Just how locked in were some of the high school football players when the Utah High School Activities Association released the first Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings of 2019?
Well, Salem Hills head coach Harry Schwenke said he heard his players got the news that the Skyhawks were the top-ranked team in Class 5A from another source in the school.
“The drill team brought it up,” Schwenke said. “The boys themselves didn’t know about it. That’s how it goes in high school a lot of times.”
Pleasant Grove head coach Mark Wootton’s Vikings are the No. 3-ranked team in Class 6A (behind Corner Canyon and Herriman) but he said he didn’t think that was even on the radar of his players at this point.
“I don’t know if most of the boys even know they are doing it,” Wootton said. “They come to practice, get ready to play, see who the next team is, and then see what happens with the playoffs at the end of the year. If I talked to the kids today, I doubt 10% would know about the rankings.”
The changes in 2019 mean that the new RPI system will eventually determine the seeding for the state tournament but everyone is still getting used to how the formula is applied.
“I’m like pretty much everybody else in that I don’t know how to figure it,” Wootton said.
The rankings are based with the following criteria: Team A’s winning percentage (40%), the winning percentage of the opponents Team A has faced (40%) and the winning percentage of the opponents of the opponents Team A has faced (20%).
While the first rankings being released at the halfway point of the regular season are fun (see info box), everyone realizes that only the rankings at the end of the season matter.
“Our region is so tough that you could lose two in a row and drop down,” Wootton said. “But the RPI favors our region. I think one reason why they did it was because we had so many good teams in our region. In the last two years, we beat region champs East and Kearns as a No. 4 seed. If it works the way I think it does, we could have five teams from our region with home games in the first round. Now we’ll see how it all plays out.”
But the coaches don’t want their players getting too far ahead of themselves.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the fact that we are 5-0 and playing well,” Schwenke said. “But in the life of a high school kid, little things can make players lose focus. Any coach knows that it can be tough when kids believe the hype. We appreciate the recognition but we have to do what we are doing.”
He said he appreciated the reaction he saw from some of the most influential players on the Skyhawk team.
“We have good leaders that help keep things in perspective,” Schwenke said. “Our captains are on a group chat and said to each other that it didn’t mean anything, that we have more to work on and more to prove. Our goal is to win state. If the rankings help us to get there, then great. We’re preaching to the kids to keep their heads down and keep working.”
Both Wootton and Schwenke are pleased to be undefeated at this point in the season.
“The thing I’m most happy about is when you see our roster and how young we are,” Wootton said. “Our young kids have stepped up and played well, including some kids who have come out of nowhere.”
Schwenke said he is most pleased with the mentality of his guys.
“My message to these boys when I became the head coach was that we aren’t going to fear anyone and we are going to take the fight to people,” Schwenke said. “Our mentality is to go in and challenge people. We want to play the best because that brings out the best in our guys.”
The Vikings and the Skyhawks may be atop or near the top of the RPI rankings for now – but if they stay there they will have earned it.
Pleasant Grove faces the rigorous Region 4 schedule that has five teams in the Top 7 in the RPI and the lowest team at No. 14. Salem Hills has big games against Provo (No. 6) and Springville (No. 2) plus are playing geographically close teams most Friday nights.
“We are playing everyone in our backyard, so it’s a rivalry game every single week,” Schwenke said. We like the position we are in with teams down the road for us playing really good football. We’re excited for the challenge.”
For complete details on the first RPI rankings, go to UHSAA.org.