Note: Lone Peak went 9-3 last season (6-1 in Region 4 to share first place). The Knights lost in four overtimes to Hunter in the 5A quarterfinals.
ALPINE — There was a definite taste of disappointment last year as Lone Peak's season ended with a 45-37 loss to Hunter in four overtimes in the 5A state quarterfinals. It is something the returning players don't want to experience again.
"That was one of the worst feelings ever," said linebacker Dax Eisinger. "We knew we let something slip away and we vowed not to let it happen this year."
The senior captains for this season's squad all know this is their last chance to play with the Lone Peak name on their jerseys, and they have been working extra hard to make sure they go out with a bang.
"It is something special to put on the Lone Peak uniform," said running back Chris Nielson. "There is an expectation. There is a history of being a good football team, and we want to carry that on."
Eisinger, Nielson, linebacker Zach Newman, offensive guard Keyan Norman, cornerback Kyle Hannemann and linebacker Tanner Larsen are the co-captains responsible for providing the leadership and playmaking to propel the Knights to their desired goals.
"Our captains have done a tremendous job of keeping the guys motivated and keeping them going during the first couple of weeks of practice," said coach Tony McGeary. "They are all two- or three-year starters for us, so they know exactly what it takes to get the job done."
Last season, the Knights may have been underestimated. They surprised many as they shared a piece of the Region 4 title after being picked to finish third. But that won't happen this year. There will be no sneaking up on an opponent.
"I think some teams maybe overlooked us a bit," said McGeary. "We knew that we had the potential to be good, and we mostly found our potential. I think the teams in our region kind of know what to expect out of us this year, but that isn't all that bad. It really comes down to execution for us."
The coaches in Region 4 picked the Knights to finish second this year, with that high level of respect coming primarily because of the talent that's coming back.
"We have a good group of guys that played for us last year," said Norman. "We have all been playing together for a long time, and we want to finish our careers together on a high note. We know what needs to be done and we have been working even harder this year to get it done right."
While Lone Peak had one of the most explosive offenses last year, averaging nearly 30 points a game, the Knights expect the defense to be the strength of this year's squad.
"Our defense should be good," said Larsen. "We take a lot of pride in it. We try to all fly to the football and get 11 guys around the ball to make a play. Defense is a lot about effort, and we have a lot of guys that are willing to put in the work to be good on defense."
"We can be one of the top defenses in the state," said Hannemann. "We definitely have the potential and we have been working hard to try to prove it."
Lone Peak also has the unique opportunity to play on the turf of Rice-Eccles Stadium this year when it faces Mountain Crest there in the second game of the season. It is always a team's goal to "get to the turf," but the Knights have to have the goal to play there more than just once.
"We want a region title again," said Newman. "This time we want it by ourselves, and then we want to win a state title. We have a lot of work to do, but we know we can do it."
Lone Peak Knights at a glance:
Coach: Tony McGeary is entering his third season as the coach of the Knights. He has gone 16-7 in the first two years.
(4 returning starters, spread formation)
Gone is quarterback Tannon Pedersen and his 30 touchdown passes from last year. The Knights have three capable quarterbacks, but finding one to control the offense and create the kind of danger that Pedersen did will be a key. Chris Nielson is a huge threat in the backfield, and Cam Deere is a top-notch wide receiver. Keyan Newman anchors a tough and experienced line up front that should open holes for Nielson and protect whoever wins the starting quarterback nod.
(4 returning starters, 3-4 defense)
Coach McGeary feels the defense will be the strength of his squad. Tanner Larsen is the leading returning tackler and a two-year starter at linebacker, and Kyle Hannemann is a two-year starter at cornerback. Dax Eisinger joins Larsen in the linebacking corps and is exactly the type of athlete coaches have to gameplan against. Zach Newman is a senior captain and linebacker that gives the team three experienced guys that can wreak havoc and make plays.
Coaches preseason Region 4 straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 4 prediction: Second
Bottom line: The Knights grabbed an unexpected share of the region title last season, but the expectations are higher this year. They won't be underestimated and will get opposing teams' best shots against them. But that shouldn't stop this team. The Knights have the talent, experience and desire to repeat as champs, and they should be battling for the top spot. Anything less than a berth in the playoffs would be considered a failure on the year.
Aug. 20 — at Bountiful, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — MOUNTAIN CREST (at Rice-Eccles Stadium, TBA
Sept. 3 — HIGHLAND, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 — at Brighton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 — HILLCREST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 — ALTA, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 — at American Fork, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 — JORDAN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — at Pleasant Grove, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 — COPPER HILLS, 7 p.m.