High school football: Bountiful leads a fierce four-team race in the new-look Region 5

There’s a slightly new look to Region 5 as in the previous year as the newest UHSAA realignment cycle added two new teams to its ranks.

Roy and Clearfield, who were both right on the bubble of 5A and 6A in terms of student body size for several years, finally transitioned into the 5A class in what may be a longer-term move than before. The addition of the Royals and Falcons to Region 5 gives the region a whopping eight teams, making it the largest football region in the state of Utah (not counting the single-region 8-player classification).

Especially with Roy’s addition, this region isn’t just larger than ever, it’s also more competitive than ever. Preseason rankings for regions are based on coaches votes, and those votes were spread out to the point that four of the eight teams got at least one first-place vote. The aggregate value of how votes were counted decided the top five teams by less than four points.

In other words, just about anything can happen when these teams face off this season.

The region crown last season went to Bountiful for the second straight year. By just a single point, votes this year determined the Braves as the team to beat once again.

Even though it polled fewer first-place votes than two other squads, Bountiful’s high ceiling comes along with a much higher floor. No coach in Region 5 voted Bountiful to finish lower than third.

“Week in and week out, it’s going to be a battle,” Braves coach Jason Freckleton said. “The teams that are able to adjust in our region, as competitive as we are, but also (must) adjust to many different schemes. … Ultimately, we’ll need to stay true to who we are as we attack each team and play Bountiful football.”

The Braves have thrived on defense under Freckleton and his staff. Bountiful allowed just 15.2 points per game, which was second in 5A behind state champion Lehi. There are plenty of positives on that side of the ball still as five starters return, including three of last year’s top four tacklers.

Bountiful hasn’t lost a Region 5 contest since 2020, but when playoffs rolled around in 2022, the Braves ran into their Achilles heel: scoring. Bountiful’s only opponent to cross the 30-point threshold was Orem, who dropped 35 in a win over the Braves in Bountiful’s first playoff game.

“We’re always trying to improve and find ways to be more connected offensively and put up points, but it always has been a Bountiful staple to have defense,” Freckleton said. “It’s something that we take a lot of pride in, but the offense needs to come along as well.”

For as great as the Braves were at shutting down teams on defense, they were ironically also the seventh-lowest scoring offenses in 5A at just 18.1 ppg. No team in the classification with a lower-scoring offense had a record better than 2-8. The Braves finished last year 7-3.

Yet, there are two bright spots in considering Bountiful’s offense. One is the six returning starters, though there’ll certainly be some adjustment as the leading receiver from last season, senior Faletau Satuala, will now be the quarterback.

The other is that Freckleton has fielded great offenses before. The 2021 Braves averaged 31.5 ppg.

Of the three other teams that brought in first-place votes, two of them had two votes apiece. Box Elder, fresh off an inspiring run in the playoffs, comes in at No. 2 as Bees head coach Robbie Gunter described a “buzz” within the program.

The Bees opened up last season with an uncommon win over Kearns and then became a force to be reckoned with in Region 5. After having to fight their way out of the first round, the Bees upset the Provo Bulldogs, who had beaten them earlier that season, before running into No. 1 Lehi.

And wouldn’t you know, they just about took down the Pioneers, too.

Box Elder held a lead for much of the quarterfinal matchup with Lehi before the Pioneers scored two quick touchdowns in the final two minutes to win it and move on to eventually win the 5A state championship as well.

“Our team played hard and really came together at the end of season,” Gunter said. “We improved each week into the playoffs and gave ourselves a chance to win the Lehi game.”

Box Elder returns six starters to a wing-T offense. Senior running back Daxton Sumko will have another year as the bell cow back that he excelled being last season. He totalled an shocking 1,766 rushing yards on 279 carries with 16 TDs. At the same time, senior quarterback Ryan Griffin returns after throwing for 16 touchdowns against six interceptions.

The Bees will have their work cut out for them replacing defensive production with just three starters. Luckily the three who are back were all prominent playmakers in last year’s unit. Seniors Brock Bissegger and Mason Jeppson combined for 13 sacks last year, and senior AJ Bushnell had 24 tackles and an interception.

“We have a new group of seniors that have been working hard to leave their mark wearing the purple and white,” Gunter said. “The competitions for positions are ongoing, and the process of building the team is our main focus right now. It will take every player we have giving their very best for us to be able to compete in this region and our schedule.”

The Bees just edged out Woods Cross as the Wildcats took the No. 3 spot. The 2021 season was rough on the team two years ago in coach Brody Benson’s first season as the Wildcats went 0-10. Last year, however, was a breakout season for them as they went 6-5, though they ultimately ended their season in an upset home loss in the first round of the playoffs to Wasatch by just a point.

Better yet for the Wildcats is they have a bevy returning production with seven starters on offense and eight on defense back. There’s something to be said for a team that can go from winless to pulling two first-place preseason votes in just two seasons.

“We have a group that has changed the culture and they believe in what they are doing,” Benson said. “This group loves each other and wants to play hard for the guy next to them.”

Roy was the last team to get a first-place vote. As one of the two new faces to the region (and 5A in general), the Royals come with the notable clout of already having been a competitive squad in the 6A ranks when they were in Region 2.

Roy’s season last year ended quite painfully with a first-round upset at the hands of none other than a historic rival in Weber, at home no less, but the young squad took it to heart and are driven to make good on this year. Not as young anymore, they’ll have nine starters back on an offense that was eighth in 6A last year, while five come back on defense.

“We had a young core group last season that gained a lot of experience, so I’m hoping they make a big impact for us,” Royals coach Chris Solomona said. “We did not end the season the way we would have liked, but that’s been the fuel this offseason. There’s a lot to be excited about, but there’s still so much work to be done.”

Bonneville, at No. 5 was just as close in voting as the top four teams, but without a first-place vote. Lakers coach Jantz Afuvai guided the team to an impressive 5-0 start against some good teams before Bountiful came into the Lakers’ homecoming and handed them their first loss. They went 1-4 over the remainder of the season.

After Bonneville, the dropoff is steep. Viewmont, Northridge and newcomer Clearfield rounded out the region voting, respectively. Even still, Northridge and Clearfield will have the chance this season to put some more meaning behind its decades-old rivalry with regional implications on the line.

Region 5 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Bountiful Redhawks

2023 schedule

Head coach: Jason Freckleton

In three seasons as Bountiful’s head coach, he’s posted a 22-11 record, including region titles in 2021 and 2022. He previously was an assistant at Bountiful for 10 years. He’s a graduate of Bountiful and Weber State University.

Coach Jason Freckleton’s general outlook

“This year’s team will have a few senior returners on both sides of the ball which will have a big impact on our team. But look to the junior class to provide consistency and depth that we haven’t always had in the past.”

Offensive coordinator: Jason Freckleton

2022 offense: 18.1 ppg (No. 27 in 5A).

Six returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Faletau Satuala, Sr., WR/QB.London Wood, Sr., OL, Tackle.Freddie Fekitoa, Sr., OL, Guard.Jacob Brooks, Sr., WR.Brig Morrison, Sr., FB.Brian Bushman, Jr., OL, Center.

Key offensive newcomers

Brandon Wilkinson, Sr., WR.Emerson Geilman, Jr., QB.Britton Tidwell, Jr., WR.Will NIxon, Jr., OL, Tackle.

Defensive coordinator: Jason Walker

2022 defense: 15.1 ppg (No. 2 in 5A).

Five returning starters.3-4 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Brigham Morrison, Sr., MLB.Jacob Brooks, Sr., OLB.Faletau Satuala, Sr., S.Britton Tidwell, Jr., S.Caleb Norris, Jr., DT.

Key defensive newcomers

Josh Liljenquist, Jr., OLB.Justice Taufa, Jr., DE.Misi Felila, Jr., DT.Brock McSwain, Jr., CB

2. Box Elder Bees

2023 schedule

Head coach: Robbie Gunter

Gunter is entering his 21st straight season as a coach in Utah and 14th at Box Elder guiding the program to a 75-84 record over the past 14 years. He previously spent six years at Viewmont leading the Vikings to a 36-29 record during that span. He’s a graduate of Idaho’s Marsh Valley High School and Southern Utah University.

Coach Robbie Gunter’s general outlook

“There is a ‘buzz’ in the air here at Box Elder. We have a new group of seniors that have been working hard to leave their mark wearing the purple and white. The competitions for positions are ongoing, and the process of building the team is our main focus right now. It will take every player we have giving their very best for us to be able to compete in this region and our schedule. We are working on special teams to find difference makers. Our defense is working on our tackling and pursuit. Offensively, we are trying to improve at running the football.”

Offensive coordinator: Jake Hanes

2022 offense: 29.7 ppg (No. 14 in 5A).

Six returning starters.Wing-T offense.

Returning offensive starters

Mason Jeppsen, Sr., RB.Dylan Riggs, Sr., OL.Cody Kaleikini, Jr., OL.Ryan Griffin, Sr., QB.AJ Bushnell, Sr., WR.Dax Sumko, Sr., RB.

Key offensive newcomers

Damon Rodriguez, Sr., RB.Cayden Anderson, Sr., TE.Nick Sega, Sr., OL.Derek Nessen, Sr., OL.

Defensive coordinator: Travis Mumford

2022 defense: 18.6 ppg (No. 6 in 5A).

Three returning starters.4-2-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Brock Bissegger, Sr., DL.Mason Jeppsen, Sr., LB.AJ Bushnell, Sr., S.

Key defensive newcomers

Nathan Pugsley, Sr., FS.Caden Buchanan, Jr., LB.Bodee Burnham, Jr., DL.Jay Macias, Jr., DL.

3. Woods Cross Wildcats

2023 schedule

Head coach: Brody Benson

Entering his third season at Woods Cross after an 6-15 record in the first two seasons. Previously, he had a successful 15-year run as coach at Highland, where his teams went 116-50 with a state title in 2010. He’s a graduate of Granger High School and Southern Utah University.

Coach Brody Benson’s general outlook

“We are excited for the season. We have a group that has worked very hard to go out and compete. We have a group that has changed the culture, and they believe in what they are doing. This group loves each other and wants to play hard for the guy next to them.”

Offensive coordinator: Casey Parks

2022 offense: 25.7 ppg (No. 18 in 5A).

Seven returning starters.Triple option offense.

Returning offensive starters

Jonah Suliafu, Sr., OL.Clarence Pututau, Sr., OL.Lock Smoot, Sr., QB.Cash Henderson, Sr., FB.Jacob Howes, Sr., RB.Isaac Johnson, Sr., RB.Ryan Moss, Sr., WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Ben Smith, Sr., RB/WR.Carter Freestone, Sr., RB.Hadden Rotz, Jr., OL.Charlie Coats, Sr., FB.Steve Sauni, Jr., FB.Tino Sa, Jr., OL.Braken Borders, So, OL.Ryker Martin, Jr., RB.Reece Hammond, Jr., WR.Ricky Sanchez, Jr., WR.Krew Fornelius, Jr., RB.

Defensive coordinator: Chris Haning

2022 defense: 20.3 ppg (No. 10 in 5A).

Eight returning starters.4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Jonah Suliafu, Sr., DL.Clarence Pututau, Sr., DL.Hadden Rotz, Sr., DL.Cash Henderson, Sr., LB.Charlie Coats, Sr., LB.Isaac Johnson, Sr., FS.Carter Freestone, Sr., SS.Dalton Schanz, Sr., CB.

Key defensive newcomers

Tino Sa, Jr., DL.Ben Smith, Sr., CB.Ryan Moss, Sr., LB.Logan Bailey, Jr., LB.Nathan Webb, Jr., LB.

4. Roy Royals

2023 schedule

Head coach: Chris Solomona

A graduate of San Pedro High in California and then Oregon, he previously served as an assistant at Roy for seven seasons before taking over as head coach last year, with his team posting a 7-4 record.

Coach Chris Solomona’s general outlook

“Huge test for our team and our coaching staff. I’m excited to see how our players mesh and respond to this new region and new season. We had a young core group last season that gained a lot of experience so I’m hoping they make a big impact for us. We did not end the season the way we would have liked, but that’s been the fuel this offseason. There’s alot to be excited about, but there’s still so much work to be done.”

Offensive coordinator: Connor Mcguire

2022 offense: 29.3 ppg (No. 8 in 6A).

Nine returning starters.Spread 10-11 personnel offense.

Returning offensive starters

Robert Young, Jr., Ath.Cole West, Sr., WR.Jake Viers, Sr., WR.Dru Gardner, Jr., QB.Cade Draper, Jr., C.Jaxton Wilberg, Sr., LT.Cove Rodriguez, Sr., TE.Logan Cella, Jr., RB.Qwan Snider, Sr., RB.

Key offensive newcomers

Joe Cariaga III, Sr., QB.Kasch Casero, So., G.Kade Barney, Sr., G.Easton Choate WR.Isaiah Morris, WR, So.Riley Boudreau RB, Jr.Wesley Barker, Jr., OTColby Frokjer, QB/K.

Defensive coordinator: Jake Gallegos

2022 defense: 24.09 ppg (No. 13 in 6A).

Five returning starters.3-4 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Cole West, Sr., S.Jake Viers, Sr., S.Kili Eleneke, Jr., CB.Corben Schuffenhauer, Sr., CB.Maxx Johnson, Sr., LB.

Key defensive newcomers

Hunter Webb, Jr., LB.Jaxton Scoffield, Jr., LB.Ryan Foss, Jr., LB.Ethan Tautua, Jr., DT.Justus Flores, Jr., DT.Colby Hepner, Sr., DE.Isaac Araiza, Jr., DE.Jed Otteson, Sr., CB.Easton Choate, Jr., S.Isaiah Morris, So., CB.

5. Bonneville Lakers

2023 schedule

Head coach: Jantz Afuvai

The Bonneville alum is entering his 11th season as head coach, amassing a 46-60 record over the past decade. He’s a graduate of Weber State University.

2022 offense: 23.4 ppg (No. 20 in 5A).

2022 defense: 18.7 ppg (No. 7 in 5A).

Additional info not provided.

6. Viewmont Vikings

2023 schedule

Head coach: Andru Jones

Heading into his second season as head coach at Viewmont after previous stints at Tooele (2019-2021) and Layton Christian (2016-2018). He posted a 4-6 last year at Viewmont, and his career record in seven years is 33-40. He’s a graduate of Northridge High School and Grand Canyon University.

Coach Andru Jones’s general outlook

“We return some guys up front but we will be younger in the skill positions. We have good numbers out so we feel like we will be just fine in the skip position. We are very excited and looking forward the season to kickoff.

Offensive coordinator: Joe Jessop/Andru Jones

2022 offense: 32.0 ppg (No. 10 in 5A).

Five returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Trey Price, Sr., OL.Siona Faeamani, Jr., OL.Thomas Throndsen, Sr., OL.Kingston Mickens, Jr., WR.Dax Nielsen, Sr., RB.

Key offensive newcomers

Daren Tovey, QB, Sr.Drezdon Jensen, WR, Jr.Jordan Jones, WR, Jr.Cache Tuia, WR, Jr.Bridger Bishop, OL, Sr.

Defensive coordinator: Jaren Barnes

2022 defense: 30.9 ppg (No. 22 in 5A).

Four returning starters.4-2-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Daren Tovey, Safety, Sr.Kingston Mickens, DB, Jr.Kellen Wood, LB, So.Ezekiel Cook, DL, So.

Key defensive newcomers

Brock Thrall, DL, Sr.Joey Walden, DL, Jr.Austin Nebeker, DB, Sr.Seth Valencia, LB, Sr.,Aaron Harkness, DL, Sr.Jamison Cosper, DB, Jr.

7. Northridge Knights

2023 schedule

Head coach: Andrew Fresques

Fresques is entering his fourth season as coach at his alma mater after posting an 9-22 record the previous three years. He spent the previous three seasons as coach at Woods Cross, where his teams posted a 17-16 record. He’s a graduate of the University of Utah.

Coach Andrew Fresques’ general outlook

“Great group of young men who are working hard on and off the field.”

Offensive coordinator: Andrew Fresques

2022 offense: 25.2 ppg (No. 19 in 5A).

Six returning starters.Multiple offenses.

Returning offensive starters

Zach Smith, TE/WR.Jaxon Fresques, WR.Malu Lumpkins, WR.Porter Olsen, QB.Andruw Hadley, OL.Blake Jonas, OL.

Key offensive newcomers

Braxton Barber, RB.Kooper Salvador, OL.Jake Benzley, WR.Gabe Carlson, WR.Michael Marriott, QB/Ath.Ben Pulido, OL.Chase Harris, RB/WR.Andrew Ortiz, RB.Dontae Dyson, WR.Azavier McDaniel, WR/RB.Jonathan Sanchez, OL.Braxton Featherstone, WR.Ryan Fullmer, OL.

Defensive coordinator: Kitt Rawlings

2022 defense: 33.2 ppg (No. 24 in 5A).

Four returning starters.Multiple defenses.

Returning defensive starters

Jaxon Fresques, DB.Hudson Heywood, DB.Andruw Hadley, DL.Rylen Rude, DL.

Key defensive newcomers

Diesel Daffer, DE/OLB.Gabe Carlson, DB.Austin Murphy, LB/DE.Dontae Dyson, DB.Justin Unger, DL.Tucker Keller, DB.Zane Wheaton, DL.Tobin Smith, LB.Jackson O’Brien, LB.Anthony Martinez, DB.Cooper Tubbs, LB.

8. Clearfield Falcons

2023 schedule

Head coach: Carl Harry

Entering his second season after an 0-10 debut season with the Falcons last year. He’s a graduate of Fountain Valley High School in California and the University of Utah.

Coach Carl Harry’s general outlook

“We are excited to part of Region 1 5AfFootball. We have a good senior class and a lot of young talent. We are excited to compete in such a great region.”

Offensive coordinator: Cal Williams

2022 offense: 8.1 ppg (No. 26 in 6A).

Five returning starters.Balanced offense.

Returning offensive starters

Jordan Tovey, Jr., QB.Jonah Mandleco, Jr., OT.Justyn Irish, Sr., C.Sam Martinez, Sr., G.CJ Brakey, Sr., TE.

Key offensive newcomers

Gage Miles, Jr., RB.Tayvian Singletary, Jr., WR.

Defensive coordinator: Uppsen Downes

2022 defense: 44.8 ppg (No. 26 in 6A).

Five returning starters.3-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Trace Hansen, Sr., S.Beau Miller, Sr., CB.Jamal Jaber, Sr., DT.Jayden Hipwell, Sr., NG.Cody Clark, Sr., LB.Key defensive newcomersMalcom Yates, Sr., CB.AJ Stark, Jr., LB.

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