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High school football: Alta Hawks 2009 preview

SANDY — Slap it on there. Highlight it. Emphasize it and put a few signs up pointing to it because the Alta Hawks have a giant target on their backs.

"I like it," said lineman Jordan Black, a 6-foot-7 inch behemoth that has committed to play at BYU. "You have to have done something already to get that 'X' back there, but I kind of like the added pressure that you know you are going to get a team's best shot. It gives you more to live up to, more reason to play well."

If Alta is going to repeat, it is going to have to play well. First, the Hawks need to get through by far the toughest preseason with their players still intact. Dates with Cottonwood, Bingham and Timpview — probably the top-3 teams in the state last year along with Alta — will give the team a stern test.

"With our schedule, we could be 0-3 and still be one of the best teams in the state," said Hawks coach Les Hamilton. "I don't necessarily think we need to go 3-0 in the preseason to prove anything, but we do need to come out of it healthy and with a good sense of who we are."

Returning nine starters is a large number for the Hawks, who generally are a senior-laden team. The team will count on those returnees like Black, all-state linebacker Ai Ho-Ching, Parker Hausknecht, Beaver Ho-Ching, Cole Herman and Lundon Smith, but perhaps no player has more pressure on him than new starting quarterback Jordan Brown.

"He would have started at probably 90 percent of other schools last year," said Hamilton. "We just happen to have a guy that was a college quarterback here. He got down to camp at Snow this season and immediately picked up an offer (college scholarship offer). He has all the tools to be a great quarterback and leader and we expect good things from him."

Brown certainly has the pedigree to be the next in line of great Alta quarterbacks. He is a three-year letter winner in basketball, and his two older brothers, Jackson and Taylor, were college athletes — Jackson played quarterback at BYU and Taylor is currently on the UVU basketball team. If Brown can step up like is expected, Alta could once again be the team to beat.

"I think we are going to be more balanced this year on offense," Hamilton added. "Last year, we turned into a little bit of a pass-happy team, but this year we have the line and the backs to keep teams guessing."

At the running back position, Bryan Finerty was the junior varsity MVP last season and has great speed and vision, and Adrian Jefferson is the thunder part of the duo. Hamilton said Jefferson has earned the nickname "Pez" because when he hits someone, their head snaps back.

The Hawks are also loaded at the wide receiver position with Skyler Mayne, Tyron Morris and Zach Liston, who Hamilton said may be the best athlete to ever walk the halls at the Sandy school.

Another weapon for Alta is kicker Vance "Moose" Bingham. Not a lot of schools can count on a player making over 90 percent of his kicks. But Bingham feels he won't need to do much with the loaded offense this season.

"All I am going to have to do is make extra points," he joked. "Our guys are going to score a touchdown every time they get the ball, so my long on the year may just be a 20-yarder."

Bingham made several clutch kicks last season and has worked hard to add punting to his duties in the offseason.

With a nice mix of new and old with the Hawks, the coaches in the new Region 4 unanimously voted them as the team to beat. With back-to-back state titles, even with that bull's-eye planted squarely between the numbers, it would be hard to put any other team in front of Alta.

Alta Hawks at a glance

Coach: Les Hamilton is entering his fifth season with Alta. He carries a 46-9 record there with the last two state titles.

Key Players: There are nine returning starters from the state championship team. Ai Ho-Ching is an All-State linebacker with offers to play at the next level from nearly any school he chooses. Jordan Black is a beast on the offensive line and has committed to BYU next season. Parker Hausknecht is the other linebacker colleges are coveting. Beaver Ho-Ching came on strong at nose tackle and had a monster playoff run. Cole Herman, Vance "Moose" Bingham, Lundon Smith, Zach Liston and Skyler Mayne all return as well. Quarterback Jordan Brown is new to the varsity but will be a key.

Strengths: Athleticism and depth have been keys to the Hawks winning back-to-back titles. With enough good players at practice every day, competition is at a premium and by the time a player steps on the field for a game situation, that player is prepared. The players also are bigger, stronger, more athletic and faster than they have ever been. Alta simply reloads with talent each season.

Weaknesses: Chemistry. It may take a few games for this group to gel, and with the amazingly tough schedule — are you kidding me with Cottonwood, Bingham and Timpview? There isn't really a lot of time to try to find a groove and get used to new guys playing together.

Last year: 13-1, won second consecutive 5A state title.

Prediction Region 4 finish: First

Postseason possibilities: Anything less than a state title is now considered a failure for this program. Realistically, a playoff berth is probably a foregone conclusion.

2009 Schedule:

Aug. 21 — COTTONWOOD 7 p.m.

Aug. 28 — at Bingham 7 p.m.

Sept. 4 — TIMPVIEW 7 p.m.

Sept. 11 — JORDAN 7 p.m.

Sept. 18 — at Brighton 7 p.m.

Sept. 25 — LONE PEAK 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 — at Riverton 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 — at American Fork 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 — HILLCREST 7 p.m.

Oct. 23 — at Pleasant Grove 7 p.m.