Note: Springville finished with a 10-2 overall record in 2010 and a 5-0 record in Region 8. It lost to Highland, 46-21, in the 4A semifinals

SPRINGVILLE — Scott Mitchell had a pretty strong message for his players this summer — get tougher. It's the only way Springville is going to make that jump from being a good 4A football program to an elite 4A program.

Despite a combined 21-4 record the past two seasons and back-to-back playoff appearances at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Springville has been manhandled when it mattered most, losing to Timpview 35-6 in the 2009 championship and then 46-21 to Highland in last year's semifinals.

In Springville's only other loss in 2010, to Juan Diego, Mitchell also thought his team got pushed around.

"The biggest thing for me this year has been the focus on playing very physical. The two games we lost last year were against hard-nosed, veer teams that were really physical," said Mitchell.

He wants opposing players to ache like they've played a football game after walking off the field against Springville.

The Red Devils did well to match Timpview's toughness in a 4A quarterfinal victory last year, a game Mitchell said was one of the best football experiences of his playing and coaching career, but they couldn't back it up against Highland.

Third-year starting quarterback Steve Bate admits there was a bit of a letdown against Highland, but with seven returning offensive starters and six returning defensive starters this year, there are no excuses.

"We were happy to get to Rice-Eccles, but it's not enough unless we come away with that trophy. We're working hard now to make sure we're there on that day getting the win," said Bate.

Caleb McCray, a three-year starter at middle linebacker, said the defense has tried to do everything with a bit more intensity this summer after giving up 518 rushing yards to Highland in that semifinal loss.

Of the six returning starters back from that defense, McCray, Steven Geuck and Bradley Morse are all linebackers who will be playing with a chip on their shoulders.

In his three years as a head coach, Mitchell has learned that everything is different from year to year. The challenge is making adjustments from week to week and putting it all together. A year ago the starters on Springville's offensive line at the end of the year were significantly different than those at the beginning of the season.

He's hoping surprise starters emerge this year as well to strengthen an already strong returning core of starters.

"I want to be optimistic. I think on paper we've got some really good players. What happens when they get in the game and how they play it's still a mystery, which to me is kind of fun," said Mitchell.

The presence of Bate at quarterback helps put everything at ease.

Entering his third year as Springville's starter, Bate has thrown for nearly 4,000 yards and 51 touchdowns.

"You can't get that experience unless you go out and play in games. He's a very seasoned player, he's been in a lot of big games, he's come up big in a lot of big games," said Mitchell. "He has a lot of confidence and he understands what we're doing."

Just about every coach in the revamped Region 8 believes Timpview and Springville are the teams to beat. Springville won last year's quarterfinal game 38-27, and the much-anticipated rematch is slated for Oct. 13 at Springville.

Springville Red Devils at a glance

Coach: Scott Mitchell has a 27-9 record in three years as a head coach at his alma mater.

Offense

(6 returning starters; West Coast spread offense)

Springville had a top four scoring offense last year, and with Bate back at quarterback that should easily continue. He's got plenty of offensive weapons returning as well. Jaylon Miyasaki had more than 1,000 receiving yards last year, while Derik Mehl and Mckay Murphy also got a lot of reps at receiver. Mitch Paystrup was a back-up to Marcus Case last year, but he still had 28 carries for 213 yards. Ben Krutsch and Conrad Beach are the two returning starters on the offensive line.

Defense

(6 returning starters)

Statistically speaking, Springville had the second stingiest scoring defense in 4A last year, but it really wasn't an accurate reflection as it faced so many bad teams in league play. Highland exposed that. The Red Devils are hoping to get tough this year to change that trend. McCray, Geuck and Morse are all returning starters at linebacker, while John Tupou is a big returning presence on the defensive line. Paystrup is a returning starter at free safety, while Josh Buhlar will anchor one of the cornerback positions.

Coaches preseason Region 8 straw poll: Second

Deseret News Region 8 prediction: Second

Bottom line: A third straight trip to Rice-Eccles Stadium is a strong possibility this year with roughly a dozen combined returning starters on both sides of the ball. The big question is will the Red Devils be able to take that next step? Their game at Juan Diego in Week 3 will reveal a lot. Juan Diego has won the meeting the past two years, and if Springville expects to compete with the best in 4A it needs to figure out how to beat the toughest team in 3A.

2011 Schedule

Aug. 19 — DIXIE, 7 p.m.

Aug. 26 — at Spanish Fork, 7 p.m.

Sept. 2 — at Juan Diego, 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 — MAPLE MOUNTAIN, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 — TIMPANOGOS, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 — at Orem, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 — SALEM HILLS, 7 p.m.

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Oct. 7 — at Provo, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 — TIMPVIEW, 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 — at Mountain View, 7 p.m.

EMAIL: jedward@desnews.com

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