With 45 juniors out to team camp this summer and many playing a big role on this year’s team, on paper it appears Morgan might be a year away from competing for the 3A title. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Those juniors are extremely talented, and they’ll be the heart and soul of the team this season as Morgan looks to take the next step as a program after coming up short in last year’s 3A title game.

“It leaves a taste in your mouth that you want to get back there and you want to clean up anything that you can clean up that might make the outcome a little different. These guys are excited about maybe hoisting that trophy at the end of the year,” said Morgan coach Kovi Christiansen. “They’re going to do everything possible to get back and have a better outcome.”

The first trophy Morgan will try and claim is the 3A North region title, and it might have a bit more competition than last year.

Outside of a scare from Judge Memorial early in region play, Morgan won its other four region games by an average of 25 points.

Of those four teams it took care of pretty easily, Grantsville, Union and Carbon all have a ton of returning starters heading into this season. In fact, only Emery and Morgan are the only teams with only a couple starters back this season.

Of all those teams, Grantsville seems the most capable of denying Morgan a third straight region title.

Grantsville returns eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters from a team that lost to Juan Diego by one point in the 3A quarterfinals last year. That same Juan Diego team went on to win the state title.

Four of those returning starters are offensive lineman, while the defensive also has three starters back.

Union is stacked with returning players as well, with eight offensive starters back and six defensive starters. It also is loaded with talent in the trenches with four offensive linemen back.

Union also returns Lincoln Labrum at quarterback after he passed for over 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns last season.

“He’s worked pretty hard this offseason in doing some QB training and different things that way. Hopefully he’ll be able to bring a calmness to our offense,” said Union coach Matt Labrum.

Union needs to clean things up defensively though as it finished ninth in 3A scoring defense a year ago.

Judge and Emery are two teams in similar situations, low participation numbers and limited upperclassmen.

Both, however, believe they have the talent if they stay healthy.

“Last year we played really well for some games and we didn't play great for some games," said Judge coach James Cordova. "We ran out of guys when we played Manti in the playoffs, we literally were putting freshman and sophomores in the game... I think we're doing better on the immediacy of focus and the immediacy of execution.”

Emery only has four seniors, but those four all play critical positions. If the sophomore class adds the necessary depth at a variety of positions, the Spartans should compete for a playoff berth.

“It’s a challenge, but at the same time, I think we have a lot of young kids, sophomores and juniors, that are going to be able to step up and get some varsity experience. We’ll learn who we are and what we can do early in the season with a lot of young kids playing,” said Emery coach John Faimalo.

Carbon is the most intriguing team heading into the season despite back-to-back 0-10 seasons. Normally the Dinos are an afterthought heading into a season, but this year they return seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters and then get two more players back who missed last year with ACL injuries.

Carbon has 14 seniors and 18 juniors and they’ve been using the same system since they were freshmen. If there’s ever going to be a breakthrough season, this year could be it.

Deseret News projections for 3A North football teams in 2018

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. MORGAN: Last year’s 3A runner-up is in great position to make another run at the title with seven starters back on defense. Leading that group re returning D-line starters Jamesen Burraston, Gabe Bott, Connor Watkins and Brenon Sanders. Linebacker Colten Hansen will anchor the middle of the defensive. The offense will be led by new QB Carter Thackeray. He’ll have a great threat to throw to as Tyson Hurd returns after catching 829 yards and 10 TDs last year. Ryker Keele is the lone returning starter on the offensive line. 2017 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juan Diego 45-20 in championship.

2. JUDGE MEMORIAL: Judge ranked second-to-last in 3A in scoring defense last season, but with numerous starters returning the team is hoping for a bounce-back season. Leading the way are safeties Alex Snarr and Noah Taylor, who were among Judge’s leading tacklers a year ago. Most of Judge’s skill positions players lack experience, but a strong offensive line led by Ethan Mitchell, Will Vahe, Michael Stokes and Emilio Garcia should help with that transition. Noah Taylor takes over at QB after making a brief appearance at that position late last season. 2017 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Manti 30-14 in first round.

3. GRANTSVILLE: Loaded with returning experience, particularly on the offensive line as Gauge Pyne, Austin Gray, Chaz Shafer and Branson Yager are all returning starters. Running backs Parker Thomas and Justin Richardson will benefit, but the team is breaking in a new QB this year. Pyne and Isaac Riding were among Grantsville’s leading tacklers last year and they’ll anchor a strong defensive line. Richardson and Ammon Bartley are key players at linebacker. 2017 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juan Diego 14-13 in quarterfinals.

4. UNION: Lincoln Labrum passed for over 2,000 yards and 24 TDs as a sophomore last season, and he’s the catalyst for the Cougars again this year. He has quality weapons to throw to with Chase Birchell and Caden Hyder back this year, and the benefit of four returning starters on the O-line, Loni Lutui, Brigg Edwards, Tevita Kaufusi and Dalton Clark. Defense is the biggest area Union needs to improve in, but seven returning starters should help led by Hyder at linebacker and Kaufusi on the D-line. 2017 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juab 31-0 in quarterfinals.

5. EMERY: Kyson Stilson returns at QB and is poised for a big season after passing for over 1,700 yards a year ago. Rance Jensen returns at running back and is a physical runner who can pound between the tackles. Both will rely heavily on returning offensive lineman Ashton Rowley and Jesse Barnett. Those two will also anchor a defensive line that will be undersized but will rely on quickness. Jaymes Bowman and move-in Szion Gibson will be key weapons offensively in addition to standouts defensively. 2017 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Richfield 21-7 in first round.

6. CARBON: With the majority of last year’s starters back, there’s legitimate optimism heading into the season. Leading the way are four returning starters on the offensive line, Makade Bradley, Gunnar Jeffs, Anthony Madrigal and Lee Moon. Fullback Collin Lewis and QB Noah Jones should benefit from that experience. Lewis and Isaac Quintana will anchor the defense at linebacker, while Ridic Migliori will be key at linebacker as well after missing last season with an injury. 2017 RECORD: 0-10. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juan Diego 66-6 in first round.