LEHI - Dropping down to 4A because of the opening of Westlake High School, which took some students and athletes, has been both a blessing and a curse for the Lehi Pioneers.
Obviously, a team that has won only three games the past two seasons has to feel somewhat relieved about not facing a 5A power every Friday night.
"We're excited about the teams we'll be playing this year," coach Derrick Peyton said. "It's a breath of fresh air for us."
However, some of the guys that Peyton's coaching staff had groomed the past two years for star roles with the Pioneers this season are now suiting up for Westlake - which leaves many more holes to fill on both sides of the ball.
"We did lose some kids that would have been big contributors for us, but that's the way it goes," Peyton said.
And honestly, Peyton says no one from Lehi is feeling bitter or making excuses about any of the changes. In fact, those who have new opportunities are making the most of them - like quarterback Chris Dodge.
"He had a good summer and has made some good strides, and the guys around him are showing a lot of confidence in him and they believe in him," Peyton said.
"We run a no-huddle spread offense so obviously we're going to need to throw the football," Peyton said.
One thing that's helping Lehi fill some of its needs is the fact that several new faces showed up to play this year - like lineman Isaac Terry and John Smeltzer. Having those two in the trenches has allowed Peyton to move David Thompson off the tight end spot to defensive end and the offensive line. Bubba Demke and Taylor Savio give the Pioneers two very aggressive linebackers.
"Our defense and our linebackers are definitely going to be our strength," Peyton said.
With the split, depth will also be an issue for the Pioneers, with more players needing to play on both sides of the ball. Lehi must avoid key injuries if it hopes to be competitive.
"Our best kids are going to see a lot of minutes and our studs have got to be able to stay on the field."
Peyton's biggest obstacle is still getting his players to be confident and to believe they can win. Last year the Pioneers were six points from opening the season 4-0, and that's something that Peyton has used to show his players just how close they are to turning the program around.
"Honestly, these kids have had some success as sophomores and in JV games, so they believe they can compete. And they can see some definite improvement in our program. It's all about momentum and we just need to get that going the right direction," Peyton said.
Lehi Pioneers at a glance
Coach: Derrick Peyton, a graduate of Granite High and Ohio University, is in his third season leading the Pioneers with a career mark of 3-16.
Key Players: If defense is going to be Lehi's strength then it needs a big season from senior linebackers Taylor Savio and Bubba Demke. Cooper Smith might be the team's most athletic player and will get plenty of balls throw to him at tight end. Quarterback Chris Dodge will guide the uptempo spread offense, with the help of running backs Mitch Peterson and Colby Massa. Safety and receiver Steven Lew was a big contributor for the Pioneers last season, and has high expectations again this year.
Strengths: The Pioneers have better overall team speed than last year, and again have a defense loaded with aggressive hard hitters. This is also a team full of players who are hungry to start winning.
Concerns: Depth could again come back to haunt the Pioneers as many players will see action on both sides of the ball. There's not much experience in the skills positions and the guys in the trenches are by no means giants. Clearly, the Pioneers need to get past that trend of even losing the games in which they play well.
Last year: 2-7, failed to qualify for postseason
Predicted Region 7 finish: Sixth
Postseason possibilities: If there was ever a year in the past few where the Pioneers could win enough games to reach the playoffs, it's this one considering the new region alignment and the league's parity in the middle of the pack. If Lehi does finish as high as fourth in region, however, it's unlikely it would survive in postseason past one game.
Aug. 21 - at Riverton, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 - at Springville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 - HILLCREST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 - at Timpanogos, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 - CLEARFIELD, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 - PROVO, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 - at Mountain View, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 - OREM, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 - TIMPVIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 - at Westlake, 7 p.m.