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High school football: Syracuse Titans 2019 preview

Note: Syracuse finished with a 2-7 overall record in 2018 and was fifth in Region 1 with a 2-4 record. It did not qualify for the 6A playoffs.

Syracuse’s 2018 Offensive and Defensive Stats

SYRACUSE — Syracuse head coach Mike Knight is the first to admit it, but after a 7-4 campaign in 2017 — his first season as head coach at Syracuse — he was wooed a bit by the Titans’ history of success.

It made perfect sense, too.

Heading into last season, Syracuse football had earned a playoff berth every year for over a decade — the Titans last missed the postseason in 2007 — a run that included an appearance in the state title game (2012).

So, when Knight had success in his first season at the helm, there seemed to be little to no need to change things up.

The Titans were a perennial playoff team, after all.

“We’d always had a lot of success up here, just doing what we were doing,” Knight said. “My first year (as head coach) we went 7-4 and won a playoff game. It was a good year.”

After the most recent season (2018), a year in which Syracuse finished 2-7 and missed the playoffs, that is no longer the case.

“(Last year) was a good opportunity for me to learn,” Knight said. “I needed to learn that I had to change some things.”

This offseason has indeed brought change for the Titans.

Knight altered the team’s offseason program, even tweaked the way the Titans practice, all for the purpose of improvement.

“We’ve changed up a few things in how we practice and we want to change some things in how we compete,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we are making wholesale changes, but just little tweaks.”

The biggest changes have come away from football.

“I’ve realized that team camaraderie and team cohesiveness are extremely important,” Knight said. “I know that sounds cliche and I should have had that in my mind before now, but I think I learned that the most this past year.”

And so, heading into the 2019 season, the Titans’ main focus has been all about the team.

“We’ve done a lot more team-building stuff.” Knight said. “We focused a lot on leadership improvement. Hopefully, that will benefit us in the long run.”

Syracuse Titans at a glance

Coach: Mike Knight is entering his third season as the head coach at Syracuse. Knight assumed the position with the Titans after spending nine years as an assistant under Russ Jones. He is a graduate of Murray High School and Southern Utah University.

Coach Knight’s comments on new UHSAA RPI:

“I think it is a true tournament format and that sets up some cooler matchups in the playoffs. I think some of it is a little jaded, because we always tell our kids ‘everything is in your control, do what you can and it’ll work out.’ That is not going to be the case anymore. There are things out of your control and that is kind of disappointing. (The RPI) does make for a lot of opportunities to talk about it, though, and it isn’t a worst-case scenario. (The UHSAA) are trying to make things better and that is all you can ask for.”

Syracuse Offensive Snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Braden Hamblin

2018 offensive production: 17.3 ppg (19th in 6A)

-- Seven returning starters

-- Spread offense

Key offensive returning starters

-- Tyler Burke (WR)

Was one of Syracuse’s top wide receivers a season ago. Recorded 177 receiving yards (second-highest total on the team) and averaged a team-best 14.75 yards per catch. With two touchdown receptions, he trailed only Cobe Velez (four) and Tanner Judd (three) for the most of the Titans.

-- Bridger Hamblin (QB)

Threw for nearly 800 yards (747) with seven touchdowns (and seven interceptions), and ran for an additional 683 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. The rising senior accounted for 12 of the Titans’ 29 total touchdowns.

Returning offensive starters

Tyler Burke (WR)

Bridger Hamblin (QB)

Ryan Bingham (OL)

Corbin Vail (RB)

Sam Adams (WR)

Jordan Ellison (OL)

Kavehi Fonua (WR)

Coach Knight’s comments on the move from Jared Martin to Braden Hamblin at offensive coordinator:

“We do have a new offensive coordinator. The old one (Martin), he wanted to scale it back and I had a young guy (Hamblin) who wanted to do it. It has been a simple transition, and (Martin) is still coaching for me. We are going to run a lot of the same stuff, just scale it back a little bit.”

Coach Knight’s comments on quarterback Bridger Hamblin and how he affects the Titans' spread offense:

“Last year, (our offense) was more run-heavy with our quarterback. With Bridge, we will probably be a little run-heavy again this year, just because he runs so well. The year before (2017), when we had Ty Metcalfe and he could sling it around a little more, we were more pass-heavy, so it just depends. With Bridge, we will be run-heavy. He can throw it too, though.”

Coach Knight’s comments on the Titans’ inexperienced offensive line:

“We have a lot of inexperience up front. There were a few guys who got some starts, but those are guys who had to play when we had injuries. We do have a good amount of size. Our guys worked hard in the offseason to get ready to go and this year we are going to one-way kids. That was the next step we needed to take. I’ve told the bigs, ‘You guys need to be the surprise. You need to be the ones who take charge and make the plays that people aren’t expecting you to make.’”

Keys for offensive success in 2019:

Knight put it best when it comes to keys to success for the Titans on offense this season: “Up front is the key,” he said. “How those guys go is how our season will go.”

The Titans bring back a good amount of skill position players, including stalwarts like Ty Burke and Corbin Vail. Enough skill players return, in fact, that Knight called the group “the strength of our team.”

Quarterback Bridger Hamblin is back as well, coming off a year where he showed flashes and will hopefully be able to take a step forward.

Ultimately, however, any and all success on offense will come down to how the offensive line develops.

Syracuse Defensive Snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Mitch Tulane

2018 defensive production: 24.8 ppg (10th in 6A)

-- Five returning starters

-- 4-2-5 defense

Key defensive returning starters

-- Mikey Metcalfe (LB)

Racked up 48 tackles last season, the most by any returning Titan (third most on the team in 2018). Had a 10-tackle outing against Northridge, in addition to eight tackles against Layton and seven versus Davis. Also, was one of six Titans to record a sack.

-- Kobe Rusch (S)

Led all returning defensive backs with 23 tackles. Rusch had strong outings against Bountiful (seven tackles), Layton (six tackles) and Northridge (six tackles).

Returning defensive starters

Mikey Metcalfe (LB)

Blake Child (DL)

Kobe Rusch (S)

Ty Burke (DB)

Corbin Vail (DB)

Defensive newcomers to watch

Parker Schow (DE)

Blake Hokum (DE)

Coach Knight’s comments on the Titans’ returners on defense:

“We have some experience returning, three guys in the back (Rusch, Burke and Vail), one linebacker (Metcalfe) and one guy up front (Child). There will be a few tweaks, but for the most part we are going to stay true to what has given us success in the past. We will go 4-3, and we will do some nickel personnel.”

Coach Knight’s comments on potential breakout defensive linemen Parker Schow and Blake Hokum:

“Parker Schow is a guy that can get to the quarterback for sure. He is not a big kid, but he is pretty savvy, and he does a lot of things well. Then there is another kid, Blake Hokum, that I think will be a guy that can get to the quarterback. Those two guys are guys that can get there.”

Coach Knight’s comments on the defensive line tradition at Syracuse:

“We do have that tradition, and the years when we have been able to bring just four guys and get to the quarterback, years when we’ve had guys like Hunter Dimick and Cardon Malan, it makes it a lot easier.”

Keys for defensive success in 2019:

Similar to the offensive side of the ball, the Titans’ defense, and any success or lack thereof, will come down the level of play in the trenches.

Syracuse has little experience up front, aside from Blake Child, but will look for breakout campaigns from both rising seniors (Parker Schow) and underclassmen (Blake Hokum).

The performance of seniors who haven’t had all that much playing time in their high school careers, as of yet, will be vital, according to Knight.

“Up front, we only have one of those guys back so it really is about the senior year for a lot of these kids,” he said. “Unless you are one of those guys who break out your sophomore year, it really comes down to your senior year. We’ve tried to explain that to them.”

Bottom line

A season ago, Syracuse was the toast of the preseason. Given the team’s historic success, most in Region 1 expected the Titans to contend for the region title, perhaps even make some noise come the state tournament.

Things didn’t exactly go that way, however, as Syracuse finished 2-7 and missed out on the playoffs altogether.

This year promises to be a step forward from the 2018 campaign, but only if development up front occurs. As it stands, a top two or three finish in region seems unlikely, but if the Titans collectively take a step forward, a place in the top half of Region 1 is a real possibility.

Coaches preseason Region 1 straw poll: Third

Deseret News Region 1 prediction: Fifth

Key Region Game: at Roy, Sep. 13 (Week 5)

2019 Schedule

  • Aug. 16 — at Granger, 7 p.m.
  • Aug. 23 — FARMINGTON, 7 p.m.
  • Aug. 30 — LAYTON, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 5 — at Weber, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 13 — at Roy, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 20 — FREMONT, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 27 — at Davis, 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 4 — NORTHRIDGE, 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 11 — at Clearfield, 7 p.m.

….

Felt’s Facts for Syracuse

All-time record: 80-50 (12 years)

Region championships: 2 (2012, 2016 co)

Playoff appearances: 10

Current playoff appearance streak: 0

All-time playoff record: 10-10

State championships: 0

State championship record: 0-1

Most played rivalry: 10 meetings with Fremont dating back to 2007.

Felt’s Factoids: Syracuse boasts two of Utah’s most prolific career field goal kickers. Romney Harker (25 FGs, 2013-14) and Josh Kealamaia (made 21 during 2008-09) both rank in the top-10 all-time. … The Titans performed the second biggest turnaround in Utah prep football, going from 0-10 in 2007 to 10-3 in 2008.

...

Last 5

  • 2018 — 2-7 (2-4 in Region 1 – Missed playoffs)
  • 2017 — 7-4 (4-2 in Region 1 - 6A Quarterfinals)
  • 2016 — 7-4 (4-2 in Region 2 – 5A Quarterfinals)
  • 2015 — 4-6 (3-3 in Region 2 – 5A First round)
  • 2014 — 7-3 (4-2 in Region 1 – 5A First round)

...

Syracuse coaching history

  • 2017-current — Mike Knight (9-11)
  • 2007-2016 — Russ Jones (71-39)

.....

Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years

  • 2016 — Brennon Jones, CB
  • 2013 — Romney Harker, K
  • 2013 — Kavika Fonua, Spec.
  • 2012 — Brock Anderson, QB
  • 2012 — Cardon Malan, DL
  • 2012 —Kavika Fonua, DB
  • 2012 — Diante Mitchell, DB
  • 2011 — Corey Cook, OL,
  • 2011 — Hunter Dimick, DL
  • 2011 — Brock Anderson, K
  • 2010 — Hunter Dimick, DL
  • 2009 — Josh Gooch, LB
  • 2009 — Mitch Tulane, DB

To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.