Note: Snow Canyon finished with a 3-7 overall record in 2016 and tied for fourth in 3AA South with a 1-4 record. It lost to Ridgeline 26-0 in 3AA first round.
ST. GEORGE – A year is by many measures a short amount of time, but it can make a huge difference. For the Snow Canyon Warriors football team and second-year head coach Mike Esplin, that holds true and may very well show in the team’s results this season.
While most teams might need time to adjust to a new head coach like Esplin, that isn’t as much of a problem for the Warriors, who had Esplin as a defensive coordinator prior to his stint as a head coach.
However, according to Esplin, the last year has been most beneficial in helping his team mature and learn how to finish games, something it struggled with in 2016.
Last season, Snow Canyon lost three games by six points or fewer and another two games by 14 points or fewer.
This year, Esplin hopes to improve on last year’s 3-7 record by finishing games better, especially in close battles.
“Overall, we have confidence and we feel prepared,” Esplin said. “We feel like we have the type of talent to go compete so mentally that helps us.”
As the season approaches, Esplin believes that the defense is more prepared than the offense, but that both sides of the ball have improved since last season.
Safeties Wyatt Perry and Seth Smith and defensive end David Dillard highlight the defense, which is now being led by new defensive coordinator Vince Tauanuu, who was previously a defensive coordinator at Alta high school
“We really have a good front seven, and we have some experience at defensive back. Both those things make us feel pretty good,” Esplin said.
Offensively Austin Staheli will head the offense after winning the quarterback position during the offseason and will have weapons at the wide receiver position including Zach Nowatzke, who led last year’s squad in receptions.
Snow Canyon Warriors at a glance
Coach: Mike Esplin is entering his second year as Snow Canyon’s head coach after a 3-7 record in his first year. He went to college at Dixie State and the University of Utah.
Snow Canyon Offensive Snapshot
Offensive Coordinator: Tim Nowatzke
2016 offensive production: 21.4 ppg (9th in 3AA)
— 8 returning starters
— Multiple offensive sets
Key offensive returning starters
— Austin Staheli, QB
— Zach Nowatzke, WR
Nowatzke led the Warriors in receptions (30) in 2016. With Staheli returning at QB, Nowatzke may put up some big numbers and have a breakout season offensively.
Returning offensive starters
Tae Washington, WR
Zach Nowatzke, WR
David Park, OL
Ti Kanosh, OL
Seth Smith, WR
Austin Staheli, QB
Brooks Sampson, WR
Esplin’s comments on Staheli and Nowatzke:
“Last year they were doing their best but mentally they weren’t where they are now and physically they weren’t where they are now.”
Esplin’s comments on Staheli handling pressure:
“We put our quarterback in some very competitive, pressure-filled situations and we were hard on him. Last year we kind of protected our quarterback and they had to go learn too much from trial and error in the game. I think we have done a good job putting a whole bunch of pressure on Staheli, specifically, and I think he is prepared.”
Keys for Offensive Success in 2017:
After struggling to put points on the board in 2016, the Warriors could see a big turnaround if quarterback Austin Staheli is able to connect with Zach Nowatzke and the rest of the receiving corps. Staheli got some playing time at quarterback in 2016 and needs to use that experience and his growth since last season to really carry the offense and put some points on the board.
Snow Canyon Defensive Snapshot
Defensive Coordinator: Vince Tauanuu
Defensive production: 23 ppg (8th in 3AA)
— 7 returning starters
— Multiple defensive sets
Key returning defensive starters
— David Dillard, DE
Dillard recorded a team-high 2.5 sacks last season and will be one of the leaders for the Warriors in the trenches.
— Wyatt Perry, S
After racking up 47 tackles in 2016 and getting one interception, Perry should improve upon those numbers as part of an inexperienced secondary.
Returning defensive starters
Spencer Snow, DE
David Dillard, DE
Jayden Lecayo, DT
Alex Kennedy, LB
Miles Reynolds, LB
Seth Smith, S
Wyatt Perry, S
Esplin’s comments on Defensive Coordinator Vince Tauanuu:
“He’s come in and I think the kids really respect him. He had some success at other programs and he is passionate about it. He has some knowledge that I wanted to get and I think that he will make us better.”
Esplin’s comments on the defense as a whole:
“We’ve got six or seven kids who have starting experience so we feel a little bit more prepared for this year than we did last year with a whole bunch of first-timers.”
Keys for Defensive Success in 2017:
The Warriors lost their leading tackler from 2016 but should still be solid up front with three returning starters on the defensive line and two returning starters at the linebacker position. The secondary will be a bit more of a mystery for the Warriors, however. Snow Canyon has Seth Smith returning at safety along with Wyatt Perry but will have a group of cornerbacks with little starting experience. If the secondary can contain the opposing offenses, Snow Canyon will have a solid year defensively.
Coaches preseason Region 9 straw poll: Fourth
Deseret News Region 9 prediction: Fourth
Key Region Game: vs. Pine View, September 15 (Week 5)
Bottom Line: The Warriors struggled in 2016 in their first year under Mike Esplin. This season has an opportunity to be very different for Snow Canyon due to a heightened confidence late in games and eight returning starters on offense and seven returning starters on defense. The Warriors still may not be a favorite to go deep into the state tournament or even to win their region, but this season they will be moving in the right direction.
Aug. 18 — UINTAH, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — RIDGELINE, 4 p.m.
Sept. 1 — LAS VEGAS, NEV., 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — at Dixie, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — PINE VIEW, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — BYE
Sept. 29 — CEDAR, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at Canyon View, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 — at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 — DESERT HILLS, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Snow Canyon High School
All-time record: 140-101 (23 years)
Region championships: 5 (1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2003 co)
Playoff appearances: 15
Current playoff appearance streak: 2 (2015-2016)
All-time playoff record: 22-13
State championships: 2 (1996, 1999)
State championship record: 2-2
Most played rivalry: 26 meetings with Dixie dating back to 1994. Snow Canyon leads 14-12.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Warrior Kyle Coop holds the state record for average rushing yards per game during a season, 236.0, set in 2004. ... Snow Canyon has a perfect playoff record at home — 10-0. Only Skyline has won more on its home field without losing (37).
2016 — 3-7 (1-4 in 3AA South, 3AA First round)
2015 — 6-6 (1-4 in 3AA South, 3AA Semifinals)
2014 — 4-7 (2-4 in 3AA South, Missed playoffs)
2013 — 7-4 (3-3 in 3AA South, Quarterfinals)
2012 — 6-4 (3-3 in Region 9, Missed playoffs)
Snow Canyon coaching history
2016-current — Mike Esplin (3-7)
2013-2015 — Marcus Matua (17-17)
2009-2012 — Jay Graft (14-23)
2007-2008 — Rick Secrist (10-17)
2005-2006 — Bill Jacobsen (14-9)
2002-2004 — Jay Graft (19-13)
2000-2001 — Wane Kittrell (13-8)
1994-1999 — Bill Jacobsen (53-13)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2016 — Kolton Barber, P
2015 — Joe Servati, DL
2015 — Teagan Mendenhall, LB
2013 — Zachary Kennedy, Specialist
2008 — Adam Timo, RB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.