SALT LAKE CITY — Talk to any of the eight head coaches in Region 1, and they’ll tell you the same thing heading into the 2019 season: the region will be especially tough this year.
It is always difficult in Region 1 to be sure, but with the addition of the Roy Royals, the region sets up to be as difficult and competitive as it has in years.
“It is always a tough region and it just got tougher with adding Roy,” Fremont head coach Ross Arnold said.
One of the primary reasons? All but two schools, Davis and Clearfield, return their starting quarterbacks from last season.
“Every school in our region except two bring back their starting quarterback,” said Arnold. “Almost all of them are very mobile, pass-run threats.”
“Almost everyone else has their trigger man back,” Roy head coach Fred Fernandes added. “It is a lot smoother when you have a guy that has run the show.”
Experienced returners are not limited to signal-callers, though.
For many schools, returning starters are back en masse, led the Layton Lancers who bring back more than half of their 2018 core.
“A lot of teams have experience coming back, besides us, though,” Layton head coach Tyler Gladwell said, “so it will be very tough.”
Parity was also trumpeted, with most schools neck and neck as far as expectations go.
“I think there is a lot of parity in Region 1 this year,” Fernandes said. “There are not any easy games. All seven games will be eventful, barnburners, and I think that is good for the region and I am excited about it.”
“This region, top to bottom, anyone can beat anyone and that is what is so fun about it,” added Weber head coach Jayson Anderson. “Each team has a good coach, a successful coach that knows what they are doing, and you have to be prepared every game. There is enough skill guys and we are all pretty equal that anyone can win any day. That is how this region is and that is what makes it fun.”
Despite all the talk of parity, two schools rose above all the others when the region’s coaches were polled: Fremont and Roy.
The Silver Wolves, who are coming off an 8-3 season (5-1 in region), are the prohibitive favorites, thanks to the return of quarterback Mitch Stratford, tight end Justin Sagapolu and others.
“Fremont is going to be awesome,” Davis head coach Mitch Arquette said. “I really like what Coach Arnold has done there.”
“I think that the top is still going to be Fremont,” added Northridge headman Braden Mitchell. “They are supposed to be really good and they have the size out of all the schools up here.”
The Silver Wolves do only return six starters, but that isn’t a concern for most.
“Don’t let Fremont fool you,” Anderson said. “They are loaded.”
Right behind the Silver Wolves are the Royals, who return to Region 1 after a two-year stint in 5A.
The move back to the 6A classification is a welcome one for Roy, which is coming off a semifinals run in the 5A state tournament in 2018.
“We are not worried about it,” Fernandes said. “We’ve bounced back and forth every two years it seems like. We were region champions the last time we were in Region 1. It is not a big deal to us. We won it in 2016.”
The Royals return their fair share of starters, including star quarterback Jaxson Dart, linemen Justin Kirkland and Cormac Boyer and a host of skill position players.
“Roy is going to be tough,” Syracuse head coach Mike Knight said. “They have a good track record.”
“Roy is new, but they aren’t that new,” added Clearfield head coach Andre Dyson. “Just another great team.”
From there the region is expected to be all kinds of competitive, with the Weber Warriors, Syracuse Titans, Northridge Knights and Davis Darts expected to battle it out in a so-called second tier.
“That middle tier is where we fit right in,” Mitchell said. “I think Weber has earned respect as back-to-back region champs. Talent-wise they have more guys, but we will do our best to scheme. Davis had a great year last year and Syracuse is always tough. It’ll be interesting to see how good everyone can be. We have to battle it out.”
Pulling up the projected rear of the region are the Layton Lancers and Clearfield Falcons, but optimism abounds for both teams.
For Layton, experienced returners and an extra year in Gladwell’s system seems to promise improvement.
“Coach Gladwell is now in year two at Layton and they will be that much further ahead,” Arquette said.
As for Clearfield, which was winless in region play in 2018, this might be its best team yet.
“Clearfield might not be bringing back a starting quarterback, but they are probably as good as they’ve ever been,” Fernandes said.
“My goal is to destroy everyone’s dreams,” Dyson said. “We are the afterthought and we should be, we haven’t won. I don’t have a problem with that. You have to earn what you do and we’ve earned the right to have no respect. It’ll be fun.”
Deseret News projections for Region 1 football teams in 2019
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. FREMONT: The Silver Wolves are one of six Region 1 teams to bring back their starting quarterback this season and that returning experience should only bode well for Fremont’s goal of a region championship. Mitch Stratford is the Silver Wolves’ returning signal-caller, and he is expected, alongside tight end Justin Sagapolu and wide receiver Jaxon Whitney, to lead Fremont to continued offensive excellence (the Silver Wolves had the eighth-best attack in 6A in 2018). Defensively, Fremont was just as good a season ago, and returns five starters, including Sagapolu and Whitney at linebacker, alongside defensive linemen Bridger Hansen, Jordan McKean and Bridger Holmes. 2018 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Pleasant Grove 38-14 in the 6A quarterfinals.
2. ROY: What the Royals lack in overall numbers, they make up for in top-end talent. On offense, Roy brings back quarterback Jaxson Dart, among a host of other returners — seven total — from one of the better attacks in the 5A classification. Among those returners expected to keep Roy among the offensive elite are running back Izzy Gordon, wideout Mcquade Andrade and a pair of linemen in Cormac Boyer and Justin Kirkland. The same holds true on the defensive side of the ball, where the Royals were the fourth-stoutest group in 5A last year. Leading the way this season will be Kirkland (defensive lineman) and Andrade (defensive back), as well as Cade and Jaden Harris, and the duo of Bryant Eteuati and Cannon Panfiloff (defensive line). 2018 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Skyridge 42-15 in the 5A semifinals.
3. SYRACUSE: 2018 was anything but what the Titans wanted or expected, but with a strong contingent of returners things look to be on the up and up for Syracuse football. Starting quarterback Bridger Hamblin is back to lead the Titans’ offense, along with wideouts Ty Burke, Sam Adams and Kavehi Fonua, running back Corbin Vail and a pair of offensive linemen in Ryan Bingham and Jordan Ellison. Defensively, Syracuse will be paced by five returners, including linebacker Mikey Metcalfe, safety Kobe Rusch and defensive lineman Blake Child, among others. 2018 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify for the 6A playoffs.
4. WEBER: Change is a general theme for the Warriors this season, with many of the standouts from back-to-back region championships gone, as well as former head coach Matt Hammer. Under Jayson Anderson, though, the Warriors have no intention of taking a step back. Starting quarterback Kohl Hogan returns, along with a quartet of experienced offensive linemen in Gabe Aurich, Carter Call, Parker McClure and Jackson McAuley. Wideout Braeden Hart is back as well for the Weber offense, which hopes to improve upon last year’s performance, while defensive linemen Dylan Yearsley and Trevor Lewis, not to mention standout linebackers Tyler Short and Nic Erickson, are back from what was an elite Warriors defense. 2018 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to American Fork 45-31 in the 6A quarterfinals.
5. DAVIS: The Darts are one of, if not the least experienced team in Region 1, as far as returning starters go. Davis brings back only three starters on offense and one on defense from a team that finished 7-4 overall, 4-2 in region play in 2018. The Darts will be led on offense, in what may very well be a rebuilding year — unless the team surprises — by running back Carston Christensen, slot receiver David Spjut, center Parker Last and a newcomer at quarterback, Chance Trujillo. On the defensive side of the ball, safety Spencer Ferguson will be tasked with leading a talented yet highly inexperienced collection of athletes. 2018 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak 34-6 in the 6A quarterfinals.
6. NORTHRIDGE: The Knights were one of the bigger surprises in Region 1 last season, overcoming a general lack of experience to a .500 record in region play. Northridge brings back significantly more experience this year, led by quarterback Colby Browning and standout wide receiver Otto Tia, along with a host of experienced offensive linemen in Magnus Fonoti-Faumuina, Alec Lowe, Lex Lewis and Austin Joy. Defensively, linebacker Dorian Ishmael leads a smaller group of returners, as well as a contingent of newcomers, including defensive backs Andres Esparza Maciel and Zanoah Martinez, linebackers Ryker Schenck and Dylan Madrigal and defensive lineman Ron Sanders, each of whom will be expected to make significant contributions if the Knights are to improve their standing in the region. 2018 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Kearns 40-37 in the 6A first round.
7. LAYTON: A season ago, the Lancers were among the least experienced teams in Region 1. This time around, Layton is much better prepared for the task at hand in the second season of Tyler Gladwell’s head coaching tenure. The Lancers have six returning starters back on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Landon Brant and wide receiver Nate Atkinson on offense. In addition to those two, Layton brings back four offensive linemen with Friday night experience in Mason Clark, Ethan Wilde, Lexton Adams and Carter Robinson. On the defensive side of the ball, the Lancers will be led by defensive end Magnus Toomalatai, linebackers Brenden Barrett, Canyon Brann and Kobe Talbot, and defensive backs Collin Haygood and Micah Parkinson. 2018 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify for the 6A playoffs.
8. CLEARFIELD: One of the only teams in the region to not return a starter at quarterback, the Falcons still have hope for an improved campaign on the basis of eight returning starters on offense and seven on defense. Junior quarterback Bransen Simper isn’t one of said returning starters, but saw time in 2018 and will have a host of targets to get the ball to, including wide receivers Gage Dicus, Bryce Ramage, Kevian Hardy, Cade Pierren, running back Omari Zuniga and tight end Austin Call. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons will rely on defensive linemen Grayson Banks and Braden Delgado, along with Call, Pierren, Hardy and others. 2018 RECORD: 1-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify for the 6A playoffs.