Note: Snow Canyon finished with a 3-6 overall record in 2009 and a 2-4 record in the combined Region 9. It did not qualify for the playoffs
ST. GEORGE — Snow Canyon football coach Jay Graft believes the little things make all the difference.
His players often don't see the significance of such things as punctuality and always wearing white socks to practice, but Graft believes those little things instill a sense of discipline that translates onto the football field.
In 2009, the seniors were committed to those details but the underclassmen struggled with the concepts. Graft believes the contention contributed to the team's win-loss record.
"We were 17 points away from losing only two games last year. The only game we weren't in a position to win last year was Dixie," Graft said. "It was those little things that we just didn't get done, and hopefully they realize the importance of that this year. And I think we'll be a lot better."
Snow Canyon's close losses included Morgan (28-26), Las Vegas (17-10), Hurricane (27-26) and Desert Hills (21-14).
The latter two region losses ultimately cost the Warriors a playoff berth.
"The big key for us is playing together. I think in high school football, if you ask most coaches, you can be as talented as you can be but if your kids won't play together and care about each other you're suspect," Graft said.
The talent and cohesion appear to be there with the 2010 season just around the corner. Combined with an abundance of experience a return to the playoffs seems likely.
A good chunk of that experience is on the offensive side of the ball, with eight returning starters. Quarterback Austin Larsen is back after throwing for more than 1,000 yards last season, and he could easily double that output with the players he'll be throwing to.
Wide receiver Dillon Appel is a big, strong receiver who has verbally committed to Southern Utah, whereas Jake Brown is a 6-foot-6 tight end with great athleticism. Tanner Smith could be another weapon at receiver, but he's been dealing with a stress fracture in one his vertebrae and as of early August there was no official timetable for his return.
"He's a handful to tackle at receiver," Graft said.
Snow Canyon features three returning starters on the offensive line as well with right tackle Ryan Manguso, right guard Tavish Nelson and center Bryce Hasshaw. Graft is particularly excited about Hasshaw.
"The last time we had a legitimate offensive lineman at center was in 1999 when we won it," Graft said.
Defensively, Graft is thrilled to have experience back in the secondary with so many teams running the spread offense these days. Graft believes returning starters Connor Heward, Trayston Frazier, Reggie Gates and Tanner Smith will be a big bonus against run-oriented teams like Morgan, Hurricane and Cedar.
Snow Canyon will be fairly quick defensively and a bit bigger in the trenches than usual.
"It's a good group, they've always been very, very athletic. I think we'll be a little more physical up front. Good weight training, the kids worked hard this year," Graft said
He's hopeful the trend continues in the coming years as Snow Canyon looks to re-establish itself as a Region 9 contender after a few down years.
"In the future I think our sophomore class and junior class mix real well. So I think in the next couple years if they'll continue to pay the price and continue to get better good things can happen," Graft said.
Snow Canyon Warriors at a glance
Coach: This is Jay Graft's second year in his second stint as Snow Canyon's head coach. Last year he finished with a 3-6 record, and his overall head coaching record in five season is 27-23. He is a graduate of Woodbridge High in Virginia.
(8 returning starters; Spread offense)
Quality returning starters on the offensive line, at wide receiver and quarterback have the Warriors thinking big in 2010. Nelson, Manguso and Hasshaw will anchor the line and protect Larsen who is back for his second year at starting quarterback. Appel, Brown and Smith are outstanding targets for him to throw to. Running back JP Neilson isn't a returning starter, but the coaching staff has big plans for him in the offense.
(6 returning starters)
Snow Canyon's defense was very inconsistent last year, giving up 49 points to Dixie one week and holding Pine View to seven the next. With plenty of returning starters, the coaching staff is hoping for more stability this year. A secondary featuring returning starters Heward, Frazier, Gates and Smith will be the strength of the defense, but middle linebackers Shaydon Gates and Curtis Bulloch are expected to make big contributions as well. Brown will be a key contributor on the defensive line as well.
Coaches preseason Region 9 (4A) straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 9 (4A) prediction: Second
Bottom line: The Warriors missed the playoffs last year, but they have enough returning starters to reverse that trend this year. It won't be easy, though, especially in the split Region 9 where the 3A teams are every bit as good as the 4A teams. Improvement needs to be made on both sides of the ball, as Snow Canyon only averaged 21.4 ppg last year and conceded 21.3 ppg. If that trend continues it will be nothing better than a .500 team.
Aug. 20 – at Olympus, 7 p.m.
Aug. 27 – MORGAN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 3 – LAS VEGAS, NEV., 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 – CANYON VIEW, 7 P.M.
Sept. 17 – HURRICANE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 – at Cedar, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 – at Desert Hills, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 – DIXIE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 – at Pine View, 7 p.m.