SALT LAKE CITY — What a difference a year makes.
Entering the 2019 season, the Farmington Phoenix were basically a completely unproven team. Talented to be sure, there was no doubt about that, but unproven after a 2-9 season to start the program’s history.
There were inklings here and there, suggestions that they might end up the best that Region 5 had to offer, but few were definitive on that point.
As it turns out, they should’ve been, as the Phoenix proved to be far and away the best team in the region last year.
Heading into the 2020 season, with a region title under their belt, the Phoenix are the definitive favorite to claim the region crown, per the Deseret News’ coaches preseason straw poll, despite the loss of the 19 starters.
It was to be expected, said Farmington head coach Daniel Coats.
“The world is not going to give you an off year, a rebuild,” Coats said. “We don’t have to worry about that kind of year. Everyone is going to expect things out of us because of what happened last year, so (we) are going to have to step up and do it.”
The Phoenix have the means to do just that, though, said Coats. Talent is not a problem, only experience.
“We are loaded with talent,” he said. “Our program has taken positive steps the first two seasons and we are working hard to improve. We are excited to have several players, both skill and upfront, who we believe will play at the next level.”
Right behind the Phoenix in preseason projections is the same team that finished second behind Farmington last season: the Wood Cross Wildcats.
Woods Cross has a new head coach in Tyler Gladwell, but returns more experience than any team in the region. Adapting to a new offensive system could be a challenge, particularly in light of limited practice time, but the Wildcats will have the same defensive system as previous years and are primed to make some real noise.
“If we are able to play well, week in and week out, play up to our potential and do the things that we are hoping to do while setting a high standard for ourselves, that’ll help us feel good about what we accomplish this year,” said Gladwell. “If we play with effort, execute and make plays, at the end of the day the scoreboard is going to take care of itself. I kind of feel the same way about the season. If we can do those same things, we will be able to look back at our season and feel very good at what we’ve accomplished.”
After Farmington and Woods Cross, the most likely region contenders include Bountiful and Bonneville.
The Braves have welcomed a new head coach following the departure of Tyler Hughes, but Jason Freckleton is new in name only after spending the last 10 years at Bountiful as an assistant. That continuity, as well as the return of nine starters from last year, could see the Braves contend for the region title, maybe even have the program’s best season since 2015.
“It’s a great place to be,” Freckleton said. “We’re not always going to be the biggest, the strongest or the fastest, but we get great athletes, hard workers and I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, were one of the surprise teams of the 2019 season, finishing 6-5 overall and 3-2 in region, with wins over Viewmont, Woods Cross and Box Elder. Bonneville returns key contributors on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Kamen Best and a host of skill position players.
“We have leadership in key positions with varsity experience, but we will be young in most of our other positions,” Bonneville head coach Jantz Afuvai said. “We have quick scoring capabilities and will rely on our quick guys to keep us competitive. With all the difficulties this year, we have to gel quicker as a team than we ever have before. Attention to detail will be a priority.”
Arguably a rung below the Braves and the Lakers are the Box Elder Bees. Box Elder went through a youth movement last season and the results weren’t always pretty, as the team went 3-8, winning a single game in region competition. While not exactly fun in the moment, the Bees’ struggles may work for their betterment this year, as the team is now led by an experienced and battle-tested core of players, headlined by star quarterback Parker Buchanan.
“We have a lot of players returning,” Box Elder head coach Robbie Gunter said. “Key players and they are doing a great job of leading. We are going to rely heavily on our seniors and we are excited to see how they respond.”
Bringing up the rear in preseason projections are the Viewmont Vikings. Only three years ago the Vikings were the class of the region, as champions in 2017. Two years ago, Viewmont went 4-1 in region, en route to a run to the 5A quarterfinals. Last year was a different story, though, as the team won only three games total, two in region. After losing 16 starters, including first team All-State offensive lineman Alex Harrison, the Vikings appear to be in for another trying season, though there is hope that the team’s youth can punch above its weight.
“They have the opportunity to strengthen themselves because they have far more adversity to deal with than any other team I’ve ever coached,” Viewmont head coach Scott Ditty said.
Deseret News projections for Region 5 football teams in 2020
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
- Farmington: Coming off a region championship, the first in program history, expectations are high for the Phoenix, despite considerable losses. Farmington returns only three starters from their region championship team — offensive linemen Ryan Crowther and Naki Itaaehau, and nose tackle Jake Buttars. The key to a repeat season atop Region 5 will be the development of younger or more inexperienced players, headlined by sophomore quarterback Drew Patterson, wide receivers Tyson Elkins and Jude Cantrell and center Dane Nield on offense and middle linebacker Payton Patterson, defensive end Keegan Brown and cornerback Hayden Anderson on defense. 2019 RECORD: 9-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lehi 27-21 in quarterfinals.
- Woods Cross: The Wildcats have a new head coach and a new offensive system, but otherwise things are about the same, which should only bode well after a successful 2019 season. Woods Cross is loaded, with the most returning starters of any team in the region. That includes five returners on offense, namely wide receivers Luke Hyde and Luke Dastic and linemen Payton Acord, Michael Mokofisi and Griffin Hess. Defense should be the team’s strength, though, with six starters back, all of whom are comfortable in the system. Mokofisi should lead the way at defensive tackle, while Hess and Acord, linebackers David Daynes and Christian Smoot and safety Luke Jacobsen will also play key roles. 2019 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lehi 21-14 in second round.
- Bountiful: A new era has begun for the Braves, and the new coaching staff, which isn’t actually that new, will be helped the return of many starters, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Bountiful boasts six returners on offense, including running back Mitch Moldre, wide receivers Jono Larsen, Brooks Fornelius and Payson Hadley and linemen Ethan Smith and Trevin Ostler, as well as kicker Micah Pettit. Defensively the Braves are less experienced, with only Brooks Fornelius (defensive back), Isaac Vaivaka (defensive lineman) and Moldre (linebacker) back to lead what was the team’s strong suit a season ago. 2019 RECORD: 5-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Salem Hills 24-7 in second round.
- Bonneville: The Lakers were somewhat of a surprise success story in 2019, and could be even better this year. Bonneville returns key starters on both offense and defense, including quarterback Kamen Best, running back Kord Shaw and linebackers Aaron Johnson and Adrian Medel. Speed will be the Lakers’ modus operandi on offense, with receivers Luke Dixon, Reiss Graybeal, Caleb Nielson and Mason Koopmans back, while defensively Bonneville will be stout up front, with the return of linemen Demry Wolfley and Carson Jones. 2019 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Farmington 30-0 in second round.
- Box Elder: The Bees struggled in 2019, suffering through the growing pains that accompany young and inexperienced teams. The 2020 season should be a different story, as Box Elder returns nine starters in total, four on offense and five on defense. Leading the way is Parker Buchanan, who will be a three-year starter at quarterback, while also playing safety. Other offensive returners include a pair of linemen in Kellen Collier and Lincoln Torrey, as well as running back Trevin Johnson. The Bees are better off on the defensive side of the ball, with All-State defensive end Gavin Hansen back, along with fellow edge rusher Keaton Lamb and Alex Sorensen in the secondary. 2019 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Alta 27-21 in first round.
- Viewmont: The Vikings experienced the repercussions of the opening of Farmington High School last year, albeit delayed a season, and another sub-.500 season is expected. Viewmont is young and inexperienced, with only six starters back from last year’s 3-8 team. On offense, the Vikings will be led by quarterback Will Schultz, running back Alex Zesiger and a pair of linemen in Kolby Ferrell and Matt Bowen, but any step forward will necessitate big years from Elias Uiselli, Carter Risk, Nate Jones, and Ryker Fraughton, among others. The same holds true for the defensive side of the ball, where the Vikings’ only returning starters are defensive backs Jesson Layton and Carson Williams. 2019 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Orem 66-6 in first round.