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High school football: Tough as ever in Region 11

For Region 11 holdovers like Morgan, Bear River, Grantsville and Ben Lomond, they probably weren't sad to see Logan promoted to Class 4A in the recent UHSAA realignment. Logan's offense is one of the most efficient in the state and a nightmare for opposing defenses to prepare for.

With the Grizzlies no longer in the picture, it would seem logical that the overall landscape of Region 11 is now easier for the rest of the teams. Yeah right.

Logan, which won state titles in 2005 and 2007, and Ogden are being replaced in the Northern 3A region by Juan Diego and Judge.

"Our region gets tougher and tougher, you take Logan and Ogden out and you give us Juan Diego and Judge. It's like wow, how much more difficult can you make it for us," Grantsville coach Tony Cloward.

Juan Diego is the defending 3A state champion following an impressive 14-0 campaign last year that included playoff victories over Wasatch, Logan, Park City and Hurricane.

Judge, meanwhile, is coming off a bit of a down year despite advancing to the quarterfinals. The year before Judge advanced to the 3A title game before losing to Logan.

Both schools are expected to field solid teams in 2009, particularly Juan Diego and its nine returning starters. Soaring Eagle coach John Colosimo loves the competitiveness of his school's new region.

"I think our league is a little better than what we've been in. Teams like Judge Memorial, Bear River and Morgan are good football schools — good tradition. So it'll be a battle in league. So if we can win that league, I'd feel good about our chances in the state tournament," he said.

Only time will tell if Region 11 becomes a top heavy region. Juan Diego and Morgan, both semifinalists from 2008, are expected to be in the hunt for a berth at Rice-Eccles Stadium again this November. After that, Judge has some questions marks at experience and depth, whereas surprisingly Bear River is coming off back-to-back losing seasons following a state title in 2006.

"The main focus has got to be on our region, it's one of the premiere regions in our state. Juan Diego looks like a machine when they play, Judge is always great, Morgan is just getting better and better," said Bear River coach Chris Wise. "If we can survive our region and get into the playoffs I think things are going to go well."

If the Bears can't survive and get decimated by injuries again, the playoffs may allude the program again.

The good news for the entire region is that five of six teams qualify for the state tournament. That's great news for Ben Lomond and Grantsville, who despite optimistic internal expectations are expected to finish in the bottom two in Region 11.

That doesn't mean anyone will be overlooking either program. Ben Lomond continues to improve under the direction of third-year coach Jeff Kilts, whereas Grantsville figures to be a hard-working team despite decreasing enrollment created by the opening of nearby Stansbury High School.

Ultimately, Wise believes the competitiveness of the league should help every team once the playoffs role around.

Region 11 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. JUAN DIEGO: It will be tough for Juan Diego to top last year's 14-0 campaign, especially in such a tough region, but the Soaring Eagle have the potential with nine total returning starters. Juan Diego's strength once again figures to be on defense despite the graduation of numerous all-staters. Trevor McFalls and Danny Jiminez will combine to anchor the offensive line, with Keegan Andersen and Frankie Sutera expected to have big years in the secondary. Offensively the team is inexperienced at quarterback and on the line, but coach John Colosimo believes that will be develop in time. 2008 RECORD: 14-0. PLAYOFFS: Beat Hurricane in the 3A state championship game.

2. MORGAN: A year after making an impressive run to the 3A semifinals, the Trojans are hoping to make some noise again with six returning starters on offense and three on defense. MattLargent is entering his third year as Morgan's starting QB, and he has three lineman back in front of him including DaneCarter. The bulk of the ball carrier duties will be shared by TadSargent and JordanWamsley. Defensively, Morgan graduated every starting linebacker from last year which poses some concerns heading into 2009. 2008 RECORD: 10-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane in 3A semifinals..

3. JUDGE: The Bulldogs are hoping for a bounce back year this year following a so-so campaign in 2008. With only three returning starters it won't be easy. Nonetheless, coach James Cordova likes the size and speed on his young team that only includes 10 seniors. Big things are expected from running backs PaulClark and Christian Barbaro, two players who will also start in the secondary. Defensively, Blake Frey and Ben Cook will anchor a line that has the potential to be pretty good. 2008 RECORD: 6-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane in the 3A quarterfinals.

4. BEAR RIVER: Back-to-back losing seasons isn't something the Bears are used to, but it's become reality the past couple years. Expect a bounce back year in 2009. Bear River returns nine offensive starters and seven defensive starters, which assuming the team can stay healthy will make a big difference. One of the players who couldn't stay healthy last year was QB James Taylor. A broken collarbone kept him out most of last year, but he's healthy and poised for a big season. Payton Wells and Haydon Haddock have the potential for big things at running back as well. Haddock will also start at linebacker, which figures to be Bear River's strength all season. 2008 RECORD: 3-6. PLAYOFFS: Didn't qualify for the playoffs.

5. GRANTSVILLE: The Cowboys lost a lot of their depth with the opening of Stansbury HighSchool, but coach Tony Cloward is still excited about the upcoming season with three returning starters on each side of the ball. The biggest concern is on the offensive line, the area that was most impacted by transfers, even though Ben Tripp is a returner on the line. Offensively, big things are expected of junior quarterback Bridger Boman, as well as receiver Tyson Hutchins and running back Kort Fonger. Defensively Grantsville won't be that big but it will be fast. 2008 RECORD: 2-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane in the 3A first round.

6. BEN LOMOND: Despite being much improved, the Scots will have their work cut out for them in the toughest region in 3A. There's reason to believe Ben Lomond can take the next step though with eight total starters on each side of the ball, many of whom have started since they were freshmen. Among them are outstanding receivers Jared Jackson and Bridger Smith. Quarterback Carson Chadwick is back as well and could be poised for a huge season if the offensive line is as improved as advertised. 2008 RECORD: 3-6. PLAYOFFS: Didn't qualify for the playoffs.