WEST VALLEY CITY — Inheriting a football program from a coach who won a state title and churned out victories and playoff appearances in large quantities can be a pressure packed situation. One season into being the man-in-charge at Hunter, Dustin Pearce seems to be keeping the ship sailing in the right direction.
The Wolverines struggled at times last season, but still managed to sneak into the 5A tournament by season's end. Now that his players have had a year to absorb Pearce's schemes on offense and defense, it finally feels like this team is truly his team.
"To me, that's the beauty of high school football," Pearce said. "These guys are my guys. They were with me last year. The sophomores were with the sophomore staff and now that they're juniors they know exactly what I want and what I expect."
Expectations at Hunter, as usual, center around winning playoff games, earning region titles and maybe even bringing home a 5A championship.
In a new-look Region 2, the Wolverines are considered a virtual lock to return to the playoffs given the fact that many of their new region rivals are newcomers to 5A. But just simply making the playoffs just scratches the surface of what Hunter hopes to accomplish this season.
"The expectations are always first to win region and then state, of course, for our team," quarterback Brett Lunceford said. "With our team coming back, we have a lot of good skill here. But not only skill. Our team knows how to listen. We're very disciplined."
If the Wolverines realize those lofty goals, Lunceford must play an important part in propelling the team forward.
The senior had his share of rough moments taking over as a starting quarterback last season. He completed just 43 percent of his passes while throwing for 567 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers should improve this time around. Pearce noted that Lunceford has made big strides during the offseason and he seems more confident in running the offense.
Lunceford agreed that, as an incoming senior, he feel likes he understands his role better.
"I feel a lot more comfortable, I have to say," Lunceford said. "Last year, I felt good. I didn't feel out of place. But this year -- I've been playing with these guys since I was little. I feel like I have more of connection with them. I feel like I can perform at the top of my game if I have another year under my belt to help me."
A strong running game will help take some pressure away from Lunceford. Ekusai Tavo, a three-year starter, returns to lead the backfield. Tavo enjoyed a solid campaign while sharing the carries as a junior, rushing for 635 yards and five touchdowns on just 94 carries. Billy Reed and Tevita Bloomfield will provide some depth behind Tavo. Bloomfield was slowed by injuries last year, but is back to full strength and Pearce expects big things from the junior.
Defense should once again be a calling card for Hunter. The unit allowed only 20 points per game during the '08 regular season and returns key playmakers like Lanu Tanuvasa this season. If the offense can step up — the Wolverines averaged just 14.3 points in 11 games last year — it will make Hunter's defense much harder to deal with.
Senior defensive tackle George Wolfgramm predicts Hunter will have a more balanced team based on the strides the offense has made over the offseason.
"We don't have to worry about us always being on the field," Wolfgramm said. "We know that our offense is going to be good. It will mean more rest time for those who are going both ways."
Hunter Wolverines at a glance
Coach: Dustin Pearce is entering his second season at Hunter with a 4-7 overall record.
Key Players: Ekusai Tavo, the team's leading rusher last fall, is back to lead the run-first offense. Brett Lunceford should be more settled in his role at quarterback and Hunter will count on Tusi Aiono and George Wolfgramm to anchor the line. Lanu Tanuvasa, the top point getter for the defense in '08, should be a big factor again.
Strengths: It goes without saying the defense should be strong again. Several important contributors return from a unit that allowed 14.3 points per game last fall. The running game should be in good hands with Tavo leading the way in the backfield.
Concerns: There are some holes to fill on both lines. Questions also linger on just how improved the offense will be after showing little consistent production a year ago. With a heavy reliance on running the ball, Hunter's offense tends to be slightly one-dimensional.
Predicted Region 2 finish: Third.
Postseason Possibilities: As long as Hunter remains strong on defense, the Wolverines will find a way to be in the playoff mix. An anemic offense a year ago made Hunter a borderline playoff team that went home with a first-round loss. A similar fate probably awaits the Wolverines this fall.
Aug. 21 - KEARNS, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 - at Highland, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 - BRIGHTON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 - at West, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 - CYPRUS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 - at Granger, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 - MURRAY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 - COTTONWOOD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 - at Skyline, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 - Bye