SYRACUSE — The Syracuse Titans thought they earned respect throughout the state after advancing to the Class 5A semifinals in just their second season of existence in 2008.
Syracuse, however, is not feeling the love.
The Titans were somewhat miffed to see league rival Davis in the Deseret News preseason top five in 5A and not themselves. They weren't all that thrilled to see that they were picked third in Region 1 behind Davis and Viewmont after advancing further in the playoffs than any other team in the league last season.
"We feel that we still haven't earned respect because everybody thinks that last year was a fluke and we really shouldn't have made it (to the semifinals)," said quarterback Tanner Russell. "But last year we worked for what we had and this year we have to work harder to get to the place we got to last year. That's what we're planning on now."
The Titans may not have been happy with their place in the preseason poll, but they know that pretty soon — as in eight days — the offseason officially ends and they can make statements on the field.
"That's just preseason stuff," lineman Cameron Galbraith said of the preseason poll. "We'll just prove ourselves on the field."
That seems like a likely scenario, as Syracuse returns a solid nucleus of standout players.
The Titans should be strong in the trenches as Galbraith, who will play on both sides of the line, and Justin Hill and Aaron Hill return on the offensive line. Jake Dallimore will be a key player on the defensive line.
Tight end Rick Reardon has bulked up since last season and will be an asset as a blocker. He'll also likely be the favorite target of Russell, and one of the top all-around tight ends in the state.
Reardon isn't the only Syracuse player who's spent a lot of hours in the weight room since last season. The Titans have put in a lot of hard work to try and duplicate last season's success, and show their trip to the turf wasn't a fluke.
"I think for our kids they're M.O. is based on hard work," said coach Russ Jones. "They just try and outwork the other teams. These kids are willing to step up and say this is not a one time deal."
Russell is ready to step up as the Titans' leader on offense. He was a starter at receiver last year on Friday nights after quarterbacking Syracuse's junior varsity on Thursdays. The wear and tear made it tough for Russell to contribute as much as he would have liked on varsity.
"It was hard because you're tired from JV games and you get to varsity games and you're sore and you got bumps and bruises and headaches and stuff," Russell said. "It's hard changing and varsity is way faster."
Russell won't have those same worries this year — he'll just have to lead a quality varsity team that has high hopes. He is capable of doing so, and he has quality weapons to work with in Reardon, running back Kayden Davies and receiver Mitch Tulane.
The Titans recorded three shutouts last year and featured one of the state's best defenses. Their leading tackler from last year, linebacker Josh Gooch, is back to lead the defense.
Syracuse will also be solid on special teams as standout kicker Josh Kealamakia is back for his senior season.
While the Titans think others in the state believe they were a one-season wonder, Syracuse is hoping last year's semifinal berth was the beginning of something special. The Titans are blessed with high enrollment and participation numbers at their school, and they could develop into one of the state's next powers.
"We're hoping it is (the start)," Jones said. "This is just going to be the start of it and we're just going to keep it going."
Jones credits his hard-working kids for Syracuse's success so far, as well as assistant coaches Dayne Faerber, Jared Martin, Eric Jones, Mike Knight, Mitch Arquette, Logan Donaldson, Mark Adams, Brad Wojciechowski, Brian Berrong, Andru Jones, Kevin Slater, Ian Pizarro and Jake Henderson.
Syracuse Titans 2009 prep football preview
Coach: Russ Jones is in his third season at Syracuse. His teams at Syracuse are 10-13 and last year the Titans reached the 5A semifinals in just their second season of existence. Jones has also coached at Viewmont and Woods Cross and has a 35-40 overall record.
Key Players: The Titans return their leading tackler Josh Gooch, as well as other defensive standouts Cameron Galbraith and Jake Dallimore. Galbraith will also help out on the offensive line along with Aaron Hill and Justin Hill. Tanner Russell is the team's new quarterback and he'll have weapons to work with in tight end Rick Reardon, running back Kayden Davies and receiver Mitch Tulane.
Strengths: The Titans should once again be a force on defense with Gooch anchoring the unit at middle linebacker. Syracuse has plenty of depth and confidence. The Titans will also play with a chip on their shoulders to show that last season was no fluke. Josh Kealamakia is a huge asset at kicker.
Concerns: Syracuse has enough speed to fare quite well in Region 1, but it may not be enough to match an Alta or a Bingham. The team has a solid nucleus of returning players, but there are also untested athletes on the varsity level, and you never know how they'll react when the lights turn on Friday nights.
Last year: 10-3, lost to Alta in the semifinals
Predicted Region 1 finish: Third
Postseason possibilities: The Titans will be tested in a tough region and have a real shot at winning the league title. Syracuse went in the playoffs last season as a No. 2 seed and made it all the way to Rice-Eccles Stadium. All the pieces are in place for a similar run this season.
Aug. 21 — COPPER HILLS, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — NORTHRIDGE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — at Viewmont, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — DAVIS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Fremont, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — ROY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Clearfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 — WEBER, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — at Layton, 7 p.m.