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High school football: San Juan Broncos 2009 preview

San Juan coach Monty Lee expects football season to be longer than usual this year. Not because his team won't be very good. Actually, it's the exact opposite.

"I expect to be playing on the last day of the season," he said.

Last year, the Broncos earned themselves a perfect record throughout the regular season, but were denied an opportunity to play for the 2A championship after suffering a 26-13 loss to Manti in the semifinals. With much of the same roster returning this year, another extended stay in the state tournament isn't out of reach.

The San Juan squad will be led this year by running back Jace Holiday. The 6-foot senior averaged just over 10 yards per carry last season and has a level of talent Lee admitted he hasn't seen in a while.

"At this point, he's who I'd hitch my wagon to," Lee said. "But he can't do it without blocking, and Jace is the first to give credit where credit is due."

Credit, in this case, will be given to his offensive line, which will be anchored this year by center Jesse Grover and tackles Jayden Black and AJ Slavens.

The Broncos are entering this 2009 season with a defense-first mentality. This approach puts a spotlight on junior Stetler Shumway and senior Peyton Black, who led the team in tackles last season with 124 and 111, respectively. Shumway, Lee said, has been on of the leaders in that statistic since his freshman year. Other players who will be aiding the defensive effort are Nach Nielson, at defensive end, and Jimmy Tate, a linebacker who also makes plays on offense as a receiver.

With so many experienced playmakers returning to the gridiron for San Juan, the only thing Lee says he isn't sure about is if the team knows how good it really is.

"I don't think they realize how good they could be, and that's a weakness," he said. "If they do come to grips with it, I'm just going to hold on tight."

Having such an underclassman-heavy roster could affect the Broncos this season as well. Though many experienced players return, much of the team will be freshman and there will be sophomores starting in some positions. Fortunately for the younger players, "those kids don't settle for less than the best in themselves or in each other."

The history of San Juan football includes a lot of winning, and the head coach believes that legacy can propel the team past their second-place preseason ranking and on to the state tournament. Even if it doesn't, however, he is still certain the team will have a successful year.

"We place the bar as high as we can. Sometimes we don't get it, but we always shoot for the moon," Lee said. "We may not always win, but we always do our best and we won't hang our heads."

San Juan Broncos at a glance

Coach: Monty Lee enters his 7th year at San Juan with a 52-16 record.

Key players: Running back Jace Holiday will anchor the Bronco attack while Jayden Black, Jesse Grover and AJ Slavens will lead the offensive line. Jimmy Tate will be making contributions at both receiver and linebacker, and Stetler Shumway and Peyton Black return as the Broncos' tackle leaders. The defense will also be counting on production from defensive end Nach Nielson.

Strengths: With five returning starters on both sides of the ball, they have the experience to lead them all year. The team has a "defense first" mindset, but still expects to score with their exceptional speed and Holiday running the ball.

Concerns: Not being convinced of their own potential is the team's biggest question mark at this point. Also, the youth and inexperience in some starting positions may hamper the Broncos this season.

Last year: 10-1, lost in the semifinals to Manti

Predicted 2A East finish: Second

Postseason possibilities: While realignment has changed who the Broncos will be competing with in region, they still expect to finish at the top. South Summit, their 2A North rival, is expected to provide a challenge.

2009 schedule:

Aug. 21 — KANAB, 7 p.m.

Aug. 28 — KIRTLAND, 7 p.m.

Sept. 4 — at Monticello, 7 p.m.

Sept. 11 — DURANGO, 7 p.m.

Sept. 18 — at Gunnison, 7 p.m.

Sept. 25 — SOUTH SUMMIT, 7 p.m.

Oct. 2 — GRAND, 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 — at North Summit, 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 — at North Sevier, 7 p.m.

e-mail: sthomas@desnews.com