The first time North Sanpete head coach Casey Jenson met his team was on the first day of practice last season.
The team finished with a 3-8 record and an early exit from the 3A state playoffs with a 55-16 lost to Judge Memorial. A year later, and with a season together under their belts, Jenson and his team are expecting a much more cohesive season.
"They're better coached this year," Jenson said. "This year I got to work with them more and I can already see a difference."
One difference the coach pointed out was that his team has become much more familiar with the style and system he introduced last season, and has therefore learned to execute better on the field.
"Our offense and defense have both really improved."
Dealing with growing pains from underclassmen won't be an issue the Hawks have to deal with much this season either. With 19 returning lettermen, including 10 with starting experience, the North Sanpete squad will be ready to take off as soon as opening day arrives, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
"Our defense is a lot of fun to watch," Jenson said. "We're going to be able to mix it up so the offense never knows what's coming next."
Leading the Hawks on defense will be linebacker Justin Poulson. Jenson dubbed the senior his "best all-around football player," saying he plays harder than most and never gives up.
Although much improved over last year, the North Sanpete offense is still a little rough around the edges. Sophomore Rhett Bird, who lettered last season as a lineman, has been named the starting quarterback, and, at 6-feet-4, he has the perfect body for it. However, it's a position Bird has never played competitively.
"We saw his arm for the first time over the summer," Jenson said. "What he could do surprised the coaches, and he surprised himself."
Along with a young quarterback, the Hawks have an undersized offensive line, leaving their coach to wonder, "Can we give him (Bird) enough time?"
It has been six years since the Hawks won a first-round playoff game. That is an obstacle Jenson is certain his team will be able to overcome this season.
"I think we'll surprise a lot of people," he said. "I refuse to not be successful with this group, and the kids have really grasped that concept."
North Sanpete Hawks at a glance
Coach: Casey Jenson is entering his 2nd season at North Sanpete with a 3-8 record
Key players: Cameron Weston and Chaz Jorgensen return as two-way starters, along with Angel Reyes, the Hawks' strongest lineman. Justin Poulson is one of the team's best defenders, who is also expected to make contributions at tight end alongside running back Jared Watts. Rhett Bird will be making his debut at quarterback, a position the 6-foot-4 sophomore discovered over the summer.
Strengths: The Hawks return 19 lettermen, including 10 starters, and expect the experience on both sides of the ball, as well as the team's overall improved strength and speed, to be an advantage. Jenson's squad will show off an explosive offensive with Watts, Weston and Bird in control.
Concerns: The ability for the Hawks to run a new offensive system is the biggest unknown at this point. Although Bird has the perfect body for a quarterback, his age and inexperience at the position could affect his ability to run the offense. Plus, will the undersized offensive line be able to give the QB and running backs enough time?
Last year: 3-8, lost in the first round to Judge Memorial
Predicted Region 12 finish: Sixth
Postseason possibilities: Although a strong season from the Hawks is unexpected, Jenson and his crew have experience on their side. If Bird and the new offensive system can come together, the Hawks will be surprising some opponents.
Aug. 21 — MILLARD, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — at Grantsville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — MAPLE MOUNTAIN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Wasatch, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — at Juab, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Delta, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 — at MANTI, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 — at Richfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — EMERY, 7 p.m.