton. Josh Roberts is a strong and athletic tight end and defensive end. Monte Naioupu will play both fullback and linebacker. Maka Unufe gives the Bulldogs great speed at receiver and in the defensive backfield. Likio Pope, at nose guard, might be the team's best player. 2008 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Pineview in the first round.

6. LEHI: Even though the Pioneers dropped down to 4A and were more competitive last season, there are still plenty of question marks about this team. They lost a few key pieces to the new high school to the west. But third-year coach Derrick Peyton likes the athleticism and aggressiveness of his squad. Chris Dodge will get the nod at QB, with Colby Massa and Mitch Peterson getting most of the carries. Steven Lew will be the main passing target. Taylor Savio, Bubba Demke, Cooper Smith, Justin Holland and Justin Cottle should be busy on both offense and defense. 2008 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Missed the playoffs.

7. WESTLAKE: Rookie coach Jason Walker learned first-hand how to develop talent while an assistant at Timpview, and he'll need to use those skills in building up a young Thunder team. It might be several games into the season before a lineup is established as several players are vying for time at every position. Koty Johnson, Kayden Jones and John Ursua are contending for the QB job. Nate Jensen should be the top receiver, Tre Ofahengaue a key ball carrier and Bruno Silva a leader at linebacker. Eti Palu, Brock Hillstead, Nick Waltkevicu, Semi Taeoalii, Spencer Brown and A.J. Pauga should also earn some playing time somewhere for the Thunder.