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Morgan, Grantsville were Region 13 front runners last season, but both must rely heavily on newcomers

Defending 3A state champion Morgan only returns two starters on offense and three on defense

FILE: Morgan players hoist the championship trophy after the Trojans beat Juab 8-0 in the 3A state football championship game at Dixie University Stadium in St. George on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. 
Courtesy Darren Cole

SALT LAKE CITY — Buoyed last season by a strong senior class, many of whom had been starting since their sophomore season, Morgan blanked six of 13 opponents as it finally halted a multi-decade state title drought to finish as 3A champs.

A potential repeat is filled with unknowns.

Morgan was absolutely loaded with seniors last season, and with just two offensive starters returning and three defensive starters, there are obvious question marks. The Trojans also have a new coach as long-time assistant Jared Barlow takes over for Kovi Christiansen.

Barlow was an integral part of Morgan’s title run last season and build-up in years prior, and he has full confidence in the 2020 newcomers.

“We should still have some good depth with many incoming sophomores pushing juniors and seniors for starting positions. While we don’t have a lot of starting varsity experience, we have a solid group of kids that saw a lot of varsity action last year,” said Barlow. “We are excited about the leadership we have seen so far out of our seniors in encouraging the underclassmen and pushing each other to be successful.”

Even though only a few starters return for Morgan, two of them were incredibly successful to last year’s run as Ryker Keele and Ryder Lish were both named first team all-staters.

As great as last season was for this year’s Region 13 favorites, ironically enough it didn’t even win the region title last year.

Led by a similarly strong senior class last season, it was Grantsville that posted a perfect 5-0 record in Region 13 as it beat Morgan 34-18 on the final night of the regular season.

Grantsville’s win total has gone up all three years Kody Byrd has been head coach, and he believes his team can still even improve on last year’s 10-3 record.

“After graduating a lot of seniors after last season many would expect a big dropoff, but we dealt with a few injuries last season and had a lot of underclassman gain valuable experience throughout the season. We expect big things from this year’s team. We are excited for the season, our seniors have shown great leadership throughout the summer and keeping the team together through the pandemic,” said Byrd.

Perhaps the biggest X-factor in Region 13 is Summit Academy, which is just one year removed from a 3A state championship.

Last year was a bit of a struggle defensively for the Bears as they finished ranked 10th in scoring defense. With five starters returning, by all accounts Summit Academy’s defense should be improved. An improved running game on offense will help the defense as well.

“If we can establish a solid run game, then it minimizes the number of times Joe (Garlick) has to throw the ball, which in turn minimizes the number of turnovers, which results in controlling the ball and controlling the tempo. If we can establish a solid run game offensively we should be just fine,” said coach Les Hamilton.

The other two teams from Region 13 are bit of unknowns as Juan Diego and South Summit both have new head coaches. Those coaches are no strangers to their respective programs though.

Greg Williams is taking over as head coach at Juan Diego after serving as an assistant for the past 20 years. The veer offense will stay the same for Juan Diego, while the defense is getting a few tweaks.

“We have a real strong junior class, they’re going to be a good group. Probably more starters out of our junior group than senior group,” said Williams, whose team returns five starters on each side of the ball.

At South Summit, Mike Grajek returns as head coach after a 1-year hiatus. He’s hoping he can get the program right to where it was when he left off.

In his three years as head coach from 2016 to 2018, his teams went 33-3 in 2A with two state titles.

Last season South Summit used a triple option in its first year bumping up to 3A, but Grajek is reverting back to the spread offense that was so successful during his tenure.

“We do have over 20 seniors coming out this summer so that is really promising. The kids are working hard this summer,” said Grajek, who said he’s got a strong contingent of juniors on the team as well.

Deseret News projections for Region 13 football teams in 2020

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

  1. MORGAN: Many new faces will need to step up for Morgan to chase down a repeat 3A state title as it only returns two offensive starters and three defensive starters. Those two offensive starters will anchor the offensive line, all-stater Ryker Keele and Morgan Garner. Defensively Morgan was the top team in 3A last year, and safeties Ryder Lish and Sam Hansen are both back to anchor that squad. Linebacker Klint Love is also returning. 2019 RECORD: 12-1. PLAYOFFS: Beat Juab in 3A championship.
  2. SUMMIT ACADEMY: Hoping for a bounce-back season led by three returning starters on the offensive line, Conner Thomas, Carson Burke and Brock Rosemeyer. Joe Garlick returns for his senior season at QB after posting big numbers as a junior, and he heads into the season with big expectations. Jaxon Case has emerged as a potential breakout star at running back. Defensively, Case and Trey Bailey will anchor the secondary, while Porter Galvan and Kaden Brown are back at linebacker. 2019 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to ALA in 3A first round.
  3. GRANTSVILLE: Last year’s region champ champs will rely on a strong defense of six returning starters in its bid to repeat. The strength is in the secondary with Noah Mouritsen, Blake Thomas and Kaden Kelley all returning. Kelley is a returning first team all-stater. Offensively Grantsville returns just two starters, but offensive linemen Branson Yager and Hunter Johnson are both very important to the team’s offensive output. 2019 RECORD: 10-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juab in 3A semifinals
  4. JUAN DIEGO: Injuries forced Juan Diego to use multiple QBs last season, one of whom is returning starter Diego Valdez. He’s one of five returning starters on offense, which includes lineman Trace Monson and Logan Huggard. It ranked ninth in 3A scoring offense last season, which needs to improve significantly to contend for the region title. Defensively, five starters are also back led by linebackers Sione Ika Vea and Michael Hulverson and then defensive lineman Kayden Viczian and Thomas Fortune. 2019 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to North Sanpete 26-9 in quarterfinals.
  5. SOUTH SUMMIT: Ranked 15th in 3A scoring offense last season averaging only 13.8 ppg, but a switch back to the triple offense could be exactly what this team needs. The biggest strength offensively is on the line as Bobby Freeman, Xander Lindsay and Kaleb Butikofer are all returning starters. Payton Sanderson is taking over at the all-important QB position in Mike Grajek’s offense. Defensively South Summit ranked outside the top 10 in 3A, but returners Brice Clegg (DT), Taylor Limb (CB), Freeman (DL) and Butikofer (LB) will hope to strengthen that defense. 2019 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Morgan in 3A first round.