Sanpete County varsity football preview
By James Tilson
SANPETE COUNTY—Every fall, the air turns crisp, children go back to school and the sound of pads whacking against each other fills the air.
High school football in Sanpete County is just around the corner and area teams are jumping into the season with renewed hope and enthusiasm.
Last year was a down year in Sanpete football, as injuries devastated every team to some extent. Gunnison Valley and North Sanpete both had very rough years, as neither team won any games and exited the playoffs in the first round.
Manti, however, came on strong at the end of the year and surprised Judge Memorial in the first round of the playoffs. They led eventual finalist Summit Academy in the third quarter of their quarter-final game before eventually losing to the Bears.
The upside to enduring injuries last year is that all three schools return a bevy of experienced players this year, and all three expect to make improvements in this season. Coupled with last year’s region leaders having to rebuild, the Sanpete contingent looks to make runs at region titles this fall.
Coach Cole Meacham enters his 19th season as head coach for the Templars, with state titles in 2003, 2011 and 2012. Last year’s team amassed a 4-7 record and lost to Summit Academy 34-21 in the quarterfinals.
Although the Templars have many key returners, the story in camp this year is the low participation numbers. Where the team usually has around 75 to 80 players, and a record of 102, this year there are only 57. Coach Meacham says small freshman and senior classes led to the unusual numbers, however, he notes his team has been focused and is starting to click.
“If we can improve each week, I think we can win some games,” he said. When reminded that his team came on strong at the end of last season, Meacham hopes he can get his team to perform a little earlier this year. “If we can get rolling by game four or five (instead of game six or seven), we’ll be pretty good.”
Senior quarterback Kyle King will lead the offense. King missed more than half of last season with a broken leg, but led the Templars in the playoffs, and he figures to have the edge in his last year. Coach Meacham says sophomore quarterback Jax Parry is a “headsy” player, and will push King for playing time.
Last year, injuries forced Travis Thompson into the quarterback role, but Meacham says he was not happy. Since they didn’t have a backup, he couldn’t play defense, which he loves. This year, he will go back to wide receiver on offense, opposite of Adam Huff, another returner. Receivers are expected to be a strength of the Templar’s squad.
Dallin Rasmussen returns as last year’s second leading rusher, and should pick up again this year.
Meacham says his team will run more spread looks than usual this year. With a senior QB, veteran receivers and speedy running backs, a spread look fits his personnel.
The defense will have veteran presences with Adam Huff at corner back, Mason Thompson at safety, Dallin Rasmussen and Travis Thompson at linebacker and Cade Braithwaite and Seni Latu at defensive end.
Meacham notes that Dallin Cox, who came on strong at the end of last season, “doesn’t look like a linebacker, but he just keeps making plays.”
Manti’s first game of the year is on August 17, when they travel to Carbon. The next week will be their first home game of the year, versus the Delta Rabbits.
North Sanpete Hawks
Coach Rhett Bird enters his third year as the head coach for the Hawks. Last year, the Hawks could never get the offense on track, and finished last in 3A in scoring (11.5 ppg). They finished the season at 0-10, and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Union 42-20.
This year, Bird says the coaching staff has renewed its focus, and has changed around it practice routine, with shorter work periods and more stations, to get the team to increase its focus.
“It’s working. The kids have bought in, and they’re more focused.” Bird says. This year the Hawks will use more of a pro-style offense. The team strength this year will be running backs, and Bird anticipates running three running backs at a time.
The Hawks will run a 3-4 defense for the third year. “The kids have a lot of experience in the system, and should be really tough.”
Bird points to what will be a challenging out of region schedule, before the Hawks get to what will be another grinding run through Region 3A South. “This is a very tough region, with Juab and (state champion) Juan Diego. But we want to get ourselves over the .500 mark and see what happens at the end of the year.”
Chance Clawson, senior quarterback, will be back to lead the team again. He started as a sophomore for injured Spencer Steadman, and then backed up Steadman last year. Bird says, “He’s been around, he knows the system.”
Conner Jorgeson will be another leader, both on offense and defense. On offense, Jorgeson will play fullback, a position that Bird says will be used to set up the rest of the offense. On defense, Jorgeson will return to linebacker, where he led the team in tackles as a freshman. He missed his sophomore year with a knee injury, but Bird says, “He’s back, and he looks good.”
The offensive line looks to be a strength of the Hawk team. Three returning seniors, all of whom have played for three years, will be a steadying presence. Dustin Ashworth, McCade Poulson and Alan Oldroyd will be clearing the way for Clawson and Jorgeson.
At tailback, Bird will look to two players to make waves. Mason Burgess is a senior with three years of playing experience. Bird calls him a “grinder” that will get the tough yards for the Hawks. Trevan Moore, a sophomore, has played quarterback before this year, but he’s natural athleticism and speed makes him an “edge-runner” that can hopefully break some big plays.
The Hawks open up their season travelling to Grantsville on August 17, before opening their home schedule the week after that against Union.
Gunnison Valley Bulldogs
If any team suffered from the injury bug, it was the Bulldogs last season. Head Coach Jack Pay says he thought last year started out pretty well. But in the first week of practice, “we lost six starts to injury or moving away.” The team finished 0-10, and lost to North Sevier in the first round of the playoffs 32-15.
In Coach Pay’s fourth year, the Bulldogs hope to reap the fruit of having so many younger guys play last year. “We had to play 8 to 10 linemen last year, but all of them are back this year.”
Pay is confident the returning experience will lead to improvement for the Bulldogs, but as for how much – “It’s too early to tell yet. Coming together is the big thing. And we have to avoid injuries. But we’re going to be improved and competitive.”
While the Bulldogs are improving from last year’s hardships, other teams in the Bulldog’s region are rebuilding. “The leading teams from last year have to re-start. South Summit will come back to earth. Delta has a lot of new people. It levels the playing field. I think it’s anyone’s game – it comes down to who can execute better.”
The Bulldogs will have five returning lineman along the offensive front – Kolton Peterson, Brandon tucker, Ty Hill, Parker Judy and Kade Sanderson. Pay says Peterson has bulked up in the off-season, and will lead through his “great work ethic.”
Caden Madsen will be back at quarterback, although last year he started at receiver. Pay moved him to quarterback to take advantage of his athleticism in the read-option offense. “Caden is having to learn the position, but he’s embraced it, knowing its best for the team.”
Madsen will be working with Avery Anderson, a sophomore, but already a state champion last year in wrestling. “Avery is a phenomenal athlete, very fast, and will be a weapon in the read-option.”
Anderson will be joined in the backfield by veteran Thomas Yardley, a senior. Yardley is also one of the off-season leaders of the team, having bulked up for his last season.
Yardley and Peterson will man the middle of the Bulldog defense, which will switch to a 4-2-5 alignment. Coach Bird explains, “I feel like it gives us a lot better run fit. It allows more options to stack the box versus the run, and make the other team more one-dimensional.”
The Bulldogs open the season by traveling to Milford on August 17, and then coming home in week two to face rival North Sevier.