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'Anybody can beat anybody:' Parity expected to prevail in Region 5

SALT LAKE CITY — Viewmont head coach Scott Ditty took all of a second to answer, ditto for Box Elder’s Robbie Gunter.

Bountiful head coach Tyler Hughes waited a little longer to find his words, but the result was the same, and his thoughts were echoed in large part by those of Woods Cross’ head coach Andrew Fresques and Farmington’s Daniel Coats.

Simply put, Region 5, the portion of the 5A classification centered in Box Elder, Davis and Weber counties, is expected to be anything but a cakewalk this season.

More than that, coaches throughout the region believe that this year the region title can truly belong to anyone.

“It is a tough region,” said Ditty, whose Vikings were co-region champs a season ago. “We are all kind of on that same level, that same level of enrollment and talent. I just think it is anybody’s region.”

Anybody being the six schools of Viewmont, Box Elder, Woods Cross, Bountiful, Farmington, and newcomer Bonneville.

“Just like last year, it is going to be a battle,” Fresques said. “I don’t think there is a front runner.”

“I think it is just as tough as it has been, and anybody can beat anybody,” Gunter added. “We’ve all got our work cut out for us.”

If there is a favorite — with an emphasis on if — it is the defending region co-champion Viewmont Vikings.

While Viewmont lost a real and not insignificant group of starters from last year's team, the athletes the Vikings bring back are as talented as any found in Region 5.

“Viewmont lost a few, but their top end guys are fantastic, just really good,” Hughes said. “Scott (Ditty) is a really good coach, so it seems like they’ll fill those spots.”

Slotted just behind the Vikings, in the informal straw poll of region coaches that informs preseason region rankings, was Box Elder, the same team that tied with Viewmont at the top of the region a season ago.

The Bees lost even more from their team than the Vikings, but, unlike Viewmont, bring back their starting quarterback in Parker Buchanan.

A returning quarterback is a rarity in Brigham City, and one the Bees and other looks forward to seeing.

“I’m excited to see what happens with our quarterback,” Gunter said. “I can’t remember the last time I had a returning quarterback before. Usually it takes time to develop them, from wide receiver or running back, and then when they are seniors they are the quarterback. This time, I have a returner and he is only a junior.”

“It will be interesting to see how they use him,” Hughes added. “(Box Elder) has been a run team, throwing in some play action, but he is really good and I think they would start utilize him more. He’s got me a little worried. Good quarterbacks are tough to beat.”

Hughes hopes that his Braves prove equally tough this season, after a year in which they were among the youngest in the region.

“We have, on both sides of the ball, between 8 or 9 nine returning starters back,” he said, “but we had a lot guys play a pretty significant number of snaps. We are better entering this season than we were last year.”

The Braves aren’t the only team that was young and inexperienced a season ago, however, nor are they alone in their hopes to build upon a difficult 2018 campaign.

Farmington was among the youngest teams in Region 5 last year and the Phoenix return every single starter.

“I am excited for us,” Coats said. “We have it in our mind that we can go all the way, that is through the preseason and through region. Our region is going to be tough, I just think we are more prepared to take it on.”

“Farmington in particular is going to be tough,” added Hughes. “They return every single player. They took some lumps early on, and then really started playing well. They kicked our tails last year, as they started to improve. That is a team I think is really good.”

The Woods Cross Wildcats are in a similar boat, though their returning experience is more the result of rampant injury woes in 2018 rather than all-around youth.

“That was more (injuries) than I’ve ever had in my 16 years of high school football,” Fresques said. “We are very excited now because we have a lot of experience. We had kids in there in the first quarter of important games, not just mop up duty, because of those injuries.”

“I think Woods Cross will be much better,” added Hughes. “They were really beat up last year. They’ll be tough.”

The lone newcomers to the region as a result of the most recent shakeup by the UHSAA, are the Bonneville Lakers.

Making the jump from 4A to 5A, the Lakers aren’t expected to challenge for the region title per say, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make life difficult for the standing Region 5 teams.

“We are going to compete,” Bonneville head coach Jantz Afuvai said. “They are bigger schools and we have to be one of the smallest 5A schools, but we are going to be ready. We love the challenge and we are excited for it.”

Deseret News projections for Region 5 football teams in 2019

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. VIEWMONT: The Vikings lost their fair share of starters off last year’s co-region championship team, but the players who did come back are as talented as any in the region. Alex Harrison will lead the way on both sides of the ball as Viewmont’s premier lineman, while Ike Covington, Kaden Smith and Will Carter, and a newcomer in quarterback Will Schultz, will pace the Viking attack. On the defensive side of the ball, Viewmont will look to super productive linebacker Sam Trusty, along with Cole Brown, Cole Bangerter and Brash Emery. 2018 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Corner Canyon 52-6 in the 5A quarterfinals.

2. BOX ELDER: The Bees lost more starters than any other Region 5 from a season ago, and yet, are still expected to contend with the best in region play. Junior quarterback Parker Buchanan returns to lead the Bees' offense, with wide receiver Nate Wheatley and lineman Kellen Collier in support. Defensively, Box Elder is just as inexperienced, but the trio of linebacker Logan Holgate and defensive backs Bentley Miles and Wheatley are expected to help the Bees maintain their stout play. 2018 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Springville 17-13 in the 5A first round.

3. WOODS CROSS: The Wildcats were as snake bitten as they come in 2018, undone by injuries, but 2019 brings with it newfound optimism. Charles Rasband, Josh Larsen and Dayven Kinsey return on the offensive line, the purported strength of the team, while receivers Braden Freestone and Luke Hyde lead the Wildcats’ offensive skill players. On defense, linebackers Carson Miller and Matt Easton, as well as defensive linemen Michael Mokofisi and defensive back Sam Stone should help Wood Cross improve upon last years defensive struggles. 2018 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.

4. FARMINGTON: Everyone is back for the Phoenix, meaning all 11 starters on both sides of the ball. The Phoenix came on late in 2018, led by quarterback Wyatt Evertsen and he is expected to lead a much improved offensive attack, along with running back Hayden Toone, wide receivers Nick Shirley and Hayden Wilcox and tight end Jude Cantrell, among others. Defensively, the Phoenix will rely upon linemen Brayden Wilson, Wyatt Geilmann and Takeo Kano, along with linebackers Mason Masters and Chandler Williams and defensive back Park Frasure. 2018 RECORD: 2-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Skyridge 56-7 in the 5A first round.

5. BOUNTIFUL: The Braves were one of the younger teams in Region 5 in 2018, and as such bring back a large contingent of experienced starters and reserves. Andy Liljenquist, Charlie Johnson, and Eric Starkey give Bountiful a stout offensive line, and experience that will be especially important considering wide receiver Kenyon Hughes is out with a torn ACL. Defensively, the Braves are expected to rely upon linebackers Dylan Brooks and Mitch Moldre, and defensive backs Henry Harper, Jackson Brooks and Jared McCann. 2018 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.

6. BONNEVILLE: The Lakers make the move from the 4A to 5A classification, but bring back nearly half of the starters on a 2018 team that came on strong and defeated a pair of top region finishers in Stansbury and Box Elder. Quarterback Brock Samuels will be expected to lead the Lakers’ attack, supported by three returning linemen in Aaron Carty, Dawson Fannin and Trevar Koncher and running back Cole DeMille. Cornerback Jake Peck and linebacker Ty Stephens headline the Bonneville defense, alongside defensive end Alec Drake and defensive tackle Spencer Fetuao. 2018 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify for the 4A playoffs.