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High school football: Four-time state champ Orem focusing on little things in quest to claim Region 8 title, 5th straight state title

Orem will begin the season ranked No. 1 again in 5A football.
Orem head coach Gabe Sewell led the Tigers to a state championship in his first season as head coach in 2020, and his team will begin the season ranked No. 1 again in 5A.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Only three high school football programs in state history have won five straight state championships, and just one in the past century.

It’s rarefied air that Orem’s football program could join this season.

During its 17-game playoff winning streak from 2017 to 2020, Orem had the occasional close game, but for the most part steamrolled the competition with a 28.6 ppg average margin of victory in those playoff wins.

Things will look a bit different for Orem as it looks to continue the playoff dominance. It doesn’t have quite the same talent-gap luxury as in year’s past, which coach Gabe Sewell said is something everyone needs to be mindful of.

“The mental focus and the discipline is something we need to get a better grip on than we have in the past. We have racked up some major, major penalty yards pretty much every game the last couple years. Our focus this year is to be efficient, but to play a clean game,” said Sewell.

In years past Orem had standout players like Puka Nacua, Noah Sewell and Joe Smith, who made the prospects of converting a second down and 25 not so daunting. And even if Orem did punt, the defense usually got the ball right back.

Sewell said the roster makeup isn’t quite as stacked this year.

“This year we don’t quite have that level of player. We’ve got a bunch of real good players and everybody’s going to have to play clean. I think they understand it’s going to take a whole team effort this year in all three phases of the game and play cleanly,” said coach Sewell.

Assuming Orem cleans up some of those penalties, it will again be the team that everyone in Region 8 and 5A measures itself against.

For Orem, there’s still plenty of talent to win a fifth straight state championship, but Sewell doesn’t want his players to feel that pressure.

“Sometimes too much emphasis can be placed on winning a fifth straight, we need to focus on what needs to happen and what we need to do to win the fifth straight,” said Sewell.

Orem’s toughest test may come against region foe Timpview, which it was beat in the state championship the past two years.

While Orem graduated well over half its starters from last season, Timpview started quite a bit more underclassman last season and has a varsity experience edge heading into the 2021 season.

“At Timpview, the expectation is pretty much always the same. My first year here I feel like everybody’s expectation was to win a state championship even though we weren’t prepared for that that year,” said Timpview coach Andy Stokes, who is now entering his fourth year at the program.

“This is one of those schools that the pressure is always on these kids.”

Some of Timpview’s biggest holes to plug are the most critical from last year, with Raider Damuni, Logan Fano and Cael Richardson graduating, and then Carsen Ryan transferring to American Fork.

Having newcomers excel in those playmaking roles will be key for Timpview if it’s going to get over the hump against nemesis Orem.

Quarterback play could be one of the big talking points of Region 8.

Chase Tuatagaloa takes over at quarterback at Orem and already has lofty expectations as he’s already committed to Utah State.

Timpview’s Liu Aumavae and Alta’s Ethan Jackson are both quality returning starters, while Jackson Brousseau takes over at quarterback at Lehi with very high expectations.

Lehi finished third in region behind Orem and Timpview last year, and cracking the top two won’t be any easier this year with little returning varsity experience for coach Ed Larson’s team.

He believes the potential is there for this team to be very good, and it will have a chance to prove it against a very tough schedule.

Alta played Orem and Lehi very tough last season despite losing and ultimately finishing fourth in the region. Six returning starters on offense gives the Hawks plenty of reason for optimism in the very difficult region.

Jordan is projected to finish last in Region 8 as it moves into the league after dropping down from Class 6A and replaces Mountain Ridge — which moved up to 6A.

Jordan went 0-11 a year ago under first-year coach Rodregis Smith, but he believes a strong senior class and seven returning starters should help the ’Diggers be more competitive this season.


Region 8 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Orem Tigers

  • All-time record: 536-310-21 (92 years)
  • State titles: 7 (1962, 1968, 1994, 2017, 2018, 2019,2020)

2021 schedule

Coach Sewell general outlook

“We’ve got a young group, but a lot of those kids contributed in so many smaller ways last year that made a big difference. But overall as a team I think we have a real good squad.”

Offensive coordinator: Lance Reynolds

2020 offense: 32.6 ppg (third in 5A)

  • 5 returning starters.
  • Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

  • Vae Soifua, OL
  • Kolton Brown-Dye, RB
  • Roger Saleapaga, TE
  • Mack Hixson, RB
  • Sutton Spotts, OL

Key offensive newcomers

  • Chase Tuatagaloa, QB
  • Asher Young, WR
  • Tyson Ngaya, WR

Defensive coordinator: Abu Tuisavura

2020 defense: 19.8 ppg (sixth in 5A)

  • 5 returning starters.
  • Multiple defenses.

Returning defensive starters

  • Zion Saleapaga, DL
  • Atticus McCollum, DL
  • Kenneth James, LB
  • Jaxon Beckstrom, DB
  • Logan Jensen, DB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Eniasi Matina, LB
  • Shawn Niu, S

2. Timpview T-Birds

  • All-time record: 360-130 (43 years)
  • State titles: 11 (1986, 1991, 1997, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014)

2021 schedule

Coach Stokes general outlook

“Good base of kids returning. However it is always difficult to replace player such as Logan Fano, Raider Damuni and Cael Richardson. We will need a few players to step up and assume the leadership roles.”

Offensive coordinator: Andy Stokes

2020 offense: 30.3 ppg (sixth in 5A)

  • 9 returning starters.
  • Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

  • Spencer Fano, RT
  • Irae Leilua, LG
  • Izzy Tuiletufaga, C
  • Sione Pulu, RG
  • James Aloisio, LT
  • Pokai Haunga, WR/RB
  • Liu Aumavae, QB
  • Daniel Ka’io, WR
  • Micah Beckstead, RB

Key offensive newcomers

  • Etano Foster, TE
  • Tei Nacua, WR

Defensive coordinator: Josh Arnold

2020 defense: 20.4 ppg (eighth in 5A)

  • 7 returning starters.
  • 4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

  • Braxton Fely, DE
  • Howie Iongi, DT
  • Taylor Malo, LB
  • Puna Alatini, LB
  • Teancum Atuaia, S
  • Pokai Haunga, S
  • Siale Esera, LB/DE

Key defensive newcomers

  • Jacob Turgavou, DB
  • JJ Tuha, DB

3. Lehi Pioneers

All-time record: 389-459-22 (99 years)

State titles: 3 (1980, 2000, 2017)

2021 schedule

Coach Larson general outlook

“We need to get most of my players up to varsity level speed and strength. We have the toughest schedule we have had in a long time. Due to our inexperience, we will need to find early our playmakers and work building the team from that point. I love the chemistry and mindset of these players. They are doing everything we ask of them and then some. I do have a potential big-time QB in Jackson Brousseau. But I also have great potential players at other spots all over the field. The key word is potential. I need to be talking about them as actual playmakers very soon. Our OL will have our most depth on the team and so we will rely on them to help us early.”

Offensive coordinator: Ed Larson

2020 offense: 27.7 ppg (11th in 5A)

  • 3 returning starters.
  • Pro style offense.

Returning offensive starters

  • Teague Andersen, OL
  • Ben Jeppesen, OL
  • Jaxson Christensen, WR

Key offensive newcomers

  • Carson Gonzalez, RB
  • Boston Bingham, TE
  • Kolby Moore, TE
  • Steele Cooper, WR
  • Carter Clifton, OL
  • Austin Boyd, OL

Defensive coordinator: Jared Harward

2020 defense: 23.9 ppg (13th in 5A)

  • 4 returning starters.
  • 4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

  • Kadiyon Sweat, DB
  • Nathan Anderegg, DB
  • Tristan Royce, LB
  • Isaac Terrell, DE

Key defensive newcomers

  • Hema Katoa, LB
  • Will McLeary, LB
  • Grayson Brousseau, DE

4. Alta Hawks

  • All-time record: 292-180 (43 years)
  • State titles: 4 (1983, 1988, 2007, 2008)

2021 schedule

Coach Teo general outlook

“Ethan Jackson will be the key to our offense and Maika Kaufusi will be expected to lead the D. Cam Fullwood and Taliafi Taala will lead our guys up front. We expected other players to step up as the summer progresses.”

Offensive coordinator: Dave Harrison

2020 offense: 31.8 ppg (fifth in 5A)

  • 6 returning starters.
  • Pro style offense.

Returning offensive starters

  • Ethan Jackson, QB
  • Maika Kaufusi, WR
  • Anson Jaramillo, RB
  • Cam Fullwood, OC
  • Taliafi Taala, OT
  • Jensen Campbell, WR

Defensive coordinator: Alema Te’o

2020 defense: 26.3 ppg (15th in 5A)

  • 4 returning starters.
  • Multiple front defense.

Returning defensive starters

  • Maika Kaufusi, OLB
  • Cam Fullwood, DL
  • Christian Thomas, DB

5. Jordan Beetdiggers

  • All-time record: 558-448-28 (111 years)
  • State titles: 12 (1931, 1934, 1936, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1944, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1994, 2012)

2021 schedule

Coach Smith general outlook

“Coming into the season we will be led by a great senior class. The team has been working hard during the offseason, willing to do other things to better their skill set.”

Offensive coordinator: Rodregis Smith

2020 offense: 4.9 ppg (27th in 6A)

  • 7 returning starters.
  • Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

  • Kuuai Aiono, OL
  • Sam Evans, OL
  • Jamarcus Smith, RB
  • Zach Austin, WR
  • Cole Johnson, OL
  • David Parchment, WR
  • Anthony Polanco, OL

Defensive coordinator: Luis Criz

2020 defense: 51.0 ppg (27th in 6A)

  • 6 returning starters.
  • 3-4 defense.

Returning defensive starters

  • Kuuai Aiono, DL
  • Jovi Griffiths, LB
  • Cesar Hernandez, DB
  • Mason Lund, DL
  • Caleb Rudd, LB
  • Semisi Bloomfield, DB