ST. GEORGE — All things considered Dixie had a great season in Blaine Monkres' first year at the helm of the program last year.
Despite learning a drastically different offense, the Flyers finished the season with a 7-4 record and pushed Mountain Crest to the brink in the semifinals before ultimately losing 28-26.
Even though most of Dixie's starters in the trenches last year graduated, many of the skill positions players are returning which should make a huge difference heading into two-a-day practices next week.
"We're leaps and bounds ahead of where we were last year this time. It was a whole new world to them offensively, so we struggled through the first half of the season," said Monkres, who utilizes the same spread offense he did for 14 years at Fremont. "Hopefully we're ahead of where we were last year, and we can get a few more things in this year that will make us a little more effective."
Those little subtleties could be the difference between getting over the hump in the quarterfinals and potentially falling short again.
Mike Sharpe is much more comfortable in his second year at starting quarterback, knowing fully his requirements in the spread offense.
"The offense is a lot easier now that I've learned it and know what to expect," said Sharpe.
Dixie's ultimate success depends largely on the accomplishments of an undersized offensive line, but also Sharpe himself.
"Sharpe is a really good athlete, he's a good quarterback, he'd be exceptional at receiver or defensive back," said Monkres. "He's as good a athlete as I've coached no matter where I've been. He's real competitive and hopefully he can step it up at quarterback."
Protecting him will be a smaller offensive line than in 2008, a group that features returning starters EJ Stevenson and Barrett Wyatt.
There's no shortage of talent at the skill positions with receivers Garrett Christensen and Dalton Smith along with powerful running back Dallen Reber. Consistency is what Monkres wants to see more of out of Smith.
"Now that he's a senior he needs to have a big game every week. Last year he picked and chose, some days 11 catches some days none. He's going to have to be more consistent," said Monkres.
As the offense forges ahead with five returning starters, Dixie's defense is a complete unknown with zero returning starters and a new defensive coordinator. Rick Barry joins Dixie after spending last season at Snow Canyon, and he'll be overhauling the defense in the process.
"I don't know if the change in defense is going to hurt us because we're going to run a different defense," said Monkres. "The offense should be ahead of the defense early, but a lot of these kids are going to end up going both ways. We should have enough athletes on defense."
Dixie opens the season at Springville on Aug. 21, a game that could prepare the Flyers for a playoff road trip or two if things go well.
Dixie Flyers at a glance
Coach: Blaine Monkres is in his 2nd year at Dixie with a 7-4 record. His overall coaching record entering his 20th season is 140-72.
Key Players: Dallen Reber is a powerful running back at 6-foot, 200 pounds. He's a team leader not only offensively but he's expected to anchor the defense at linebacker as well. Junior running back John Matuauto is a powerful runner as well. Mike Sharpe is an athletic quarterback who will need to shine of Dixie is to succeed this year. Dalton Smith and Garrett Christensen are talented receivers.
Strengths: The importance of experience in the spread offense can't be overstated. After running Monkres' offense for the first time last year, players like Sharpe, Reber and Smith should be much more comfortable this time around. Overall, the Dixie will rely on its talented skill position players this year.
Concerns: Dixie lacks the size in the trenches it possessed a year ago, which presents some challenges for an offensive-minded team. Dixie's offense figures to be a bit behind as well heading into the 2009 with zero returning starters and a new defensive coordinator.
Last year: 7-4, lost to Dixie in 4A quarterfinals.
Predicted Region 9 (4A) finish: Second.
Postseason possibilities: In the wacky Region 9, Dixie should be good enough to earn one of the two playoff spots. How deep the game advances will likely depend on how the offensive line comes together this season.
Aug. 21 — at Springville, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — BISHOP GORMAN, NEV., 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — vs. Uintah, TBA
Sept. 11 — HURRICANE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Desert Hills, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — CANYON VIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 — at Cedar, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 — SNOW CANYON, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — Bye
Oct. 23 — at PINE VIEW, 7 p.m.