SALT LAKE CITY — Over the last two years, the Olympus Titans have been the class of Region 6 football, going undefeated in region play and losing just three games total.
For that reason, it makes sense that the Titans were picked by coaches to once again contend for the region title, although it’s shaping up to not be as clear-cut of a race to the top as it has been the last few seasons, and them winning the region crown wasn’t a consensus.
Olympus has had success reloading in recent years but will have to again this year, while the Brighton Bengals essentially came out of nowhere in 2019 under first-year head coach Justin Hemm to go 8-3 and return a bunch of production, making them another squad some coaches picked to win.
“I think between Olympus and Brighton, they’re going to be the frontrunners,” Highland Rams head coach Brody Benson said, echoing the general feeling around the region. “I feel comfortable putting those guys 1 and 2.”
Still, the respect for the Titans is very much there, with Hillcrest Huskies coach Brock Bryant noting, “Olympus, they don’t rebuild. They just reload.”
On the other hand, “Brighton was a very talented football team last year and they were young,” Benson said.
As one might expect, the respective coaches from Olympus and Brighton had positive things to say about the other school.
“You’ve got to put Olympus at the top,” Hemm said, while Titans head coach Aaron Whitehead countered with, “I think the top team in the region will be Brighton. They’re loaded. They’re going to be the team to beat. I would say we’re one of the top two or three teams, but I think Brighton’s the top team.”
From there, the Rams are the consensus to finish third, but it’s not like they’re slouches, as they haven’t lost more than four games in a season since all the way back in 2012. Every team has in some manner been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but being that Highland is in Salt Lake City School District, there’s still some uncertainty about what their schedule will end up being, with it looking likely that they’ll play all road games.
“We can play home games, but we just couldn’t have any fans,” Benson said. “Just the thought of parents not being able to see their kids play, I think that’s going over the top. Right now we’re just planning on being road warriors and being a great football team on the road.”
After the Rams, there looks to be another drop-off, with the Murray Spartans picked by coaches to finish fourth in the region. The Spartans have been trending upward in each of head coach Todd Thompson’s three years at the helm and won eight games in 2019, reaching the goal they set to host a playoff game for the first time in 15 years, but it’ll be essentially a complete rebuild in 2020.
“We were very senior-laden last year and lost all of our starters, but we have lots of underclassmen that played on Friday nights last year that know what it takes to continue our upward trend,” Thompson said.
Rounding out the region projections from coaches are two programs that have been down but are hopeful to trend upward in the second seasons under their respective head coaches. The Skyline Eagles finished 4-7 a year ago, but two losses came as they surrendered late leads and in two others the difference was one touchdown.
“I think that we were three or four touchdowns away from winning seven, eight games,” head coach Mike Carlson said. “We were on the edge where we just didn’t quite have enough to push it over the brink and win the game, so this year we’re hoping that we’ve learned a lot from our mistakes last year and that we can have that extra touchdown in the bank that we can pull out a lot of those wins instead of having them turn into losses.”
Hillcrest, meanwhile, was picked to finish last in region, but Bryant said, “I’m hoping we might surprise some teams this year.”
Deseret News projections for Region 6 football teams in 2020
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
- Olympus: For the third year in a row, the question surrounding the Titans is going to be how well a big group of unproven players performs. There are some big unknowns on both sides of the ball, but head coach Aaron Whitehead is confident in skill position players such as quarterback Tommy Hoggan, fullback Johnny Frank and halfback Peyton Rice. On defense, just two starters return in lineman Jaxson Fullmer and defensive back Nate Condon. Can newcomers get incorporated quickly? Can the lines hold up? Does Olympus just have a good enough pipeline to indeed reload? 2019 record: 10-2. Playoffs: Lost to Orem 31-28 in the 5A quarterfinals.
- Brighton: After slowly trending downward and winning just two games in 2018, the Bengals had a great turnaround in 2019, winning eight games. This year, they bring back leading passer and rusher Gabe Curtis, second-leading receiver Collin Edwards, a bunch of linemen, Power 5-level linebacker Lander Barton and a couple of starting defensive backs. Can the Bengals play as well as their talent would indicate they can? Can they overtake an Olympus team that almost always finds a way to be good? 2019 record: 8-3. Playoffs: Lost to Orem 21-6 in 5A second round.
- Highland: The Rams’ season will likely be even more chaotic than other schools, but they’ll be bringing back a decent amount of production on both sides of the ball. Patrick Brennan should be improved at quarterback, there are some good players up front on both sides and some returnees at linebacker and defensive back. Can Highland throw the ball effectively enough to make their option attack truly good? Can the Rams defend the pass well enough? 2019 record: 8-4. Playoffs: Lost to Wasatch 30-13 in 5A second round.
- Murray: The Spartans built toward having their best season this century last year, winning eight games, but no starters from that team are back this year, meaning head coach Todd Thompson will be relying on a bunch of rather unproven players to step into big roles this year. It would probably be unfair to expect too much of Murray this year, but how good can it be? Can Thompson at the very least set a foundation for future success? 2019 record: 8-4. Playoffs: Lost to Olympus 49-7 in 5A second round.
- Skyline: The Eagles certainly appear to be on their way up, as they have some solid returning production in quarterback Braxton Bolingbroke, a bunch of wide receivers and some linemen. Defensively, the secondary is experienced. Can the offensive line protect Bolingbroke? Can some running backs get established? How good can the defensive line and linebackers be? Skyline should be better, but can they rise in the Region 6 standings? 2019 record: 4-7. Playoffs: Lost to Murray 36-28 in 5A first round.
- Hillcrest: Like the Eagles, the Huskies should be better than they were last year, but the program has a long way to go toward contention. The trenches should be a strength on offense, and there’s some solid returning production on all levels of the defense. Can the quarterback situation get sorted out? Will there be enough production from the other skill position players? In the secondary? 2019 record: 2-9. Playoffs: Lost to Wasatch 42-6 in 5A first round.