AMERICAN FORK — The clanking sounds of a weight room are familiar to any football player, but according to American Fork coach Davis Knight, his Cavemen are probably hearing it 24/7 after a very thorough offseason of lifting.
"One of the biggest strengths of our team this year will be just that — strength," said Knight. "We set all kinds of records in the weight room this year. I am certain that I never had a group that put more work in the room than these guys did this year. I guess all that really means now is that a 300-pound guy falls on them, they'll be able to push him off of them."
Last season, the Cavemen may have just stayed under that kind of weight. While struggling to a 5-5 record and fourth place in Region 4, just a year removed from a run to the 5A semifinals, American fork missed out on the playoffs thanks to the unbalanced playoff rotation established by the UHSAA.
"I know that it was hard on the guys not to get to the playoffs," Knight said, "but maybe that will be just the extra motivation they need. If they can remember that feeling of not getting there, they can push just a little bit harder."
There are several contributors back that still have that bitter taste in their mouths. The offensive line has a solid nucleus of players that saw action a year ago. Senior captain David Browing is a monster at 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds and will be an anchor. Ryker Mathews started last year as a sophomore and is back bigger and stronger for his junior season. Thomas Laycock and Dahro Say also saw time on the line and will be counted on to open holes and protect the quarterback.
"We are comfortable with both guys and both are going to get some playing time, especially at the beginning of the year," Knight said. "It may be we platoon the guys all year. We will just have to see if one of them steps forward and demands more playing time or if we play a quarterback by committee all season."
One thing both guys will have is plenty of weapons. Ethan Wright, Cade Zarbock and Kaiden Worthington are all backs capable of blowing by people and breaking a big run. Tanner Menlove and Matt Healey are the power guys that will take their 200-plus pounds and run right over would-be tacklers.
"We have a lot of guys that will be able to get use some yards," Knight added. "Some speed and size carrying the ball. We'll be able to mix it up pretty good with our offense."
The Caveman offense includes a guy split wide that comes in hard toward the middle and the center times the snap so he can cross in front of the quarterback at full speed with the option to hand the ball off. Ryan Bunker and Joshua Brown will be two of the guys making the defense stay honest with that threat.
"I think the guys that run that part of our offense are as talented as we have ever had," Knight said. "There really are going to be five or six guys that can fill that spot that will make us dangerous."
Whether the Cavemen are a better football team this season or not remains to be seen, but it may be hard to tell considering the schedule and the tough competition of Region 4 this season.
"We play a lot of good teams this preseason, and I think we have the toughest region in the state top-to-bottom," said Knight. "You look at the tradition and how good some of these teams have been, and we will have our work cut out for us to try to get in the playoffs. But who knows? If you can just get there you never know how far you can keep going."
American Fork Cavemen at a glance
Coach: Davis Knight is entering his 28th season as the head coach of the Cavemen. He has amassed a 150-120-1 record during his time as the head man and brings stability to the program.
Key Players: Eight players return with four each on defense and offense. David Browning is the rock on the lines as is Ryker Mathews and Dahro Say. Matthew Healey, Thomas Laycock and Tanner Menlove will be tough from their linebacking positions on defense while Ethan Wright, Cade Zarbock, Kaiden Worthington and Scott Newman will be tough to catch carrying or catching the football. The quarterback will be a two-headed monster, at least unless either Ryan Pitcher or Chase Hansen clearly establishes himself as the obvious man for the job.
Strengths: Speed and strength. Coach Knight said this will be one of the faster teams he has coached in his nearly three decades, and he said that the team really took to the weight room over the summer.
Weaknesses: Like many teams can say at this time of year, the Cavemen don't bring a ton of starting varsity experience to the field. How fast the newcomers step up to speed will determine a lot about how this squad is going to perform this season.
Last year: 5-5, finished fourth in region, but missed playoffs due to unbalanced playoff berth schedule.
Prediction Region 4 finish: Fifth
Postseason possibilities: The Cavemen will be fighting for a playoff berth. Alta and PG are favored to take two of the spots, leaving two spots for five teams to battle over.
Aug. 21 — CEDAR CITY 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — RIVERTON 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — at Timpanogos 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — at Bingham 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Jordan 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — PLEASANT GROVE 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 — at Lone Peak 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 — ALTA 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — BRIGHTON 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — at Hillcrest 7 p.m.