Last year, Juan Diego experienced one of the greatest moments in any level of sports. The Soaring Eagle held up the state championship trophy after an undefeated season. Although you can never replace such a magical year, it's history. The motivation to escape the shadow of the previous team, and to bring more hardware to the Catholic school in Draper, is undeniable.
"Well I think comin' off of last year, kids are working really hard. I think we should be very competitive this year again," said Juan Diego head coach John Colosimo. "We've got some big shoes to fill, so we're lookin' for some kids to step up. I feel good about our team."
The entire team has been gym rats in the weight room throughout the summer, waking up before the morning rooster call to improve their strength, agility and precision on the football field. One stood out above the rest.
A three-year starter at wide receiver, Keegan Anderson, son of Utah State head coach Gary Anderson, elected to stay for his senior year to help Juan Diego win another title.
"He's gonna stay, so that's good for us. He's a big kid – about 6-2, 190," said Colosimo. "He has great hands, goes after the ball. We expect great things this year out of him offensively."
The Eagles are more than qualified to win another championship. They are loaded with talent and, above most, they have experience – something that can't be taught on a whiteboard.
The worry heading into the season, could be the offensive line – the only position that suffered from graduation. Therefore, Juan Diego will need to rely on strong defense to win early, which won't be too difficult with six returning starters.
"Even though we have some good skilled kids, (the) offensive line has to be able to come together, for those kids to be able to perform," Colosimo said. "We're inexperience (on the line). We'll start four new kids. We've got good kids, it's whether they can jell."
The realignment of the region can be seen one of two ways by Juan Diego fans.
First, it can be said that the Eagles drew the short end of the stick and were placed in an extremely difficult league, making the road to the region championship that much harder.
Second, the tougher region might be beneficial to success in the postseason — strictly due to the constant tests of will power to win against stronger competition.
Colosimo chooses the latter. He believes the Soaring Eagle will be "challenged each week" in region play — something he didn't think always happened in previous seasons.
"Even though I would try and schedule the toughest preseason (games) as I could, we'd play a lot of league games and get complacent. We'd beat teams and our starters wouldn't play much," said Colosimo.
That could hurt come postseason time.
"So going into the playoffs, all of a sudden we're playing top caliber teams that play in a tougher region," Colosimo added. "I like our region schedule and I think we're gonna be challenged by those teams. It'll be a good preparation for getting into the state tournament."
Juan Diego Soaring Eagle at a glance
Coach: John Colosimo is in his 10th year at Juan Diego with an 82-24 record.
Key players: Watch out for Keegan Anderson. He'll require a double team on every play, freeing up other playmakers. Anderson could be the game-breaker in all of 3A football. Last year's JV quarterback, Cody Stevenson, will look to take his 6-5 frame and translate his current success at passing camps into a successful year tossing the pigskin. Running backs Lars Gunderson and Tana Vea had breakout performances in the state championship game and could continue much of the same this year. Defensively, Danny Jimenez is a rangy, athletic defensive end who puts relentless pressure on the quarterback (15 sacks last season). Frankie Sutera led the team in interceptions with seven last year, and will look to capitalize on the opposing quarterbacks' mistakes again this season.
Strengths: With so many returning starters from a state championship team, what's not to like about this squad? The ability to use the experience and knowledge from last year to their advantage, is something no other team has.
Weaknesses: Replacing four starters on the offensive line could be catastrophic to other programs. Luckily Juan Diego is able to restock rather than rebuild. It shouldn't be too much of a problem, but definitely something to keep an eye on.
Last year: 14-0, state champions.
Predicted Region 11 finish: 1st.
Postseason possibilities: Juan Diego will make the playoffs, the question is: How far will the Soaring Eagle advance? Juan Diego has the experience and talent to win another title, but that's all on paper for now. Fans will be able to gauge their opinions in the first four games this year.
Aug. 21 — WEST, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — at Park City, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — CYPRUS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — SPRINGVILLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Judge, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — GRANTSVILLE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 — at Highland (Idaho), 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 — at Bear River, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 — at Ben Lomond, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — MORGAN, 7 p.m.