Note: Orem finished last season with a 4-7 record, but tied for third in Region 7 with a 3-3 mark. The Tigers were shut out in the first round of the playoffs 34-0 by Highland.
OREM — There was a period when the Orem Tigers advanced to the quarterfinals and semifinals of the state football playoffs on a regular basis.
It was almost a given a decade or two ago.
In recent years, however, the Tigers have had a tough road just reaching postseason. And once they get there, they're not sticking around very long..
"We want to get back to that next level again and get past the first and second rounds every year. But these kids haven't experienced a lot of that so we've got to get it back in their heads that we belong there, so that they will have that kind of an expectation," Orem coach Robert Steele said.
Steele and his staff feel like they have the talent to make a deep playoff run each year. To get back to that level of expectation, however, a few adjustments to their offensive and defensive attacks are needed, and the players need to have a better battle-to-the-end mindset.
"When we looked back at some games last year we really should have done a lot better and won a few more games, but we let a few bad plays get to us too much. We need to continue to play hard the entire 48 minutes. As coaches that's something that we're really going to emphasize. If we can hang in there and battle to the end and not shut it down, and play the same kind of hard-nosed and tough football that we've always played, then I think we're going to be a pretty good team," Steele said.
The scheme tweaks that Steele hopes to give the Tigers are a few more defensive looks to combat the offensive variations they're seeing each week, and an offense that has a lot more variety to it.
"We're planning to throw the ball a little more and get a lot of different receivers in there and mix things up a lot more," he said.
So far, the Tigers are adapting to the changes pretty well. Steele likes his team's preparation as two-a-days are about to begin.
"We're pretty pleased with how the kids are picking up our schemes and the things we want to do, but we need to translate that into our games," he said.
Overall, the trademarks of this year's team are unity and balance.
"We really have a team that has a good overall balanced attack. We're really pretty good all the way around, and the kids know they don't have those superstars to hang on to, so I think that will make them fight a little harder and compete a little harder," Steele said.
Orem Tigers at a glance
Coach: Robert Steele, an Orem High graduate and longtime assistant for the Tigers, is beginning his eighth season as the head coach. He has a career record of 42-36.
(2 returning starters, spread option)
Josh Steele (coach's nephew) was a defensive star last season, but will have a bigger offensive role this season as the quarterback. He gives the Tigers a lot of options in the backfield. With Joshia Tiatia and Chase Orwin both good threats at carrying the ball, Steele's ability to run and throw should make the Orem attack fairly potent. Add in the slew of receivers that the Tigers plan to use — like Joe Jensen, Bryan Wadsworth, Gunner Plotts and Trey Valdez — and teams are going to have a lot of threat to chase around. Harrison Custer, Reinhard Gaul and Kahai Fa'alafua are the linemen the Tigers will depend on most.
(4 returning starters)
For the most part, a tough defense has been Orem's staple the past few seasons. With an athletic linebacker group — led by Valdez, Steele and Alan Williams — the Tigers will be tough to run against. Kaai Kauwe, Elia Jennings and Tiatia will provide the pass rush and look to stop things at the line. The question marks might come in the defensive backfield, and in Orem's overall depth.
Coaches preseason Region 7 straw poll: Third
Deseret News preseason Region 7 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: With so many new faces in the starting lineup, it's really hard to predict how good Orem will be this year. But the Tigers are in a league in which almost every team is better. So, realistically, they could challenge for second place, but also might have a tough time just reaching the playoffs this year.
Aug. 20 — SALEM HILLS, 7 p.m.
Aug. 27 — at Payson, 7 p.m.
Sept. 3 — SPANISH FORK, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 — at Sky View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 — TIMPVIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 — at Westlake, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 — at Timpanogos, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 — LEHI, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — at Mountain View, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 — PROVO, 7 p.m.