SALT LAKE CITY — Is there a favorite to win Region 1 this year?
That is the question this story is supposed to answer. It is supposed to delve into the Deseret News’ preseason coaches straw poll, which asks coaches to project what will happen in the region, excluding their own team of course.
Then it is supposed to neatly lay out, in projected order, just what might happen in Region 1 during the 2020 high school football season, if that season happens (here’s looking at you COVID-19).
The thing is, no one associated with Region 1 has any idea how the region will turn out this year.
Some coaches picked Syracuse to win region, again, though Titans head coach Mike Knight will quickly tell you — as he he did his team — that those picks are based on past performance and reputation, nothing more.
“I saw the rankings and we were 15th (in the state),” said Knight. “The coaches picked us to win the region and I’m (not happy) with my colleagues for doing that. I’ve told the kids, ‘I’m not trying to be a downer, but that has nothing to do with what you boys have done.’ A lot of that is has to do with what happened in the past and even what last year’s team did. This year’s team, they need to understand they are the hunted and are ready to go.”
Other coaches went all in on Davis. The Darts were among the youngest teams in the region last year and with 12 starters returning, including quarterback Chance Trujillo, the idea is that they’ll take a leap forward, even to the front of the pack. Mitch Arquette is optimistic about his team’s chances, while simultaneously pumping the brakes on preseason hype.
“We have quite a few returning starters, this will be our second year in our defensive scheme, more upperclassmen, more seniors, so I think we’ll be quite a bit more experienced,” he said. “Last year I think there were times where our youth, we played timid, played a little intimidated. I didn’t quite know how to find it within us to win some games, and hopefully with past experience now, the boys understand the difference and what it takes to come out on top. Region 1 is always tough, though. I have no idea how it’ll turn out.”
Nothing makes that more clear than the collection of teams that follow Syracuse and Davis in the projections. Almost every team has its believers. Take Clearfield for instance. The Falcons have had their struggles in recent years and are projected to finish last in the region again, except by those who don’t think that has a chance of happening, like Roy head coach Fred Fernandes.
“Clearfield is going to be a team to be reckoned with,” he said. “They had a really good junior class last year and a couple of coaching changes.”
The biggest being the addition of offensive coordinator Don Eck, who Falcons head coach Andre Dyson believes is the biggest key to offensive success for Clearfield this year.
“Coach Eck is different,” he said. “He has been a head coach, coached in college and coached professional athletes. Him bringing his mindset to our program is going to be the thing that puts us over the top.”
Fernandes’ own team, the Roy Royals, was frequently mentioned by opposing coaches as a region contender, even though the team returns only five starters.
“I think we are in the upper four,” Fernandes said. “I like our chances.”
Fremont consistently has one of the most successful and deepest programs in the region, and expectations are as high as ever in Plain City.
“We are always expected to compete for that region title,” head coach Ross Arnold said. “The community expects that, other coaches expect that, just from the tradition that we have. We expect that out of our kids.”
And yet, significant youth across the roster has led more than a few coaches to believe that Fremont won’t finish in the top five in the region standings when it is all said and done, while others expect the Silverwolves to be where they always are.
Speaking of depth, Layton has a new head coach in Foto Katoa, and real excitement surrounding the program — over 140 kids showed up in June for the start of offseason workouts.
The talent is there to contend, Katoa said, the Lancers just need to execute.
“A successful season for us would be if we are able to execute everything we have been working on since June 1,” said Katoa. “We have been going double days, full pads as soon as we could, and we are still going two-a-days. A successful season this year is all about being able to prep ourselves and execute everything. That is measurable, because I get everybody back (next year). I don’t lose too many of them.”
Northridge too has a wealth of talent, per new head coach Andrew Fresques, and despite the fact that the Knights are coming off a 2-8 season, contention is the only thing on their mind.
“We want to compete,” he said. “We want to compete with everybody. We want to compete for region. We want to compete in the playoffs.”
The same holds true for Weber. The Warriors have been among the region’s best teams for three years now and despite losing 37 seniors, head coach Jayson Anderson expects his team to — you guessed it — contend yet again for the region title.
“We should be one of the top guys that people consider year in and year out and that expectation hasn’t changed,” said Anderson. “Guys come in with that mentality, the ‘next guy up’ mentality. As a program, as a staff and as a team, we have that expectation. We should be competing at the top. Even though we lost a lot of guys, we feel like we have guys back who can play football and win football games.”
At the end of the day, the uncertainty, the parity and the competitiveness are what make Region 1 what it is.
“We are, from top to bottom, a pretty competitive league,” said Knight. “I respect the heck out of the coaches in our league. They do a fantastic job. You have to compete your butt off, week in and week out.”
Deseret News projections for Region 1 football teams in 2020
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
- SYRACUSE: The 2019 Titans were one of the best teams in school history and as such this year’s group have a lot to live up to. Syracuse is somewhat inexperienced on both sides of the ball, with only three starters back on offense and another five on defense. Returners Eric Wilder (offensive line), Tre’Vaun Peoples (running back) and Colin Sierra (wide receiver) headline the Titans’ attack, while defensive linemen Blake Hokum and Sam Pula, as well as linebackers Micaiah Eteuati, Jordan Davies, Caleb Rosander, are expected to lead the defense. 2019 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Corner Canyon 56-0 in quarterfinals.
- DAVIS: One of the younger teams in the region a year ago, the Darts have considerable upside with 12 returning starters, five on offense and seven on defense. Quarterback Chance Trujillo heads an offense that includes experienced linemen Davis Richardson and Lucas Baird, wide receiver David Spjut and running back Spencer Ferguson. On defense, Davis is led by a strong front seven featuring linemen Charlie Gardiner, Kache Allen and Bryant Wells, and linebackers Ephraim Fiso and Taeten Stilson. 2019 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Westlake 35-14 in first round.
- ROY: The Royals are making a significant scheme change on offense this season, moving away from a more pass happy system to a heavy rushing attack. The Royals only return four starters on offense, namely wide receivers Cade Harris and Mason Thueson, receiver-turned-quarterback Parker Kingston and lineman Abe Awadh. Defensively, the Royals return only one starter from 2019 — Harris. Among those expected to start on defense are linebackers Tytan Fernandes, Preston Anderson and Cooper Valencia, as well as lineman Hayden Dean and Chris Marroquin and defensive backs Colby Dickon and Thueson. 2019 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to American Fork 66-45 in second round.
- FREMONT: The Silverwolves haven’t won a region title since 2016, but have been a game away multiple times the past few seasons. If the region title is to return to Plain City, Fremont will need to overcome some youth, with only nine returning starters back. On offense, the line will lead the way with Kord Boyle, Davis Stewart and Diego Juarez, while wide receiver Jaxson McFarland and running back Jayce Storey also return. Defensively, the Silverwolves will be led by Storey at linebacker, lineman Bridger Holmas and defensive backs Kyle Kottter and Levi Thompson. 2019 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham 36-14 in second round.
- WEBER: The Warriors have a significant challenge ahead them after graduating 37 players from last season. Somehow, Weber still returns nine starters, including six on offense, namely running back Logan Payne, wide receiver/potential starting quarterback Cannon DeVries, receiver Spencer Hall, tight ends Aisea Moa and Luke Willden and fullback Jake Kashiwaeda. Weber only returns three starters on defense, however, DeVries at safety, Moa at defensive end/linebacker and Kashiwaeda at defensive tackle. 2019 RECORD: 6-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Layton 28-27 in first round.
- LAYTON: Under new head coach Foto Katoa, the Lancers have seen some significant participation in preseason workouts, with upwards of 140 kids showing up initially. Over 120 athletes remaining with the program that is trying to continue a slow upward trend. Key to any success this year will be quarterback Garrett Gifford and wide receiver Nick Sanders on offense and linebackers Brock Wall and Maximus Fonoti-Maikui on defense. 2019 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to East 50-10 in second round.
- NORTHRIDGE: New head coach Andrew Fresques returns to his alma mater with expectations to win immediately. The Knights are one of the least experienced teams in the region, with only one starter back on offense and another four on defense. Linebacker Dylan Madrigal, lineman Robby Howe and Amaree McDaniel and Hudson Tanner will lead the defense, which hopes to improve from 2019. Offensive lineman Austin Joy headlines an offensive group that includes expected standouts in quarterback Famous Williams, receivers Brooks Ashton and McDaniel and running backs A.J. Tillman and Bryce Hughes, among others. 2019 RECORD: 2-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Roy 45-27 in first round.
- CLEARFIELD: No Region 1 team returns more experienced talent than the Falcons, with 11 starters back on offense and another seven on defense. Clearfield has two quarterbacks with starting varsity experience in Bransen Simper and Shaydn Stoker, a host of skill position players, including receivers Gage Dicus, Omari Zuniga, Nixon Dayley, Kevian Hardy and Cameron Peterson, and four starting linemen in Anthony Villarde, Daniel Jemmings, Declan Tingle and Braden Delgado. Defensively, the Falcons are barely less well off, with linemen Brad Howell, Delgado and Daniel Jemmings back in the fold, along with Zuniga at linebacker and Cameron Peterson, Hardy and Dicus at defensive back. 2019 RECORD: 1-10. PLAYOFFS: Lost to American Fork 49-3 in second round.