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High school football: Defending state champs Lehi the front-runner in ultracompetitive Region 8

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Lehi High School’s Jackson Brousseau throws a pass during the 5A football championship game against Springville High School at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Lehi won 35-6.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

If it seems like every other football team in 5A is chasing teams from Region 8, it’s because it’s kind of true.

Of the current teams in Region 8, at least one has captured a state title the past five years and eight of the past 10 years. There were even double winners twice during that stretch when teams were in different classifications — 2017 (Orem, Lehi) and 2012 (Timpview, Jordan).

Essentially, there may only be five teams in Region 8, but they’ve packed a mighty punch over the past decade, and don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

Timpview won the Region 8 title a year ago, but it was No. 7 seed Lehi that marched to a state championship with a wild playoff run that included an overtime win over Wasatch in the second round.

Lehi is loaded with returning starters — eight offense, seven defense — so it’s not surprising the rest of the Region 8 coaches dubbed Lehi as the team to beat.

With reigning 5A Player of the Year Isaac Terrell back on the defensive line along with standout QB Jackson Brousseau, the pieces are there for Lehi to be great from Day 1.

Lehi coach Ed Larson is doing everything he can to make sure his players approach the season with even more focus than a year ago.

“We’ve just emphasized that everybody has a new role because they’re a year more mature and what comes with it is a different perspective. It’s one thing to be a junior leader, it’s a different thing to be a senior leader,” said Larson. “It was different when you were under the radar last year and everyone is gunning for you this year, so from that perspective we all have different things to look forward to.”

Lehi played a tough preseason schedule a year ago which Larson believes prepared his team for four-game gauntlet of Region 8 and then the playoffs. It’s a big reason why his team is playing a nearly identical schedule this season.

While acknowledging why his team is projected as the favorite with so much experience, Larson said from week to week in Region 8 you often don’t know what you’re going to get.

“We love the competition this region gives us. Every year someone rises to the top and makes things happen and we surprise each other all the time. I think Alta surprised everybody by beating Orem as badly as they did and Orem regrouped in the playoffs and went as far as they did,” said Larson.

The biggest surprises of the playoffs last season also involved Region 8 teams. No. 2 seed Timpview bowed out to No. 7 seed Lehi in the quarterfinals, and then No. 21 seed Orem marched all the way to the semifinals and was one play away from a fifth straight state title game appearance.

Timpview first-year head coach Donny Atuaia was an assistant coach on that underachieving T-Birds team a year ago, and one of the things he’s really trying to focus on leading ahead of the 2022 season is a stronger mental toughness.

“The focus is to just try and better what we have. Last year we a good team, even better than good, but I don’t think we went as far as we thought we should’ve. I think it’s just a matter of us putting together what we have a little better,” he said. “It’s just preparing our players for that moment.”

He believes there were several primary factors that went into beating Lehi by 14 points in the regular season and then a month later losing by 10 to the same team in the playoffs.

“There were a lot of times in that Lehi game the emotions came into play, and that’s my focus as a coach to get these guys so when they do feel that frustration or when we’re down, to rely on your teammate to do their job,” said Atuaia.

Timpview returns seven offensive starters from last season, including a ton of talent at wide receiver with Pokai Haunga and Tei Nacua. Former head coach Andy Stokes is staying on the Timpview staff as an offensive coordinator.

His QB will have some experience and Wasatch transfer Quezon Villa seems the likely starter for the T-Birds this season.

Defensively Timpview only returns four starters, but Atuaia said that unit should get a big boost with former championship-winning coach Cary Whittingham joining the staff to coach the linebackers.

Orem is pegged to finish third in Region 8 this season, which would actually be an improvement from its fourth-place finish a year ago. Despite those struggles in region, Orem put things together in the playoffs and Gabe Sewell said with six starters returning on offense and four on defense he’s optimistic his team can find success earlier this season.

Alta hopes to play spoiler again in Region 8 as the Hawks are loaded with returning contributors, with seven starters back on offense and eight on defense.

“We’ve had a very good summer. We return a great group of senior leaders who will help us compete for a region title. We will rely heavily on our junior and sophomore class to fill in some key areas. Bar injuries, Hawks expect to be in the hunt,” said Alta coach Alema Te’o.


Region 8 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Lehi Pioneers

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2021 record: 11-3 (second in Region 8 with a 3-1 record).

2021 RPI ranking: No. 7 in 5A.

2021 postseason: Beat Springville, 35-6, in the 5A championship.

All-time record: 400-462-22 (100 years).

State titles: 4 (1980, 2000, 2017, 2021.

Region titles: 13 (1940, 1944, 1950, 1963, 1990, 1992, 1996 co, 1997, 1999 co, 2000 co, 2003 co, 2004 co, 2017).

2022 schedule

Head coach: Ed Larson. Has 17 years of head coaching experience in Utah, including the past nine at Lehi where his teams are 55-41 including state titles in 2017 and 2021. His overall head coaching record is 87-90 with stops at Provo (1993-1994), Ogden (2004-2005) and Timpanogos (2010-2013). He’s a graduate of Piedmont Hills High School in California and the University of New Mexico.

Coach Ed Larson’s general outlook: New team with a new season will give us the opportunity to develop new leaders in new roles. We have several returners from a state championship team, however we lost great senior leadership from last year. We lost one starting senior from each position group and we lost three starting seniors from our receivers. We are playing Year 2 of a tough schedule. The difference being the target is on our back this year. How we respond to that new situation for our program will let me know what kind of leadership we have this year. I love my players and the talent they bring, but team sports requires more than that to be successful.

Offensive coordinator: Ed Larson

2021 offense: 31.4 ppg (No. 11 in 5A)

  • Eight returning starters
  • Air Raid/West Coast offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Jackson Brousseau, Sr., QB
  • Carson Gonzalez, Sr., RB
  • Boston Bingham, Sr., F
  • Koby Moore, Sr., TE
  • Jensen Somerville, Jr., LT
  • Ben Jeppesen, Sr., LG
  • Danny Hoyal, Sr., C
  • Austin Boyd, Sr., RG

Key offensive newcomers

  • Kolton Tanner, Sr., WR
  • Grayson Brousseau, Jr., TE
  • Maka Havea, Sr., F
  • Jace John, Jr., WR.
  • Kolose Latu, Jr., RB
  • Ezaiah Mama, So., WR
  • Cooper Felix, Sr., WR
  • Fern Ruelas, Sr., WR
  • Jaxson Shepherd, Sr., WR

Defensive coordinator: Jared Harward

2021 defense: 18.0 ppg (No. 5 in 5A)

  • Seven returning starters
  • 4-3 Multiple Coverages

Returning defensive starters

  • Isaac Terrell, Sr., DE
  • William McCleary, Sr., DT
  • Kadiyon Sweat, Sr., FS
  • Hank Griffin, Sr., SS
  • Nathan Anderegg, Sr., CB
  • Hema Katoa, Sr., OLB
  • Blake Jenkins, Sr., OLB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Chanse Miller, Sr., MLB
  • Keahi Nawahine, Sr., MLB
  • Hayden Johnson, Sr., OLB
  • Camden Williamson, Sr., DE
  • Kenneth Latu, Jr., CB
  • Lance Olsen, Sr., CB
  • Alema Tamala, Jr., DT
  • Nathan Bulpitt, Sr., DT
  • Trevor Bulpitt, Sr., DT
  • Landon Liufau, Jr., DT

2. Timpview Thunderbirds

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2021 record: 9-3 (first in Region 8 with a 4-0 record).

2021 RPI ranking: No. 2 in 5A.

2021 postseason: Lost to Lehi, 23-13, in the 5A quarterfinals.

All-time record: 369-133 (44 years).

State titles: 11 (1986, 1991, 1997, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014).

Region titles: 22 (1977 co, 1986 co, 1991, 1992, 1993 co, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 co, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2019, 2020 co, 2021).

2022 schedule

Head coach: Donny Atuaia. After previously serving as an assistant coach at Timpview, Donny Atuaia is taking over as head coach. He’s a graduate of Orem and BYU.

Coach Donny Atuaia’s general outlook: To be the best team that we can be for every game. To improve each week by focusing on our team goals.

Offensive coordinator: Andy Stokes

2021 offense: 37.7 ppg (No. 3 in 5A)

  • Seven returning starters
  • Spread /I-backs offenses

Returning offensive starters

  • Micah Beckstead, RB
  • Jared Esplin, WR
  • Pokai Haunga, WR
  • Tei Nacua, WR
  • Jaxon Allred, WR
  • Spencer Fano, OL
  • Izzy Tuiletufuga, OL

Key offensive newcomers

  • Quezon Villa, QB.
  • Helaman Casuga, QB.

Defensive coordinator: Josh Arnold.

Timpview defense: 19.3 ppg (No. 7 in 5A).

  • Four returning starters.
  • 4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

  • JJ Tuha, S
  • Siale Esera, LB
  • Mote Mounga, DL
  • Meryc Matina, DL

Key defensive newcomers

  • Taki Uluilakepa, DB
  • Haven Halladay, S

3. Orem Tigers

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2021 record: 7-6 (fourth in Region 8 with a 1-3 record).

2021 RPI ranking: No. 21 in 5A.

2021 postseason: Lost to Springville, 27-26, in the 5A semifinals.

All-time record: 543-316-21 (91 years).

State titles: 7 (1962, 1968, 1994, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020).

Region titles: 29 (1935 co, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970 co, 1974, 1985 co, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996 co, 2000 co, 2004-co, 2012, 2013 co, 2017, 2018, 2020 co).

2022 schedule

Head coach: Gabe Sewell. Entering his third season as head at Orem High School after leading the program to a 15-8 record the past two years and a state title in 2020. He’s a graduate of Tafuna High School in American Samoa and Dixie State University.

Coach Gabe Sewell’s general outlook: We have a good core of players with a ton of experience and were major contributors last year that are returning. We also have a fair group of players that are going to be asked to step up and flatten the learning curve very quick.

Offensive coordinator: Lance Reynolds

2021 offense: 31.5 ppg (No. 9 in 5A)

  • Six returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Lance Reynolds, Jr., QB
  • Roger Saleapaga, Jr., TE
  • Asher Young, Jr., WR
  • Mack Hixson, Jr., RB
  • Feleti Iongi, So., WR.
  • Cole Johnson, Sr., FB/TE

Key offensive newcomers

  • Kaiki Akana, Sr., OL
  • Tru Toa, Jr., RB
  • Kaue Akana, Fr., WR
  • Marley Filiaga, Jr., OL

Defensive coordinator: Abu Tuisavura

2021 defense: 27.0 ppg (No. 18 in 5A)

  • Four returning starters
  • 4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Tim Toa, Sr., LB
  • Eniasi Matina, Sr., LB
  • Alex Hansen, Sr., DT
  • Ammon Aiono, Sr., DB

Key defensive newcomers

  • River Matthews, Jr., FS
  • Boston Hendry, Jr., SS
  • Aidan Brown, Jr., LB
  • Sampson Kahana-Keli’i, Jr., LB
  • Aisa Galea’i, Fr., DB
  • Joe Haag, Sr., DB

4. Alta Hawks

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2021 record: 6-5 (third in Region 8 with a 2-2 record).

2021 RPI ranking: No. 17 in 5A.

2021 postseason: Lost to Springville, 41-7, in the 5A second round.

All-time record: 298-185 (44 years).

State titles: 4 (1983, 1988, 2007, 2008).

Region titles: 12 (1984 co, 1985 co, 1988 co, 2000 co, 2003, 2005 co, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 co, 2011, 2016).

2022 schedule

Head coach: Alema Teo. Entering his eighth year as Alta head coach, compiling a 48-32 record his first seven seasons. Teo was Woods Cross’ head coach from 2000-2004 and posted a 7-42 record during that stint. He’s a graduate of Leone High School in American Samoa and Southern Utah University.

Coach Alema Teo’s general outlook: We’ve had a very good summer. We return a great group of senior leaders who will help us compete for a region title. We will rely heavily on our junior and sophomore class to fill in some key areas. Bar injuries, Hawks expect to be in the hunt.

Offensive coordinator: Jeremy Higgins

2021 offense: 29.8 ppg (No. 13 in 5A)

  • Seven returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Noah Flores
  • Jace Turner
  • Tali Taala
  • Seth Watson
  • Leni Lapuaho
  • Boston Blanco
  • Ian Smith.

Defensive coordinator: Lei Talamaivao

2021 defense: 28.4 ppg (No. 21 in 5A)

  • Eight returning starters
  • Even defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Kalvin Liava'a
  • Ian Smith
  • Tate Medina
  • Noah Flores
  • Isaac Jaramillo
  • Leni Lapuaho

5. Jordan Beetdiggers

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2021 record: 2-8 (fifth in Region 8 with a 0-4 record).

2021 RPI ranking: No. 27 in 5A.

2021 postseason: Did not qualify.

All-time record: 560-456-28 (112 years).

State titles: 12 (1931, 1934, 1936, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1944, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1994, 2012).

Region titles: 26 (1931, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1944, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1958, 1961, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988 co, 1989, 1991, 1993 co, 1994, 1998, 2002 co, 2005-co, 2012).

2022 schedule

Head coach: Rodrigues Smith. Enters his third season at Jordan, where his teams have posted a 2-19 record the past two years. He’s a graduate of West High and Weber State.

Offensive coordinator: Justin Belliston

2021 offense: 19.1 ppg (No. 28 in 5A)

Defensive coordinator: Luis Cruz

2021 defense: 42.8 ppg (No. 32 in 5A)