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Maple Mountain the favorite in what could be an open race in Region 8

It’s been a while since Maple Mountain finished on top of the Region 8 standings, but armed with an impressive returning group of starters, region coaches tabbed the Golden Eagles as the preseason favorite.

Not since 2012 has coach Brad Burtenshaw’s team finished first in region play, although he’s been able to put forth a competitive product capable of deep runs in the playoffs. Led by standout playmaker Kyson Hall and returning quarterback Tyler Nelson this season, the Maple Mountain offense looks potent, while the defense should be able to hold its own versus most opponents.

While thought of as the favorites, it’s not overwhelmingly so when surveying coaches around the region — all who seem to believe play will be tough throughout.

“It’s a tough region and we believe we’ll have tough games every week,” said Springville coach Willy Child, whose team has perhaps proven the most consistent of all Region 8 squads in recent years. “I think just about every team is going to be improved, and we’ll have to be improved as well.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the Red Devils are tabbed to finish fifth in region play despite the program’s great success in recent years.

“We’ll go forward with our approach and the kids are working hard to form a competitive team,” Child said. “I’m proud of the system we’ve built here and we really have great kids who work hard, and that’s why we’ve been successful.”

The team that enjoyed the most success in region last season was Provo, which beat Salem Hills head-to-head to come out on top as region champions. But the Bulldogs lost a lot off of last year’s team, along with coach Tony McGeary, who retired at the end of last season.

“You either rebuild or reload, and I really think we have the talent to reload this year, rather than rebuild,” said new Provo coach Kirk Chambers, who isn’t new to the coaching ranks. “We’ve been fortunate to have great youth programs coming up, and the players are ready to step up. The talent and the depth are there, and we just need to put it together to hopefully prove a competitive team again.”

As for Salem Hills, it appears primed again for the deepest run of any Region 8 teams under new coach Jeff Higginson, who will work to build off of last season’s breakthrough success.

“We definitely want to improve on last year’s success and we really want to win our region outright. That’s our big goal. We’ve never won a region championship,” Higginson said. “But more importantly, we just want to focus on one week at a time, and then see what comes of it.”

Although picked to finish last in region play, all agree Spanish Fork could cause a lot of problems given its list of returning starters. Seven starters on either side of the football portends a lot of improvement for the Dons — a team that was in rebuilding mode last season after losing all of their starters from 2018.

So it’s wide open by anyone’s estimation, which is a landscape relished by most coaches — all of whom expect to be competitive in region play.

“This region is wide open, and we feel it’s like that most years,” Child said. “We’re all happy to be able to play and compete and feel it’s going to be a fun and challenging year for all of us.”

Deseret News projections for Region 9 football teams in 2020

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

  1. Maple Mountain: Any team picked to finish first in region has a returning quarterback, and the Golden Eagles will certainly benefit from the return of Tyler Nelson at the position. Kyson Hall looks to be a major playmaker at receiver, along with Brian Bess and Aedan Seiuli. On defense, seven returning starters indicates positive returns, with three of those returning starters playing at defensive line and three more at defensive back. Derek Blanthorn is the lone returning starter at linebacker and will be asked to be a big playmaker from that position. 2019 record: 5-6. Playoffs: Lost to Bountiful in the first round.
  2. Wasatch: Despite losing most of its statistical leaders to graduation a year ago, Wasatch is picked to finish high within the region due to the existing strengths within the program, and the proven record to coach Steve Coburn. 2019 record: 8-5. Playoffs: Lost in the quarterfinal round to Salem Hills.
  3. Salem Hills: The Skyhawks should field what coaches believe will prove to be the best skill position players the program has had in its history. Leading the charge will be running back Willy Leota, along with quarterback Jarret Elmer and receivers Reed Johnson, Deven Johnson and Austin Hallows. A lot of those same players will be asked to star on the defensive side, as the Skyhawks hope to build off of last year’s great success. 2019 record: 11-2. Playoffs: Lost to Orem in the semifinal round.
  4. Provo: Provo has to replace a lot, but will depend heavily on standouts Dallin Havea, Loga Lesa and Ryder MacGillivray on both sides of the football. Manning both sides of the line will Jaeman Cobb. Although the Bulldogs lost a bevy of standout players, coaches are confident in the talent level and depth within the program to again prove a top team in Region 8. 2019 record: 9-3. Playoffs: Lost to Timpview in the quarterfinal round.
  5. Springville: Springville returns 11 starters, with standouts like Hondo Quezada, Kevin Kolomalu and Seth Rigtrup leading the way. Cole Clements is another true standout who will be asked to lead the way at both linebacker and at tight end for the Red Devils, a team which always manages to finish high within the region standings. 2019 record: 6-4. Playoffs: Lost to Timpview in the second round.
  6. Spanish Fork: Although picked to finish last in region, the Dons return 14 starters on either side of the football, including all five offensive linemen who will lead the charge. Those linemen are Curtis Hernandez, Wyatt McKay, Hunter Rasmussen, Coye Burningham and Sinclair Dain. Should the parts around the offensive line suffice, the Dons could very well exceed expectation. 2019 record: 4-7. Playoffs: Lost in the first round to Bonneville.