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High school football: Football’s storylines for 2010 abound from A to Z

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The wait is finally over.

The 2010 high school football season kicks off tonight with a total of 49 games being played under the Friday night lights. It is the 118th season of Utah high school football, and it's one that features dozens of juicy storylines.

Will anyone challenge Bingham in 5A? What are the top matchups? Will anyone run the ball this season, or is everyone just lining up in shotgun and throwing it?

This alphabetical primer will answer some questions and help get you ready for the 2010 season.

A IS FOR AGONY: The 2009 season featured an ending that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it, when Juan Diego completed a touchdown pass as time expired in the 3A championship game. But it was pure agony for Hurricane, which was on the losing end of the score. The Tigers now have to put it behind them and do it without many of the players who got them to the title game. But with a standout lineman in Daniel Nielson, a University of Utah recruit, and a returning quarterback in Adam Long, Hurricane could again return to Rice-Eccles Stadium this season and have a more pleasant finish.

B IS FOR BALANCE: Class 1A football will feature a lot more balance in 2010. Last year, Rich destroyed everyone, winning games by an average of 32 points per game. The field is much closer to the Rebels this season, as Duchesne, Monticello, Altamont and Milford have realistic hopes of winning a 1A championship.

C IS FOR CHAMPIONS: Bingham, Timpview, Juan Diego, San Juan and Rich captured state titles in 2009, and it wouldn't be too surprising if all five were repeat winners this season. The Miners are heavily favored in 5A. Timpview's toughest competition will come from Mountain Crest, Spanish Fork and Highland. Juan Diego will need to get past Hurricane and rival Judge. San Juan is probably a cofavorite in 2A with South Summit.

D IS FOR D-LINE: The best, biggest and most disruptive defensive line outside of Bingham may belong to the Sky View Bobcats. Sky View returns three starters in Jordan Nielsen, Colby Vilanueva and Jaren Balls. Nielsen had 85 tackles and 12 sacks, Vilanueva had 59 tackles and seven sacks, and Balls had 61 tackles and four sacks last season.

E IS FOR EXPERIENCE: It always helps to bring back some experienced players, and a handful of programs return a ton of athletes and expect to be better. Stansbury returns 17 starters and will be stronger and better equipped to play with the physical teams in Region 6. West Lake also returns 17 starters and could be Region 7's second-best team behind Timpview. Canyon View figures to make strides in 3A while returning 12 total starters, including eight on defense. Monticello has 17 starters back — and its fourth new head coach in four years — and should contend for the 1A title.

F IS FOR FARMING COMMUNITIES: The teams in Class 3A's Region 12 are as balanced as they come. The six schools — Delta, Emery, Manti, Juab, North Sanpete and Richfield — hail from farming communities, have similar student body numbers and don't have to travel far to play each other. The teams love being in the same league, and this season, they'll look to fare better in the state playoffs.

G IS FOR GAUNTLETS: Not all high school football regions are created equally. Some are cakewalks for certain teams, while others are loaded and balanced. Region 4 is credited with being the toughest, but Region 1 is competitive from top to bottom, with any team in the league able beat any other. Region 5 is 4A's strongest league, while Region 11 is tops in 3A. In Class 2A, 2A East is the better league, thanks to the presence of last year's finalists, San Juan and South Summit. Class 1A's North region is tops because it has Duchesne and reigning champion Rich in it.

H IS FOR HERRIMAN: Herriman High will compete in its inaugural season of high school football this year, bringing the total number of teams to a record 100. The Mustangs have had to practice at other schools while theirs was being completed, cutting into their offseason. But like everyone else in the state, Herriman is optimistic that it will have a great season in 2010.

I IS FOR INDIVIDUALS: The state features a stellar class of college recruits, many of whom have already committed to schools, this season. The top two recruits — American Fork lineman Ryker Mathews and Bingham running back Harvey Langi — have yet to choose where they're going to play. The Utes have loaded up on receivers in Spanish Fork's Travis Still and Highland's Nate Fakahafua, and linemen, with Isaac Asiata of Spanish Fork, Hurricane's Nielson, Salem Hills' Jordan Robles and Bingham's Seni Fauonuku. BYU has also nabbed solid recruits in Bingham defensive linemen Moses Kaumatule, Bakker Pritchard and Kesni Tausinga.

J IS FOR JOURNEY: No, we're not talking about the below-average '80s band here. Players, especially seniors, will remember so much about the 2010 season for the rest of their lives — their last bus ride, practices, playing in their final game against their biggest rival. It's easy to get caught up in wins and losses, but being a high school football player is about so much more than that. It's the journey. It's sweating through two-a-days, practicing with friends after school gets out and, of course, the big games on Friday nights. Enjoy it. It goes by fast.

K IS FOR KARMA: They took some lumps last season, but you can bet five programs will rebound in 2010. If any of their opponents disrespected Layton, Northridge, Logan, Pine View or Judge last season, karma will come back and bite them. None of the five teams finished above .500 last year, but they should pass that mark, at least, this year.

L IS FOR LINEBACKERS: There are plenty of hard-hitting and instinctive linebackers manning the state's defenses this season. Among the top 'backers are Alta's Nic Wolford, Layton's Crue Kopecky, Pleasant Grove's Austin Heder, Bingham's Manoa Pikula and Roman Valenzuela, and Cottonwood's Anthony Lewis and Ben Heimuli.

M IS FOR MR. FOOTBALL: As always, plenty of players will be in the running for the Deseret News Mr. Football award, the state's most prestigious individual football honor. Mountain Crest quarterback Alex Kuresa opens the season as the odds-on favorite for the award. Kuresa, barring injury, will become the state's all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. He has 6,968 passing yards — 18 behind former Logan High great Riley Nelson and 1,668 behind former Mountain Crest standout Ryan Zimmerman. Kuresa is seventh all time, with 63 passing touchdowns, 17 behind all-time leaders Nelson and former Pine View quarterback James Lark, who coincidentally are currently teammates at BYU. There are plenty of other players in contention for Mr. Football, such as Langi and the rest of the Miner standouts, Still and Fakahafua.

N IS FOR NATIONAL: Winning region and state titles is almost a foregone conclusion for the Bingham Miners, who return at least 13 future Division I players this season. The Miners, who look to be one of the best teams in state history, already have some national respect and will be looking for more. They open the season ranked No. 5 in the nation by USA Today. They're also ranked No. 9 by maxpreps.com.

O IS FOR OPTION: Want to see smash-mouth football? Region 6 is the place for you. Three teams — Highland, East and Tooele — run the triple-option offense. Highland and East have the physical players to make the offense work, while Tooele is rebuilding. The Rams, under coach Brody Benson, are masters of the triple option and feature a bruising fullback in Toi Taufa. East will certainly get better at it as the season progresses under new coach Brandon Matich.

P IS FOR PROGRESS: Several programs made progress in 2009, and they'll want to keep it going this season. Wasatch experienced the biggest turnaround, winning eight more games last year than it did in 2008. Duchesne was next, with seven more wins. South Summit had five more wins, Brighton, Fremont and Altamont each improved by four victories, while Murray, South Sevier, Milford and Alta each had three more wins than the year before. Ogden had its first winning season in 21 years, and Weber finished above .500 for the first time in a decade.

Q IS FOR QUARTERBACKS: There's no doubt that Kuresa is the state's top dog among signal callers. But there are plenty of other quarterbacks capable of putting up big numbers and leading their teams to wins. Among them are Davis' Gavin Fowler, Brighton's Derek Newell, West Jordan's Adam Boelter, Alta's Boston Handley, Westlake's John Ursua, Springville's Steven Bate, East's Tanner Curtis, Granger's Jordan Hernandez, West's Chance Abrath, Kearns' J.R. Finai and Lone Peak's Chase Hansen. Logan has two quarterbacks capable of producing big stats in D.J. Nelson and Lucas Falk.

R IS FOR RIVALRIES: The state's oldest rivalry resumes this season after an unfortunate break in 2009 when East travels to West on Sept. 3. It will be the 110th meeting between the two schools. The Spanish Fork-Springville rivalry hasn't been interrupted, but it has intensified now that both programs are catching fire. City and neighborhood rivalries are always intense and will be renewed this season when Highland plays East, Skyline faces Olympus, Layton meets Northridge and Timpview plays Provo.

S IS FOR SHOWDOWNS: As usual, the most anticipated regular-season game of the year will be Bingham-Alta. The Black and Blue Showdown will be played on a bigger stage at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Aug. 28. Bingham-Alta will follow another big game when Mountain Crest faces Lone Peak in the first game of a doubleheader. Alta has two other nonleague showdowns that will garner heavy interest when it plays Cottonwood tonight and Timpview in two weeks. The Region 2 title will likely be on the line when Hunter plays Cottonwood on Oct. 8. Mountain Crest and Highland meet tonight in a rematch of a one-sided playoff game won by the Mustangs last season. The Region 10 championship will be on the line when Wasatch travels to Park City on Oct. 21. There is no bigger showdown in 2A than the San Juan-South Summit matchup on Sept. 17.

T IS FOR TRAGEDIES: Two unfortunate deaths during the summer have marred the 2010 high school football season. Cottonwood coach Terry "Teko" Johnson passed away when he suffered a heart attack while vacationing in New Jersey. Springville athlete Brandon Curtis died after he was involved in a Jeep rollover in the school parking lot following a workout. Both the coach and player will be greatly missed by their teams this season.

U IS FOR UNHERALDED: They don't get the same attention as the large school athletes, but there is a lot of talent in the lower classifications. Players such as Enterprise's Slade Moyle, San Juan's Stetler Shumway, South Summit's Levi Thompson, Whitehorse's Brian Yazzie and Duchesne's Shad Thomas are the real deal.

V IS FOR VICTORIES: They're obviously what teams play for, and they like putting long streaks of them together. Bingham and Rich are tied for the state's longest current winning streak at 11 games each. Timpview is next at 10, San Juan is at eight and Juan Diego has seven. Last season, Timpview had its state-record, 36-game winning streak broken by Pleasant Grove.

W IS FOR WEST SIDE: Schools on the Salt Lake Valley's west side will be teams to contend with in 2010. Hunter football made a comeback under coach Dustin Pearce in 2009, improving by four wins and making it to Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Wolverines expect to be just as good this season. Kearns has hovered around the .500 mark the last few years and should benefit from playing a lot of youngsters last season. Granger has a solid junior class that will help make the Lancers a team to be reckoned with in Region 2.

X IS FOR XEROX: The popularity of the spread offense continues to grow among Utah high school football teams. It's almost as if the innovators, such as Logan coach Mike Favero and Timpview's Chad Van Orden, sent the offense out to the rest of the state via the Xerox machine.

Y IS FOR YEAR: It's a brand new year, and there's plenty of reason for hope and optimism among the state's high school football teams. The powerhouses expect to stay on top, the teams that progressed last season expect to keep making strides and the downtrodden programs believe their days in the doghouse are done. Tonight, they'll start finding out where they stand this year.

Z IS FOR ZENITH: Tonight is the start of the 2010 high school football season. The season will reach its zenith when state championships are decided in November. The 1A and 2A championship games are at Southern Utah University on Nov. 13. Championship Friday, featuring the 3A, 4A and 5A title games, is Nov. 19 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com