SALT LAKE CITY — If experience, depth and past success are key ingredients for a good team, it’s little wonder why the Beaver Beavers are the runaway favorites to win the 2A South region this year, according to coaches, as they’ve got all three of those things in spades.
Starting with experience, the Beavers are expecting to have more than 20 returning seniors alone, a huge number for the 2A classification. That, of course, plays into depth, as Beaver just has a sheer number of players that, as head coach Jon Marshall put it, is “a luxury most 2A schools don’t have most years.”
And oh, yeah, those players coming back for Marshall are pretty good, as a bunch of them were key parts of the 2019 state championship team that went 13-0.
“We’re really excited. Our program is in a good place right now. Our biggest focus is we’ve got to make sure we’re working hard and doing things right. Yes, we do have a lot of good players back and we feel good about that.” — Beaver coach Jon Marshall
“We’re really excited,” Marshall said. “Our program is in a good place right now. Our biggest focus is we’ve got to make sure we’re working hard and doing things right. Yes, we do have a lot of good players back and we feel good about that.”
Milford head coach Thane Marshall (distant relation between the two coaches) put it more boldly.
“They’re gonna be tougher than tough, and there’s no doubt about it,” said Thane Marshall, whose teams over the past few seasons have been outstanding but played Beaver twice in 2019, including the 2A title game, and lost both contests by a combined score of 86-6. “They’re loaded. ... They’re the bullies on the block right now, and they’re going to be that way for a while.”
After Beaver, there’s a bunch of teams with some pretty significant question marks. The Parowan Rams were picked to finish second in the region after experiencing a bit of a resurgence the past few years under head coach Carter Miller, but he left his post and Ryan Heath was hired to replace him. The Rams do have a good deal of returning experience, however.
On the flip side from Parowan, the Millard Eagles, who were picked to finish third in the region after finishing in that spot in 2019 behind Beaver and Milford, have an established coach in Ethan Stephenson but don’t have much returning experience at all outside of a few linemen on both sides of the ball.
“I’m excited to see what our young kids can do,” Stephenson said. “I expect some big things from my seniors and for some of my underclassmen to step up. ... We will be a scrappy team and will surprise some people after losing so many starters (from) last year.”
Picked fourth, where they finished last year with a 6-6 record, are the Enterprise Wolves, who have some returning production but not a ton. Fifth is Milford, which will have the monumental task of trying to replace quarterback Bryson Barnes, who finished his career as the state’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns and in the top five in passing yards (second), attempts (third) and completions (fourth) and walked on at the University of Utah.
“He was great, but you always have to replace somebody like that,” Thane Marshall said.
After the Tigers, the Kanab Cowboys were picked to finish sixth as they start a new era under head coach JR Quarnberg, who was hired to replace Bucky Orton. In 16 seasons at the helm, Orton won two state championships, although the program has dipped some in recent seasons, not reaching the .500 mark since 2016.
Rounding out the coaches’ projections for the region are the North Sevier Wolves, who have finished at the bottom the last two seasons and went winless in region play a year ago. In the spring, head coach Devin Lindley left to become the offensive coordinator at Wasatch, and defensive coordinator Wyatt Mason was hired to take his place.
Mason does have in his favor the fact that a number of players will be returning after gaining experience in 2019.
“We have a lot of experience coming back on both the O and D lines, as well as running back,” Mason said. “Defense has a lot of returning players and could be the strength of our team this year.”
Deseret News projections for 2A South football teams in 2020
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
- BEAVER: The Beavers did lose the reigning 2A MVP, quarterback Ryker Albrecht, to graduation, but E.J. Allred is back after rushing for over 1,000 yards last season, as are a bunch of receivers and linemen Jacob Eichorn and Cutler Edwards. On defense, the Beavers lost to graduation their two most productive players last year in McCoy Smith and Kaleb Barney, but Allred was their third-leading tackler and Sheldon LeBaron is also back after finishing second on the team in sacks. 2019 RECORD: 13-0. PLAYOFFS: Beat Milford 45-6 in the 2A championship game.
- PAROWAN: Miller may be gone as head coach, but the Rams will be returning his son Hutch at quarterback, and he doubled as the team’s leading rusher in 2019. Second-leading rusher Easton Jense is also back, as is leading receiver Nicholas Goodman. There’s a bit more question on the offensive line, but there’s some returning experience there, too, led by Jace Little. That same group of players will also largely lead the defense in 2020. 2019 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Millard 35-32 in the 2A quarterfinals.
- MILLARD: Coming off their second straight nine-win season, the Eagles will be in rebuilding mode this year, as third-leading rusher Jed Degraffenreid is the only returning skill position starter on offense. The good news is that Millard should have success in the trenches, as Danny Garcia, Zach DeHerrera and Joe Flynn are back. On the other side of the ball, that same group should be the mainstays, and Garcia was the team’s leading tackler in 2019. 2019 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Milford 28-21 in the 2A semifinals.
- ENTERPRISE: After finishing 6-6 a year ago, the Wolves will have an interesting amount of returning production in 2020. Quarterback Tyler Hiatt returns for his senior season, as does Bryant Jimenez, who finished second on the team in 2019 in both rushing and receiving yards. On defense, three of the five leading tacklers are back in Adam Holt, Jed Beckstrand and Braxton Messersmith (Holt led the way in sacks), but gone to graduation is leading tackler Ryan Moody. 2019 RECORD: 6-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Duchesne 28-12 in the 2A quarterfinals.
- MILFORD: After an incredible run that saw the Tigers win two 1A state titles and make the 2A championship game last year with Bryson Barnes leading the charge, the quarterbacking keys have been handed to sophomore Beau Hardy. On the plus side for him, he’s got a bunch of returning receivers, as leader Bret Beebe, Blake Barnes and Heston Sullivan are back, as is up-and-comer Trey Rose. There’s some uncertainty in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but the two leading tacklers from last year, Casek Hardy and Blake Barnes, are returning. 2019 RECORD: 11-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Beaver 45-6 in the 2A championship game.
- KANAB: Not only will the Cowboys have a new coach after a long run of consistency, but this year will largely be a rebuilding one in terms of personnel, as a couple of players who played more supporting roles last year are really the only ones back. Brad Haycock will lead the lines and Mike Warino returns after being the team’s third-leading rusher in 2019. Warino will also play linebacker and Drew Hafen returns in the secondary. 2019 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Beaver 52-7 in the 2A quarterfinals.
- NORTH SEVIER: The good news for the Wolves after 2019 saw them go winless in region play as they start under a new head coach this year is that there is some decent experience coming back in 2020. Most notably, the offensive and defensive lines will be a largely veteran group led by Gage Nielson, Bransyn Christiansen and Kolton Noyes. Elsewhere, they’ve got some experience at skill positions, although they’ll have to replace quarterback Taylor Crane. 2019 RECORD: 4-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Milford 55-24 in the 2A quarterfinals.