"We had all sorts of leadership meetings in the offseason to help our kids truly understand what it meant to be a leader. It's paid off for us. – Mike Esplin

SAINT GEORGE — Snow Canyon High football team's loss to Dixie High on Sept. 8 still stings, but not for the same reason it has recently.

Snow Canyon coach Mike Esplin still bristles when talking about his team's 13-10 loss to the Flyers, a team that has risen to a No. 7 ranking that spans all classifications.

"I just think of a lot of plays that could have gone differently and we win that thing. We should have won it," Esplin said. "We led throughout the entire game ... and just that last field goal. We should have had it."

The loss stands as Snow Canyon's only one through five games. Two weeks ago the Warriors slugged out a 27-20 win over Pine View, with the team feeling enthused as legitimate contenders after a bye week.

It's a position Snow Canyon's squad hasn't been in recently.

While other St. George programs, such as Dixie and Desert Hills, have made recent championship runs, the Warriors have been a bit of a forgotten program. It's something Esplin has worked hard to change since he took over as head coach in 2016, and if the Warriors' play early this season is any indication, they're well on their way.

"Our kids are fighting against everyone we go up against, no matter how good people think we're supposed to be or how good the team we're playing is supposed to be," Esplin said. "We have some really good leadership and kids that I think are now believing that we belong with the top programs. I definitely feel we've been playing like we belong."

Esplin, having won championships when he played there, understands the potential of the Snow Canyon program, Since returning as head coach he's worked to impart the same attitude when the program was playing some of its best football.

"We've really focused on leadership and encouraging guys to be leaders," Esplin said. "We had all sorts of leadership meetings in the offseason to help our kids truly understand what it meant to be a leader. It's paid off for us."

Esplin states he inherited a program that didn't have the winning attitude it had in years past. Fortunately, he found players who were equal to the task.

Some of the senior leaders Esplin mentioned are Jaydon Lacayo, Wyatt Parry, Zach Nowatzke, Austin Staheli and Spencer Snow.

"Those guys have really done a good job, but it's not just the seniors," Esplin said. "It's all the underclassmen buying in. So it's not just the coaches, with the expectations and the directive, but the seniors. That's what you want and what you need to be successful — for the senior leaders to take ownership of the team."

Next up for the Warriors is a home game against Cedar, which Esplin expects to be a challenge, much like every game left on the Region 9 schedule.

"It's challenging every year in this region, but I truly believe the quality of play has been raised this year," Esplin said. "Football is tough and competitive down here — as tough as any in the state. There's no easy games, even the teams that aren't winning a lot. Cedar is going to challenge us and so is everyone else."

But Esplin also believes his team is poised to meet whatever Region 9 challenge comes its way.

"There's a lot of good teams in 4A, but the cool thing is that we'll be ready for anything after region play. I truly believe that," Esplin said. "I also believe that we have the kids this year that can compete with some of the best teams in the state. We have some work to do yet, but I like where we're at."

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney