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Physical mentality the catalyst behind Salem Hills’ perfect start on the gridiron

SALT LAKE CITY — In high school football, summer is the time for optimism but September is the time for reality.

Some of those reality checks have coaches and players scratching their heads just three weeks into the season. But for some programs, the reality has lived up to the hype.

That’s been the case this season for Salem Hills, a team led by eight returning starters on offense and seven on defense that has jumped out to an impressive 3-0 record. The last time Salem Hills started a season 3-0 was 2014, and that team reached the quarterfinals and finished with a 10-2 record.

This year’s team has a long way to go to reach such heights, but the potential is no doubt there, led by a dominant defensive line that features returning starters John Nelson, Blayz Finai and Derek Burton.

“Our defensive line is our strength with their physical play. We’ve got some special guys that love to fly around and make plays,” said

. “Right now our defense is very, very aggressive. We rely a whole lot on our defensive line and we’re about two deep at those positions.”

Last week, that group bottled up Juab for the 24-0 nonregion victory.

A year ago, Salem Hills’ defense allowed 27 ppg. This year, through three games, it’s conceded 27 total points.

That strong defensive front has allowed returning starting linebacker Sam Hughes to run all over the field and make plays. He leads the team with 28 tackles.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the strong start is how Salem Hills has dramatically flipped some of the results from a year ago. In the preseason last year, Schwenke’s team lost to Mountain Crest by 22 points and to Fremont by 21 points.

Against those same teams this year, it beat Mountain Crest by 27 and Fremont by 14. That’s a combined 84-point swing from last season.

Schwenke credits a summer scrimmage against West for getting his players ready for the physical battles on Friday nights.

“We scrimmaged West in the summer and we realized we weren’t going to face another physical team like that. That set the tone for the season,” said Schwenke.

That mentality paid dividends against traditionally strong programs Mountain Crest and Fremont.

“There is a stigma in South Utah County that you can’t really hang with the bigger schools and the teams that have been more successful in football over time,” said Schwenke, who’s hoping to change that stigma this year.

While the defense has generate the headlines, the offense has been very good behind junior quarterback Jarret Elmer. He’s thrown for 566 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. In fact, the entire offense has no turnovers.

“The most impressive thing about this kid is he never gets too high with the highs and never gets too low with the lows. He’s a real cerebral kid. When he makes his mistakes, he’s accountable. He’s an easy kid to coach,” said Schwenke.

Salem Hills kicks off Region 8 play this week against rival Payson, a team it hasn’t lost to since 2011. Schwenke expects a focused approach from his team nonetheless, as he’s stressed the importance of preparing for each game the same way regardless of opponent.

“Our motto this year is 1-0,” Schwenke said, “and that means we get a fresh start every week.”