PROVO — When you ask fellow Region 7 coaches about a possible sleeper team, most point the finger at the Provo Bulldogs.
Some coaches feel the Bulldogs were one of the toughest teams to move the ball against last season. Also, everyone knows Provo has most of its offensive and defensive stars back.
"We have a lot of kids who have played a lot of football for us who are back and excited to get going," second-year Provo coach Saia Pope said.
Ironically, the coaches only picked the Bulldogs to finish fifth in a league that gets four postseason spots, probably because of Provo's struggles in recent years. However, the Bulldogs don't mind the lack of respect because they figure until they earn it, they really don't deserve it. They might even catch some teams taking them lightly. Still, the Bulldogs themselves expect a lot this season and believe that by year's end they'll have the respect they're working hard to gain.
"Provo High is one of those schools that has struggled for the past few years and has a lot to prove. But we feel optimistic about the season because of our returning-starter experience and our hard work and dedication in the offseason," Pope said.
Leading the list of returners is quarterback Matt Griner, who showed last season that he makes good decisions and throws a good ball. Kyler Hamilton, with two years experience in Provo's backfield, is an elusive back that should be among the league's best ball carriers. The Bulldogs also have a host of receivers, including move-in Maka Unufe, who is as fast any wideout in the league.
Three other big stars for the Bulldogs are Josh Roberts (tight end and defensive end), Monte Naioupu (fullback, lineman and linebacker) and lineman Likio Pope, who will anchor both sides of Provo's trench corps.
"We're unproven and only won two games last year. So even though we have good players, we need to prove what we can do on the field," Pope said.
One area that might hurt the Bulldogs is their lack of depth up front, and their lack of size. However, Pope likes his team's athleticism and overall team speed.
"What we lack in size, we will make up in speed," he said.
The key to having more success this season, Pope said, is team chemistry and confidence. The Bulldogs need to win some games early, gain some momentum, and avoid injuries to their core players.
"I really like the continuity of our team. We have players who are dedicated and familiar with what we're trying to do, and players who are hungry to start winning," he said.
Provo Bulldogs 2009 prep football preview
Coach: Saia Pope is in his second season at Provo, and second season overall as a head coach. Last year his Bulldogs went 2-9 but still earned a spot in the state playoffs.
Key Players: The Bulldogs have a good share of their skill-position players back, including quarterback Matt Griner and running back Kyler Hamilton. They also have some big guys back in Josh Roberts (tight end/defensive), Monte Naoupu (guard/linebacker) and four-year starter Likio Pope, who will play on both sides of the offensive line. They should also get some help from move-in Maka Unufe, who gives the Bulldogs outstanding speed as a receiver and safety.
Strengths: With such a young team the past two seasons, Provo is more experienced than most teams in the league. They return seven starters on offense. This is also one of Provo's better overall-speed teams in several years, and the Bulldogs are also very athletic. There will also be more team unity and familiarity with the changes implemented last season.
Concerns: Depth continues to be an issue with the Bulldogs, and an injury to a key player would really leave them vulnerable. They only return three defensive starters, so they have a lot of holes to fill on that side of the ball. The Bulldogs line will also be on the smaller size, and the program has yet to prove that they can play consistent football for four quarters and win close games.
Last year: 2-9, fifth in Region 7, lost to Pineview in first round
Predicted Region 7 finish: Fifth
Postseason possibilities: The Bulldogs have enough players returning to do better than some expect and they could grab one of the league's four playoff berths. However, they'd be a big underdog to win a playoff game should they get that far.
Aug. 21 – at Cyprus, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 – at Stansbury, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 – WEST JORDAN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 – at Westlake, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 – TIMPANOGOS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 – at Lehi, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 – OGDEN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 – MOUNTAIN VIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 – at Orem, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 – TIMPVIEW, 7 p.m.