A season ago, three of the four teams from 1A's South region made the state semifinals, with Milford ultimately beating North region foe Duchesne for its first championship in 24 years.
The South is primed to be the overall strength of 1A once again, although each of the four teams is in a different place from a program-building perspective. The Tigers are looking to make another title run, the Kanab Cowboys are perennially in the mix but inexperienced, the Parowan Rams are hoping to build off the breakout year they had in 2017 and the Monticello Buckaroos are starting a new era with a first-time head coach.
While Milford lost a ton of seniors from its title run, it’ll still return a bunch of key contributors on both offense and defense, which gives head coach Thane Marshall optimism that his squad can be a real contender again.
“We’ve got four to five guys coming back on both sides of the ball even with losing 15 seniors,” he said. “I’m looking for big things. I’m hoping everybody overlooks us.”
Foremost on Marshall’s list of returners is junior quarterback Bryson Barnes, who threw for 2,822 yards and 30 touchdowns as a sophomore with just four interceptions.
“Bryson won’t let them be complacent,” Marshall said. “He is a true winner. He wills everybody else around him to be that much better.”
The Cowboys were picked by coaches to win the region, although head coach Bucky Orton only returns a few starters on each side of the ball from last year, leaving him feeling a bit unsure heading into the campaign.
“We’re going to work really hard and we’re going to prepare every day and we’re going to have fun focusing on getting better and being a good team and see where it takes us,” he said. “That’s kind of our philosophy.”
That being said, the Cowboys have made at least the semifinals every year since returning to 1A from 2A in 2013.
“You always gotta beat Kanab in the South,” Marshall said. “I want to be the Kanab of the South now, and hopefully I’m getting there. Bucky’s had the reign of the South for a long, long time. Last year we took big steps by beating them twice. It helped our mentality the best.”
The Rams were certainly a positive surprise in 2017. First-year head coach Carter Miller said then that he wanted to hit the ground running, but that was going to be easier said than done for a program that had won just five games the previous two seasons after moving back to 1A from 2A.
Parowan came out swinging, however, winning seven of its first eight games. Miller’s son Porter was in many ways the leader on both sides of the ball and has now graduated, but the coach still feels his team can build off what it started.
“From the very beginning, I told them that was our expectation, that’s what we believe we’re going to do is win, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” he said. “It’s a lot easier after having a good year to sell to the kids that it can be done.”
Having not compiled a winning season since 2012, the Buckaroos have handed the reins of the program over to first-year head coach Reed Anderson, a native of the city who has returned home after being an assistant coach for many years at a number of schools in the Salt Lake valley.
“We’re kind of in the beginning stages, and we hope to start establishing what we’re about here,” Anderson said. “It may take a few years like it does most programs, but we’re working towards that.”
1A South projections
Deseret News projections for 1A South football teams in 2018
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
- KANAB: After a 5-7 season in 2017 that was decimated by injuries (the Cowboys did win their first-round playoff game), Kanab faces some uncertainty in 2018 with just a couple of returning starters on both sides of the ball. Sam Orton will be at quarterback, Marcus Fox at wide receiver and Dawson Orton will anchor the lines. Cody Stubbs and Dallon Whitesides return at linebacker (Stubbs will step in at tailback), while Sam Orton and Fox will be back in the secondary. A bunch of the team’s new starters has had winning success at the JV level. Can that translate to varsity?
- MILFORD: Beside Barnes, the Tigers will return most of their offensive and defensive lines, as well as linebacker Alec Williams and defensive back Gaige Hardy. Head coach Thane Marshall is confident he can reload the skill positions offensively, but that’ll likely make the difference between a good season and another great one. How far can Barnes lead them?
- MONTICELLO: The Buckaroos are in an interesting spot as they begin their first year under new head coach Reed Anderson. They’ve got a bunch of players with varsity experience returning, although they lost a good deal of production from a year ago. Mark Beh is primed to lead the offense at quarterback, while the team’s leading tackler from 2017, Weston Nebeker, will return at linebacker. There will be some continuity on the coaching staff, as former head coach Art Adair will remain as defensive coordinator, but it may take some time to adjust to what Anderson wants to do. How quickly can Monticello do that?
- PAROWAN: Porter Miller was the Rams’ leading rusher in 2017 with 1,444 yards and tied for the team lead in tackles with 60, meaning his father will have to figure out a way of replacing major production. On the good side for Carter Miller, there’s another Porter in Porter Wood who also had 60 tackles, and he’ll return at quarterback. Can Parowan prove that last year’s surprise success wasn’t just about one really good player and sustain that success in 2018?