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High school football preview: Newcomer Bingham the favorite in tough, stacked Region 4

The toughest region in the state got decidedly tougher this offseason.

Already stocked with top programs such as Lone Peak, American Fork and others, Region 4 now adds Bingham, which has been the state's most accomplished top-classification program over the past decade.

"As if this region wasn't tough enough as it was?" quipped Pleasant Grove coach Mark Wooton. "You make it out of this region and you should have a great chance at the semifinals."

Only one of the five Region 4 teams won't make it to the newly-formed 6A classification postseason, but becoming one of those teams won't be a cakewalk. Every week presents a big challenge, whether it be Bingham, Pleasant Grove or even Westlake, which appears to be improved this year.

For the players and coaches, however, they relish the opportunity to play top programs every week in region play.

"We're used to the high level of play in Region 4 and we love it," said American Fork coach Aaron Behm. "With Bingham, yeah, everyone knows how great that program has been and that will make it even tougher. Advancing just to the postseason out of our region will be an accomplishment, but we've been able to do it and we're confident we can do it again."

As for the favorite to win Region 4, it's the region's newest member; Bingham, and for good reason. Sure, the Miners bring a great reputation and are also coming off of a 5A state championship last year.

Even though Bingham lost a number of key pieces from that championship team last year, Region 4 coaches expect the program to reload.

"Bingham is always loaded with talent and we're expecting another very talented and well-coached team this year," said first-year Lone Peak coach Bart Brockbank.

As for Lone Peak, coaches voted the Knights to finish second in region, although the program has to replace 17 of the starters off of last year's team, which lost in the 5A championship to Bingham. But much like it is with Bingham, those same coaches expect the Knights to reload and to be as formidable as they've been most years.

"Lone Peak is a great program and has seen a lot of success. They're always tough, regardless," Behm said.

As for Behm, his Cavemen are picked to finish third in region play followed by Pleasant Grove, which was picked to finish fourth. Both the Cavemen and the Vikings look to have potent offenses that should put up a lot of points against most teams.

Rounding out Region 4 is Westlake, a team that no one is overlooking, despite the Thunder being picked to finish fifth.

"Coach (Louis) Wong has coached some of the best teams in the state over the last few years so, no, we're not overlooking that team or anyone else," Brockbank said. "Every week in region is going to be tough and we're excited for it. It should be some great competition and whoever comes out on top will have earned it."

Region 4 projections

Deseret News projections for Region 4 football teams in 2017

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. BINGHAM: The Miners' success over the past 10-15 years speaks for itself and it's why the program is a relatively easy choice to come out on top of what most consider the state's toughest region. While Bingham has historically relied heavily on the run, its two leading offensive weapons could be receivers Dax Milne and Brayden Cosper. Defense has usually been the strength of the Miners and look for the D to be tenacious again in 2017, with several returning starters coming back. 2016 record: 14-0. Playoffs: Defeated Lone Peak 17-10 in the 5A state championship game.

2. LONE PEAK: Reputation counts for a lot, and the Knights have built theirs up after two straight Region 4 championships. Sure, the team lost a lot of starting talent off of last year's team, but coach Bart Brockbank believes he has a group of up-and-comers ready to capitalize on opportunities to start and lead the team. Leading the way will be running back Kobe Freeman and offensive lineman Connor Pay, along with Brock Jones who is expected to start at quarterback, and Thomas Bateman. 2016 record: 12-2. Playoffs: Lost to Bingham 17-10 in the 5A state championship.

3. AMERICAN FORK: There are a lot of question marks on defense, but offensively, the Cavemen should prove to have one of the better units in the state. Led by quarterback Bronson Barron, top target Chase Roberts and Jonah Leung-Wai, American Fork should put up a lot of points in 2017. Should the team answer some glaring holes on defense, then it should be able to contend for the region crown and make a deep run in the postseason. 2016 record: 8-6. Playoffs: Lost to Lone Peak 66-19 in 5A semifinals.

4. PLEASANT GROVE: The Vikings exceeded all expectations last year by finishing third in region play and securing a spot in the postseason. A lot of starters off of last year's team are back, including quarterback Jake Jensen, which could lead to another postseason berth and a good run in the playoffs. Other top weapons are receivers Dayne Christiansen and Tai Kauwe. On defense, the Vikings will be led by defensive ends Tyler Trotter and Tane Fanaika. 2016 record: 6-5. Playoffs: Lost to Fremont 27-7 in the 5A first round.

5. WESTLAKE: The Thunder will be improved, but has their work cut out against four of the top teams in all of 6A. Coach Louis Wong has long been considered one of the best in the state, so look for the Thunder to perhaps exceed expectations and make a bid for the postseason. 2016 record: 4-6. Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Read rest of the 2017 prep football previews here.