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Region 6 football preview

Change in Region 6 isn't just about adding some new teams and reuniting former region opponents. There are teams who are breaking in new coaches, new offenses and — in the case of Stansbury — a brand new football program.

For the teams who stayed put during the realignment process, preparation for the new season has taken on added importance because of all the changes.

"It gives this region kind of a new face," Highland coach Brody Benson said.

It's going to be an interesting year as teams try to feel each other out — seeing where everybody is and how these offenses are going to evolve while basically trying to get their defenses up to speed to defend them.

One thing that won't change: Getting through the region unscathed will be a next-to-impossible task.

It all starts at the top, where Bountiful and Highland are the early favorites to duke it out for the region title. The two teams offered a preview of things to come in the 4A playoffs last fall. A defensive slugfest ensued, with the Rams finally advancing out of the first round with a narrow 12-10 victory.

Both Bountiful and Highland sported defenses that ranked among the best in 4A, and the scary part is that both might be even better defensively this time around.

The rematch is building up anticipation in both camps. For the Braves, simply being back in Region 6 is something worth getting excited about.

"We're just excited to be in this new region," Braves senior Helam Heimuli said. "All the teams in this new region are all hard hitters. It will just put our defense through a real test. We're all just excited about that."

Defensive coordinators in the region will get a mental workout finding ways to combat new offenses at East and Olympus. The Leopards ditched their traditional Wing-T scheme for a more modern spread offense under first-year coach Sean Knox. The Titans, on the other hand, will mix elements of the spread with a power-running offense that utilizes I-backs.

Knox touted his decision to change to a college-style offense as an important step in developing the football skills of his players.

"We've opened ourselves up to more options to give a defense more problems," Knox said. "Their football intelligence has risen as a result of us making this change and putting them in a situation where this offense has some of the things that a lot of colleges use."

At both schools, players are already feeling good about these changes and confident it will give them a newfound edge over their opponents.

"Things are really starting to click now," Highland lineman Pete Ferrin said. "We're installing a bunch of new plays and we're ahead of schedule. We're sticking mostly with the run, but feeling pretty good about it."

If the changes work as well as expected, Olympus could be a surprise team in the region, and East could find itself in the title chase with Bountiful and Highland.

Both Woods Cross and Tooele are expected to take big steps forward under veteran head coaches Fred Fernandes and Ray Groth, respectively. The Wildcats, in particular, look promising with an experienced line on both offense and defense and a group of players determined to get over the hump this season.

Stansbury will likely take its lumps as a first-year program. But Clint Christensen has plenty of experience at getting the most out of his teams in previous coaching stops at South Sevier and Provo.

Region 6 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. Bountiful: The Braves lost some important contributors from last season, but they remain formidable in key areas — a big reason why they are favored to snag the region title. Bountiful returns a trio of three-year starters on the line with Thomas Hamilton and Helam Heimuli and in the backfield with Mitch Johnson. Defensively, the Braves are faster, stronger and more disciplined — which is good news for a unit that surrendered just 8.4 points per game in '08. On offense, the running game is solid with Johnson and Conner Winters leading the way. Bountiful won a pair of 4A titles during its previous stint in Region 6 earlier this decade.

2. Highland: The Rams have won at least eight games in each of the last five seasons, so the loss of a few star players should do little to slow them down. Mason Keller will be expected to do big things stepping in at quarterback. The running game should be in good shape with Sione Fainu and Chris Lloyd powering the backfield. Coach Brody Benson points to depth on both lines as one of his team's biggest strengths. He has enough experience and talent at that position to rotate players in and out of the game more frequently than in past seasons.

3. East: Change is in the air for the Leopards, who will be running a new spread offense this fall. East might have the perfect candidate to run such an offense in junior quarterback Tanner Curtis. Coach Sean Knox describes Curtis as an athlete who could thrive in any system. There could be a learning curve for the Leopards as they break in nine new starters on offense. But the team is a little more solid defensively with defensive tackle Freddy Tukuafu and defensive back Cody Pipkin leading the way. East will get tested quickly with four road games in the first five weeks.

4. Woods Cross: The Wildcats' strength could be in the trenches. Woods Cross returns loads of experience on both the offensive and defensive lines. At the skill positions, the Wildcats have a pair of budding stars in quarterback Tyler Parson and tight end Mark Evans. Running back is more of a question mark at this point. But confidence is sky high in the program. Many of the returning seniors think they can turn the corner after a pair of three-win seasons. Coach Fernandes also believes this team is more committed to self-improvement than either of the other teams he coached in the past two years.

5. Tooele: This could be the year where the Buffaloes take a big leap forward under Groth. Tooele is bringing back six starters on each side of the ball. The Buffaloes are definitely most experienced in the trenches, with seniors Baylan Horrocks, Joel Spendlove and Marcus Westover all back and ready to anchor the offensive and defensive lines. Tooele has some nice depth for its option attack. The Buffaloes have Thomas Allen, Damon Thomas and James Desantiago all in the mix to share rushing duties. Desantiago also served as the team's kicker last season.

6. Olympus: The Titans have a load of returning talent on offense, starting with quarterback Spencer Harris. As a junior last season, Harris ran and passed for more than 2,000 combined yards. He'll have a deep core of receivers to count on — led by returning contributors Jace Peterson and Carter Young. The offensive line also returns four starters, which will help the new offense. Terry Isaiah, the team's new I-back, compiled two straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons in Virginia. Depth has become strength this year after getting a big boost in numbers over the summer.

7. Stansbury: Building a new football program from scratch is never easy. Fortunately the Stallions have coach Christensen as their architect. At his most recent coaching stop in Provo, he led the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record in 2006 — their most wins this decade. It could be bumpy in his first year at Stansbury. The Stallions are composed of Grantsville and Tooele transfers — two programs that have struggled in recent seasons. Look for both Gareth Anderson and Taylor Hunt to get a look at quarterback, while E.J. Jones and Payeton Reed will fill spots in the backfield.

e-mail: jcoon@desnews.com