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Moving up a classification, Duchesne Eagles still expected to win 2A North region

Gavin Davis, Duchesne
Gavin Davis, Duchesne
Photo provided by Jerry Cowan, Duchesne High School

Editors note: Following the publication of this story, the Altamont Longhorns canceled their season because of a lack of participation.

SALT LAKE CITY — In 12 seasons as head coach of the Duchesne Eagles, Jerry Cowan has won four state championships at the 1A level. His program will be moving to 2A this fall as part of the state’s realignment, but there’s expectation both within the program and among 2A North region coaches that the Eagles will be able to make the transition smoothly, as they were picked to win the region.

Cowan acknowledged that the timing for the move worked out well with the fact he’s got good overall numbers and a bunch of returning production from a 2018 team that made the 1A title game, where it fell to Milford.

“I think there’s a lot of years if we were to make this move, we would have been in trouble personnel-wise,” he said, “but I think this year is as good as we’re going to be as far as numbers and personnel and upperclassmen.

"When you jump up and you’re playing bigger schools, it becomes a numbers game, especially at the smaller level. If the teams outnumber you 2-to-1, then it’s really tough to compete. At least for this year, we’re going to be right there with all those other teams as far as upperclassmen, I believe.”

While Duchesne looks to be strong heading into the season, perhaps part of the reason the Eagles were picked to win their region is because every other squad is rebuilding in some form or another.

The Layton Christian Academy Eagles and Gunnison Valley Bulldogs will have new coaches, while the Altamont Longhorns kind of will, as Ben Felder will be back on the sidelines after he took a few years off to go back to school.

“I want to bring a new approach,” said Bulldogs head coach Patrick King, who is originally from Florida and then spent a year in Colorado before taking his first lead job in the Beehive State. “I think we’ve got to change how we’re thinking about the way we go about things. We need to have a process and we need to have stability within the program.”

Felder will be rejoining a program that has had a good level of success the last two years relative to prior seasons, and the goal will be to try to sustain that despite the move up to 2A.

“It’s easier to look and say, ‘We’ve had success. Let’s keep it going. Let’s just work on our success,’” he said.

Fotu Katoa will lead Layton Christian.

Other programs have returning coaches but will be trying to get back on the winning track. The North Summit Braves were one of six teams in the state to go winless in 2018, while the Rich Rebels went just 2-8.

The last squad in the seven-team region, the Monticello Buckaroos, went a decent 5-6 in 1A but will be losing almost all of their production from a year ago.

Still, as expected, there’s optimism within programs that they can have good seasons.

“I’m pretty excited with the way the younger kids have come up,” said North Summit head coach Gary Crittenden. “Slowly but surely we’re getting more kids in.”

Added Rich head coach Justin Groll about the region as a whole: “It’s going to be a tough Northern league. I think the Southern league probably will be a little bit tougher than the Northern, but I think overall it’ll be a pretty tough league.”

As the coach of a school formerly in 1A, one change Felder is excited about is the fact there will be more teams in his region to compete against, as the 1A classification had just four teams in each of two regions the past few years (joining Duchesne and Altamont in making the jump from 1A to 2A this year are Layton Christian and Rich).

“It’s a good opportunity to have more teams,” Felder said. “I like the idea of having more teams. ... It’s better to have more teams in the division to make more disparity in the region.”

2A North projections

Deseret News projections for 2A North football teams in 2019. Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes.

  1. DUCHESNE: The Eagles were a middle-of-the-road offensive team in 1A last season, but they return nine starters on that side of the ball this year, including starting quarterback Kason Grant, leading rusher Skyler Ford, leading receiver Gavin Davis and four offensive linemen. Seven starters will be back on a perennially strong defense, including sack leader Ryker Blackburn and Davis, who led the team in interceptions.
  2. NORTH SUMMIT: There’s nowhere to go but up for the Braves after they went winless in 2018. Being in a region with smaller schools instead of a bunch that moved up to 3A this year should help. Still, the team will be largely young and inexperienced.
  3. LAYTON CHRISTIAN: LCA struggled to a 3-7 mark in 2018 and will have a new coach in Katoa, who played collegiately at BYU. He’s never led a program before, but he’s got a bunch of players returning, led by big lineman Cullen Naude.
  4. GUNNISON VALLEY: New head coach Patrick King has his work cut out for him to revive a program that’s won just one game the last two years. He’s focusing on the fundamentals of changing the whole culture at Gunnison Valley, but he’s also got a few returning players on both sides of the ball with some experience.
  5. MONTICELLO: The offense will need to be almost entirely reloaded, and there’s not many returning starters on defense either. How quickly can second-year head coach Reed Anderson do it? Lineman Tuff Adair should be solid on both sides of the ball.
  6. RICH: There aren’t many returners on either side of the ball as the Rebels try to climb their way out of a challenging last few years. Stetson Huffaker and Colton Hislop should be leaders on both sides of the ball.
  7. ALTAMONT: Ben Felder is coming into a solid situation as he returns to coaching the Longhorns, as they’ve had some success the past few years and have a good group of returning starters, led by Carson Sheets and Braedon Montgomery. Can Altamont find a way to keep it up with the move to 2A?