HURRICANE — Enrollment is down by about 150 at Hurricane High School entering this school year, yet participation in the football program continues to rise. In fact, the coaching staff will likely need to order more black helmets to fill the demand.
Upwards of 140 kids from all four grades were at the team's first official practice on Aug. 3 — a busy and memorable weekend to say the least for coach Chris Homer whose wife, Carie, gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Kate, the couple's first child, the day before.
"With school, football and a new baby, I won't be sleeping for four months," said Homer.
With so many kids taking an interest in football, not to mention several key returning starters from last year's 3A runner-up team, the next four months could be exhausting yet exciting for the Homer family.
He'd be thrilled if it pans out that way. Homer has been a part of plenty of lows at Hurricane in his eight seasons to truly appreciate highs such as last year's impressive run to the 3A title game at the University of Utah.
"There were times when the word Hurricane never left your lips when talking about high school football, and we never looked to make the playoffs," said Homer.
The mindset is changing. Earlier this decade, football was thought of as a 10- or 11-week season in the Hurricane community. Now, however, the coaching staff speaks in 14-week increments. The Tigers are good enough to be in the mix again.
Coach Homer's team returns six starters on defense and four on offense from a group that lost to Juan Diego 21-18. Interestingly enough, Hurricane's 2009 season kicks off about 10 miles from where its 2008 campaign ended — at Skyline High School.
When a late endowment game vacancy opened up on Hurricane's schedule, Homer put some calls out there and Skyline was one of the last remaining teams with an opening. For a program striving to establish year-to-year consistency and tradition, playing against Skyline could be a perfect eye-opener.
"We have no expectations, especially traveling up there," said Homer. "But this could be a really good team, so we might be able to challenge them."
In the long run, defense should be the team's strength. With six returning starters, including Ian Gates, Jaden Seely and Micah Anderson from last year's dominant linebacking corps, the Tigers will be tough to move the ball against.
Offensively, Hurricane has a lot of team speed and Zach Sorenson and Jacob Pugh provide solid experience at running back. Quarterback Tim Long also saw plenty of playing time last year, backing up an injury-prone teammate. The concern is who will block for them. Gates is the only returning starter from an offensive line that Gordie Dotson flourished behind in 2008.
"If we can come up with four other lineman alongside Gates, we could be pretty good," said Homer. "I've got great line coaches, so I'm no panicked about it, and we have big kids."
Hurricane Tigers at a glance
Coach: Chris Homer is in his eighth year at Hurricane, with a 40-37 record.
Key Players: Ian Gates was one of Hurricane's best two-way players last year and he'll once again be called upon for big contributions starting at linebacker and offensive line. Zach Sorenson and Jacob Pugh are each coming off a season in which they rushed for eight TDs while being overshadowed by Gordie Dotson. Anderson Rich is another player had made major contributions in the secondary. Towering lineman Daniel Nielsen could evolve into a Division I caliber athlete this year.
Strengths: Hurricane returns three of the four linebackers and two of four defensive backs who led the school to last year's 3A championship game. Defensively, it gives the team a solid core to build on. Offensively, the Tigers are experienced and fast at the skill positions.
Concerns: The Tigers graduated everyone from the defensive line and all but one starter on the offensive line. Finding quality replacements so the team can utilize its plethora of talent at the skill positions is critical. Despite so key returning starters, coach Chris Homer said none of them were leaders for last year's team and he's curious to see which players take that role upon themselves this year.
Last year: 12-2, lost to Juan Diego in the 3A championship.
Predicted Region 9 (3A) finish: First.
Postseason possibilities: With confidence at an all-time high in the program, a region championship and another deep run in the playoffs seems like an inevitability.
Aug. 21 — at Skyline, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — DELTA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — at Moapa Valley, Nev., 8 p.m.
Sept. 11 — at Dixie, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — SNOW CANYON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — PINE VIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 — VIRGIN VALLEY, NEV., 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 — at Canyon View, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — CEDAR, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — at Desert Hills, 7 p.m.