SALT LAKE CITY — Take last year’s Region 4 preview, or one several years before, and the narrative works for the 2020 season and probably most years thereafter.
In short, the region is tough and easily considered the toughest in the state, year in and year out, with little to no breaks at any time.
Whether it’s Lone Peak, or more recently American Fork or Corner Canyon, it’s a very good bet a Region 4 team will see itself in the state championship, and quite likely as state champion. Last season it was the Chargers defeating the Cavemen in the 6A state championship, with Lone Peak taking down American Fork the year before.
“We wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Skyridge coach Jon Lehman, whose team is relatively new to Region 4 play. “Sure, we could get more wins playing against teams that aren’t as good, but it makes it that much more worth it when you play against, and then can beat, the very best. I know our kids feel the same.”
Skyridge lies between two of perhaps the most notable Region 4 powerhouses: Corner Canyon and Lone Peak, teams that are picked to finish first and second in region play. It just so happens the Chargers won all of 6A last season, defeating the Knights in the semifinal round of the playoffs, before moving on to defeat American Fork in the championship.
Corner Canyon lost quite a bit of talent off last year’s championship team but have enough returning talent to earn top prognostication within region play.
“We have a few more guys to replace on defense (especially), but yeah, we feel good heading into the season,” said Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar. “We’ve established a level of play here that’s pretty high, so working to match that level of expectation isn’t easy, but we’re working to get there.”
Lone Peak coach Bart Brockbank is hoping the same for his team, although his team also lost a number of top seniors, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. But as they’ve shown in years past, the Knights always seem to rise to or near the top, regardless of the situation.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some really good kids within our program who make it pretty easy for us coaches,” Brockbank said. “So this year — yeah, we lost some really good players, but I really like what’s coming back and the new guys ready to take on bigger roles.”
American Fork was a bit of a surprise last season in its advancement clear to the championship game. After losing several notable players off a 2018 team that also reached the championship, some sort of step back could easily have been expected.
But the heavy rebuilding days appear to be over for the Cavemen, as coach Aaron Behm has worked diligently to put forth competitive products year in and year out.
“We had some growing pains last year, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but I was real happy how we grew and came together throughout the year,” Behm said. “Now we had an offseason to continue that growth, and I think we could be a good team again this year.”
Given Pleasant Grove’s overall talent level and system, it would seem a disservice to place it fourth in any season, although it’s more a result of the existing strength of those on top than anything else.
“Hopefully we’ll prove to have a bit better depth this year, but we have some kids back that we’re real excited about,” said Pleasant Grove coach Mark Wootton. “We feel we have some real good talent which gives us a chance to be a good team this year.”
The same thing said could well be said of Skyridge, which returns enough talent within an already strong program to perhaps exceed its predicted finish of fifth place within region play.
Bringing up the rear is Westlake, which should see improvements and could surprise, given its return of 13 starters in what coaches believe will be an improved team overall.
“It’s just a really, really tough region, and it’s the same every year,” Wootton said. “It’s great because you want to play the best, and we get that opportunity every week. I know most other coaches love the competition, and we do as well.”
Deseret News projections for Region 5 football teams in 2020
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
- Corner Canyon: The Chargers feel the offense can become a dominant unit and lead the way, in place of a defense that did just that last season. Big things are expected from quarterback Jaxson Dart, who will have top targets such as Noah Kjar and Cody Hagen to throw to, among several others. Prolific running back Austin Bell returns, after sustaining a tough injury late in the season. The defense only returns three starters but will be anchored by standout lineman Jackson Light. 2019 RECORD: 14-0. PLAYOFFS: Defeated American Fork in the state championship.
- Lone Peak: Luke Romney is expected to start at quarterback after finishing off strong last season. He’ll be joined by standouts like defensive lineman John Henry Daley along with linebackers Luke Durfey and Siale Tahi. The strength of the offense, and likely the entire team, looks to be along the offensive front, where the Knights return a lot of size and talent, led by standouts like Trevor Pay, Tyler Ware and Carter Hult, among others. 2019 RECORD: 4-10. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Corner Canyon in the semifinal round.
- American Fork: The Cavemen return prolific quarterback Maddux Madsen to lead an offense which includes six returning starters, including standout tight ends Noah Moeaki and Garrison Grimes. Defensively the Cavemen should see a lot of improvements, led by returning starters MacKay Owen on the defensive front and Sam Hafen in the secondary, among several others. 2019 RECORD: 10-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Corner Canyon in the championship game.
- Pleasant Grove: The Vikings return several standout players, led by defensive end Isaac Vaha along with Porter Connors and Rex Connors. Other standouts include linemen Wyatt Dawe and Russell Hughes. Quarterback is still a big question mark entering the season. 2019 RECORD: 8-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Syracuse in the second round.
- Skyridge: The Falcons return five starters on either side of the football and are expected to be led by standout running back Jeter Fenton, along with receivers Mitch Adamson and James Palmer. McCae Hillstead is expected to start at quarterback. Defensive standouts are expected to be linemen Stone Mulitalo and Stanley Raass, along with linebacker Colby Dulle and defensive backs Eli Crockett and Jackson Lambert. 2019 RECORD: 7-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak in the second round.
- Westlake: The Thunder’s list of top returning players include quarterback Brayden Ross, receiver Oakley Slade and four returners on the offensive line (Jace Hayes, Braxton Nichols, Alex Rock and Mason Bodell.) Defensive leaders include Cooper Cowan, Daniel Taumoepeau, Conner Grande, Rayden Blumell, Lance Benham, Spencer Heimuli and Jackson Lees. 2019 RECORD: 3-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Corner Canyon in the second round.