Realignment opens opportunities for key players and teams to kick off breakout season
Orem offensive coordinator Lance Reynolds talks with players in a huddle during the Orem Tigers’ first day of football practice Monday, July 31, 2017 at Orem High School. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald
The Lone Peak High School football team hoist their state championship trophy after defeating Fremont at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald
Timpview High’s Britain Covey holds the state championship trophy as the team celebrates following its victory over Roy in the 4A football state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Nov. 21, 2014. Timpview won 28-7 to claim its third state title in a row.
SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald
For most teams winning comes in steps.
Having a winning record is the first step. Qualifying for the playoffs is another step and playing on the turf at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium is another step forward.
For programs to become elite in their classification, it takes consistency, work ethic, chemistry and talent.
Here’s a look at teams ready to take a big step in their progression.
Realignment figures to help Orem succeed in Class 4A. The Tigers managed to be competitive after the last realignment despite being one of the smallest 4A schools.
Over the past five years Orem has had an overall record of 25-31. The Tigers shared a region title twice and made the playoffs four times, but advanced past the first round just once, in 2012.
Now Orem is prepared to take a giant step forward.
“I think we will definitely benefit from the new realignment,” said Orem coach Jeremy Hill. “We should be the favorite to win the region but when it comes to playoff time, I don’t think there is a lot of difference between the top 4A and 5A teams.”
The Tigers are counting on the continual progression of junior wide receiver Puka Nacua, who topped 900 yards receiving last year despite missing parts of three games with a concussion. Nacua has the talent and athleticism to be as good as any player in 4A.
“I believe we’ll win our region and hopefully we’ll get a chance to play Desert Hills in the playoffs,” Nacua said. “The key for us is to be more disciplined. Last year we had a lot of holding penalties and unnecessary penalties on defense.”
Cooper Legas emerged as the starting quarterback midway through the season. He was 4-1 as a starter. Legas has a good connection with Nacua, and with three returning starters on the offensive line in Cole Watts, Ryan To’a and Hunter Hill, the Tigers have all the pieces in place for the program to take a step from playoff contender to title contender.
Just when Springville had elevated its program to an elite 4A team, the deck was reshuffled and the Red Devils were promoted to 5A.
Since East — which beat Springville in last year’s 4A title game — is now in 6A, the Red Devils should be able to continue their success. But they will still have the likes of Timpview, Jordan and Lehi to deal with.
“I think we’ve been able to take another step forward because of the combination of mainly two things,” said Springville coach Willy Child. “Our kids have seen the older players work hard and they know what’s expected, and our players have been unselfish. They don’t care who gets the ball on the 1-yard line, or how many passing or rushing yards someone has. Those are things that I think this year’s team will do with again.”
Lakei Kolomalu and Bradyn Jackson return for Springville. Both started on the offensive line last year ,and running back Cole Bowers proved to be an effective option when he got the ball. If the defense can maintain its stingy style of giving up few points, the Red Devils could have enough talent returning to take a step up to contend in 5A.
Lone Peak and Bingham played for the 5A championship last year, but now both teams find themselves in 6A and in the same region.
The Knights were hit hard by graduation and by the loss of head coach Mike Mower, but Bart Brockbank was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach and is hoping to keep the program at the top of any classification.
Lone Peak played for the 5A state championship in consecutive years.
“Sometimes teams tend to think the success just happens,” Brockbank said. “The key for us to take the next step is we need to stay hungry and continue to work hard at getting better. We’ve been one of two teams left standing for the last two years, now we want to be the last team standing.
“This group is talented and deep but we don’t have a lot of guys returning with varsity experience. We have been confident and loose in practice, but when the lights go on we will have to keep from tightening up.”
While teams like Lone Peak, Springville and Timpview, which has been in the 4A state championship game the past five of the past six years, are hoping the 2017 season doesn’t mean a step back in their consistency, the new realignment has opened the door to struggling programs like Payson, Timpanogos and Mountain View, all hopeful the kickoff to a new season brings with it the hope they can regain their competitiveness.