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High school football: Region 12 preview - New lineup brings an interesting blast from past

There is a good reason Region 12 has such a familiar feel to it. The realignment process, which created the region, in effect brought the past into the present.

If it were possible to turn back the clock by a couple of decades, you would discover that Manti, Juab, Emery, Delta, North Sanpete and Richfield once shared a region when all were still 2A schools. For coaches in the region, it feels like a time capsule was unearthed and the rediscovered contents are being presented to them.

"I love our region," Delta coach Russ Henrie said. "What they've done makes good sense. It's fun to have Juab, Richfield and Manti in our region. That's how it used to be for a lot of years, and we had great rivalries with these small-town schools. I look forward to getting these rivalries going again."

Enthusiasm about the new region in Delta will not diminish if the Rabbits live up to preseason expectations. Inexperience is an issue for Delta, with a total of four starters back from last year's squad that reached the 3A quarterfinals. Still, it shouldn't make a major impact on the Rabbits' fortunes. A 34-year streak of reaching the state playoffs serves as ample evidence that Delta has more than enough talent to draw on to fill holes on the roster.

Manti is expected to be the team most likely to challenge the Rabbits for region supremacy. The Templars came tantalizingly close to claiming the 2A crown a year ago and return several key players from that team — including leading tackler Zach Brown and their No. 2 rusher, Russell Hugentobler.

Moving up to 3A is looked upon as the perfect avenue for Manti to undertake a fresh start and eradicate the memories of last season's painful finish. Templars coach Cole Meachem expects a smooth transition from 2A, given the familiarity his team already has with many of their region opponents.

"It will be fun to get back in our county rivalry with North Sanpete," Meachem said. "We're glad that Juab is still in our region. Now rather than playing a preseason game with Richfield, we'll be playing a region game with them each year."

Juab, another first-year 3A school, also could make a push for the top spot. The Wasps put together a perfect regular season last fall, only to come up short against eventual 2A champ North Summit in the semifinals. Juab could endure a tougher transition to 3A than Manti, though, since every experienced running back from last year's team graduated in the spring. The return of junior quarterback Brock Orme and starting linemen Jake Bradford and Tyler Whitlock should keep the offense from being a total rebuilding project.

Richfield, the remaining 2A transplant, will likely experience a tougher road in trying to move up the region ladder. It helps that the Wildcats have made some progress in the past couple of seasons at the 2A level, and with some experienced players returning on defense, they should stay a step ahead of Emery and North Sanpete in the battle for a playoff spot.

If nothing else, Richfield expects to be competitive in a new region and classification.

"I really like our region," Wildcats coach Corey Morrison said. "I don't think it's a whole lot different from what we've seen in the past. We had some great schools in 2A we played last year that were tough."

REGION 12 PROJECTIONS

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. DELTA: The Rabbits only return four starters — including just one on defense — from last fall, but inexperience never seems to stand in the way of success in Delta. Nick Nissen returns to anchor both the offensive and defensive lines, and he is joined on the O-line by returning starter Justin Loe. Derek Peterson, a two-time state champ in wrestling, should offer much-needed toughness in the backfield. Brian Piacitelli is a special-teams ace, which should only aid the Rabbits in field position battles. Senior quarterback Joey Dutson is eager to prove himself after missing much of his junior season with an ACL injury. 2008 RECORD: 10-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Morgan in 3A quarterfinals.

2. MANTI: Out of the new 3A teams in this region, the Templars seemed best positioned to make a good first impression. Defensively, Manti returns starters on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Zach Brown, the top tackler in '08, and Devan Fowles should be key defensive leaders again. Fowles also will play a crucial offensive role as the new quarterback. He'll get plenty of help from Russell Hugentobler in the backfield. Hugentobler was the No. 2 rusher in '08 with 775 yards and nine touchdowns. The Templars have several experienced lineman to keep things stable up front — starting with junior Teancum Faumui. 2008 RECORD: 10-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to North Summit in 2A final.

3. JUAB: The Wasps have experience in many of the right positions to be a contender for the region crown. Jake Bradford and Tyler Whitlock are returning starters on the offensive and defensive line. Brock Orme, a junior, is back as Juab's quarterback, which is good news. He is the type of player who doesn't make mistakes often. A concern for the Wasps could be their running game. Juab does not return any major contributors to the backfield. Quickly developing some new running backs will dictate whether or not the Wasps can build on last season's successes. 2008 RECORD: 10-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost to North Summit in 2A semifinals.

4. RICHFIELD: Things look solid for the Wildcats on both sides of the ball, which should ease the adjustment to 3A. In the secondary, Ben Jorgensen will look to build on a solid junior season where he led Richfield with eight interceptions. Robert Torgersen and Justin Pei should offer experience up front as returning two-way starters on the line. Brandon Henderson is a standout at defensive tackle, where he earned multiple sacks last season. On offense, the Wildcats will run the ball by committee. But things are promising at quarterback, where Tyler Sorensen threw for 1,300 yards as a sophomore last fall. 2008 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to San Juan in 2A quarterfinals.

5. EMERY: Life for the Spartans could be complicated because of question marks at key positions. For starters, Emery returns just one starter on the offensive line. Also complicating things is the fact that the Spartans have little experience at fullback. Neither element is desirable when you employ a Wing-T offense like Emery does. But there are some bright spots. Derek Allred is a standout at linebacker. The Spartans have skilled athletes at quarterback and tailback with Derek Tuttle and JT Noyes. At the skill positions overall, Emery has enough versatility and quickness to potentially make some noise as the season goes on. 2008 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Park City in 3A first round.

6. NORTH SANPETE: If the Hawks hope to escape the region cellar, they need to figure out a way to breathe life into their offense. Moving the ball and scoring points proved to be an absolute chore at times last year. The Hawks were shut out three times, held to single digits in two other games and averaged just 11.5 points back. Stephen Poulson and Jared Watts offer some experience in the backfield. Watts caught fire late in his junior season — rushing for 116 yards against Salem Hills and for 103 yards against Emery. 2008 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Judge Memorial in 3A first round.

e-mail: jcoon@desnews.com

More preps online

Online today at deseretnews.com/preps are individual previews of the following teams: Granger, Logan, Emery, Kanab, North Sevier and Rich.

Be sure to pick up Thursday's newspaper for our Region 11 preview. For a complete schedule of team and region previews, check out our Web site.