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High school football: Defending 6A champ Skyridge the Region 3 favorite

Three miles is all that separates Skyridge High School from Lehi High School, but despite that proximity their respective football programs have never bothered to schedule a game with each other in the seven years since Skyridge split from Lehi in 2016.

Their paths nonetheless crossed in the 2017 5A football state championship, with Lehi dominating for the 55-17 victory.

The concerted effort to not play each other isn’t just reserved for football either. In the UHSAA’s 10 primary team sports (basketball, football, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball, soccer and softball), Skyridge and Lehi have must just one other time, and that was also an unscheduled tournament game when they squared off in a 2020 girls basketball game at the Corner Canyon tournament.

Regardless of the reasons behind avoiding each other, that entire mentality has been blown up in the latest UHSAA realignment.

Lehi’s enrollment numbers have swelled in recent years, with the school vaulting from 5A to 6A this school year and being placed in the same region as Skyridge. Lehi replaces Corner Canyon, which moved to a Salt Lake Valley region.

The move means that Skyridge and Lehi students can now settle the debate on the field instead of on social media about which teams are better, and there’s no bigger game on the calendar than this year’s Sept. 22 clash between the Region 3 schools.

Skyridge is the defending 6A state champ, while Lehi won last year’s 5A state championship.

Skyridge first-year head coach Justin Hemm said that Lehi replacing Corner Canyon in Region 3 certainly adds a new element to the league for his school.

“Just being two Lehi schools that adds to it, but each and every week how the region is it’s going to be competitive. Every team in the region has great talent and is very well coached,” said Hemm.

Skyridge opens the season as the Region 3 frontrunner, as it was projected first in the region by the league’s coaches.

The Falcons return eight offensive starters from last year’s state championship squad, but there are massive holes to fill on the defensive side with just three starters back from last year’s dominant defense.

“There will be some new guys in the back end, but a lot of these guys are guys who’ve paid their dues and waited their time,” said Hemm, who served as the team’s offensive coordinator a year ago.

Hemm is taking over as head coach for Jon Lehman — who’s moved to an athletic director role at the school — and he said it’s been a very smooth transition.

“Being with the guys the previous season made for an easy transition. For the most part we wanted to maintain the status quo. There’s been some subtle changes in the way we go about some things, but it’s been a very smooth process and the boys have come back ready to work,” said Hemm.

A new face will be leading the team at quarterback, as Jackson Stevens takes over after transferring from Davis in the offseason. A year ago with the Darts he passed for over 3,200 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Corner Canyon actually won the Region 4 title over Skyridge a year ago with a 5-0 league record, but the Falcons returned the favor by prevailing in the 6A state championship 17-7.

Lone Peak’s Shaun Blanton (19) celebrates his touchdown with Trey Robinson (10) against Syracuse in the 6A second round playoffs in Syracuse on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The battle for this year’s league title should be very tight based on the coaches’ preseason voting. Skyridge garnered three first-place votes within the region, with Lone Peak and American Fork also receiving a first-place vote.

It was Lone Peak, though, that narrowly edged American Fork in the region preseason rankings, as the 2021 state champs look for a bounce-back year after a so-so 7-5 showing a year ago.

The Knights return four starters on offense and five on defense.

“The region alignment for us this year switched out one great team for another. I would expect region to be as challenging as ever,” said Lone Peak coach Bart Brockbank.

American Fork returns six starters on each side of the ball as it expects to keep pace with the region’s elite despite an early 6A quarterfinal playoff exit a year ago.

“The new Region 3 is still a gauntlet, just like Region 4 has been in the past. Even though Corner Canyon is leaving the region, adding Lehi, who has won the 5A title the past two years keeps the region schedule extremely tough. All the teams in our region will be battle tested by the time we get to the playoffs,” said American Fork coach Aaron Behm.

Lehi is no question the biggest X-factor in the new-look league.

Even though Lehi is the two-time defending 5A state champion, it only has four offensive starters back from last year and one defensive starter. With massive holes to file all over the field and elite competition waiting at the back half of the schedule, there’s no telling how Lehi will fair once Region 3 play rolls around.

Lehi coach Ed Larson said his team is excited about the challenge.

“I call it the SEC of Utah football. I see Skyridge, Lone Peak, American Fork leading the pack with Pleasant Grove, Westlake and Lehi looking to poke their heads into the mix,” said Larson.

Region 3 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Skyridge Falcons

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Justin Hemm

After serving as an assistant coach during Skyridge’s state title run last year, he’s taking over as head coach for Skyridge. He previously coached Brighton for three years as his teams posted a 26-7 record.He’s a graduate of Piqua High School in Ohio and Adrian College in Michigan.

Coach Justin Hemm’s general outlook

We have a great group of players who are eager to compete this season. We have a solid group of returners as well as some new faces. These guys have put in a lot of work during the off-season and are excited to compete on Friday nights.

Offensive coordinator: Justin Hemm

2022 offense: 39.4 ppg (No. 1 in 6A)

Eight returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Trent Call, Sr., WRLa’akea Kalama, Sr., WRJack Burke, Sr., WRTrevan McClellan, Sr., WRBen Howard, Jr., OTAmi Fifita, Sr., OGDarius Afalava, Jr., OGCarter Sheffield, Sr., RB

Key offensive newcomers

Jackson Stevens, Sr., QBColby Smith, Sr., WRQuezon Villa, Sr., WRFilimone Fangupo, Jr., CLuke Davies, Jr., OGZaden Selu, Jr., RBNoah Burt, Sr., TE/WR

Defensive coordinator: Patrick Gleaves

2022 defense: 10.0 ppg (No. 1 in 6A)

Three returning starters3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

Ian Mariner, Sr., DLDeshawn Toilolo, Jr., DLIakopo Malafau, Jr., DL

Key defensive newcomers

Mark Baird, Sr., DBTavian Edwards, Jr., DBMarkell Cordoba, Sr., DBPorter Logan, Sr., DBBen Munoa, Sr., DBFotu Moeai, Sr., DBGabe Cravens, Sr., DBStephen Teriiapiai, Sr., DBTobin Smith, Sr., LBGriffin Kunz, SO, LBAustin Barker, Sr., LBJackson Fenton, Sr., LBChance Peterson, Sr., LBTaezen Selu, Sr., LBSitiveni Tokelau, Jr., DLAmani Luifau, Sr., DLJonah Johnson, Jr., DLTevita Fuatapu, Jr., DL

2. Lone Peak Knights

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Bart Brockbank

Entering his seventh season as head coach at Lone Peak, where he’s compiled a 55-25 record during that stretch and state titles in 2018 and 2021. He’s a graduate of Lehi High School and BYU.

Coach Bart Brockbank’s general outlook

Returning leadership is on the defense. The defense will need to lead out as we break in a new starting quarterback.

Offensive coordinator: Gary Trowbridge

2022 offense: 25.2 ppg (No. 12 in 6A)

Four returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Austin PayTrey RobinsonEaston AndersonBrookes Wilde

Key offensive newcomers

Jackson BlakeSeth HaskettMisi PataneLogan Hofheins

Defensive coordinator: Ryan Denney

2022 defense: 19.17 ppg (No. 7 in 6A)

Five returning starters4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

Bott MulitaloJayden MayberryMatthaias NawahineCJ RubleFihi Mounga

Key defensive newcomers

Wes ValguardsenJaxson ArringtonJunior TahiTeagon Towle

3. American Fork Cavemen

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Aaron Behm

Entering his 14th season as American Fork’s head coach, where he’s guided the team to an 91-64 record. He led the Cavemen to runner-up appearances in 2014, 2018 and 2019. He’s a graduate of Grant Community High School and Trinity International University, both in Illinois.

Coach Aaron Behm’s general outlook

We have had a lot of guys working very hard throughout the off-season. We are bringing back a bunch of guys who got good experience last season and looking forward to seeing them progress through this season.

Offensive coordinator: Micah Hunsaker

2022 offense: 22.3 ppg (No. 14 in 6A)

Six returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Jett Nelson, Sr., WRJacob Eardley, Sr., RBDax Watts, Sr., RBAndrew Brady, Sr., TackleJosh Andrus, Sr., TETayvin Jensen, Jr., Center

Key offensive newcomers

Dylan Story, Sr., QBLandon Payne, Sr., TE

Defensive coordinator: Chris Buesing

2022 defense: 16.9 ppg (No. 5 in 6A)

Six returning starters3-3-5 defense

Returning defensive starters

Davis Andrews, Safety, Sr.Tyson Eggett, LB, Sr.Caleb Peterson, Safety, Sr.Waki Fulilangi, DT, Sr.Max Edwards, LB, Sr.Drew Dickey, DE, Sr.

Key defensive newcomers

Blake Jensen, DE, Sr.Zane Edwards, C, Sr.Justin Bourgeois, C, Sr.Lucas Segura, LB, Sr.

4. Lehi Pioneers

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Ed Larson

Has 18 years of head coaching experience in Utah, including the past 10 at Lehi where his teams are 69-41 including State titles in 2017, 2021 and 2022. His overall head coaching record is 101-90 with stops at Provo (1993-1994), Ogden (2004-2005) and Timpanogos (2010-2013). He’s graduate of Piedmont Hills High School in California and the University of New Mexico.

Coach Ed Larson’s general outlook

Returning from back-to-back state championships, losing 46 seniors and moving up to 6A all lend to new challenges and opportunities. I’m excited about the talent of my players, the need to get them up to speed to varsity level competition and planning for a great challenge of 6A football. We begin by playing a very good 6A Davis team, followed by two returning state champions from Utah and Idaho. (Desert Hills/Rigby). We then finish the preseason with games against Maple Mountain and Herriman. Our Region needs no explanation: The SEC of Utah Football.

Offensive coordinator: Ed Larson

2022 offense: 41.9 ppg (No. 3 in 5A)

Four returning startersWest Coast/Air Raid offense

Returning offensive starters

Jensen Somerville, Sr., LTRyker Peterson, Sr., RGJace John, Sr., WRGrayson Brousseau, Sr., TE

Key offensive newcomers

Jett Niu, Jr., QBKolose Latu, Sr., RBDevaughn Eka, So., RBTommy Rock Olsen, Jr., LGMays Madsen, Jr., WRKaleb Moore, Sr., SlotEziah Mama, Jr., WRAustin Stauffer, Sr., C

Defensive coordinator: Jared Harward

2022 defense: 9.0 ppg (No. 1 in 5A)

One returning starters4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

Key defensive newcomers

Paul Latu, Jr., MLBCarson Wren, Jr., OLBPenisimani TakiTaki, So., DEFuapauna Mama, Jr., DEIsaiah Allen, Sr., CBMax Ray, Sr., DBAlema Tamala, Sr., DT

5. Westlake Thunder

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Arnold Ale

Entering his first year season as head coach at Westlake and one season as head coach at Payson last year, with his team posting a 7-4 record. He’s a graduate of Carson High in California and UCLA.

Coach Arnold Ale’s general outlook

Our Football Program is excited about this upcoming season. We have been working on improving our Offense, Defense, and Special Teams. More importantly, our focus has been improving our Program Culture, by emphasizing our Core Values of Pride, Commitment, and Competitive Energy. Our success in the Fall will be determined by our level of buy in to this process.

Offensive coordinator: Westlake Offensive Staff

2022 offense: 17.3 ppg (No. 22 in 6A)

Three returning startersMultiple offenses

Returning offensive starters

Ezra Heiner, Sr., TELandon Rasmussen, Sr., RBDrake Youngberg, Sr., RB

Key offensive newcomers

Payton Barclay, Sr., WRTyson Wagoner, Sr., OLCalvin Gagon, Soph, QB

Defensive coordinator: Vae Tata

2022 defense: 34.0 ppg (No. 22 in 6A)

Six returning startersMultiple defenses

Returning defensive starters

Manasseh Te’o, Sr., DLNusi Taumoepeau, Jr., LBDreysen Afuvai, Soph, LBJackson Coray, Sr., DBAiden Bayless, Sr., DBDaniel Washburn, Sr., DB

Key defensive newcomers

Sale Fano, Jr., DE/LBBeckham Featherstone, Jr., DLJon Dowell, Sr., DLJackson Slade, Sr., LB

6. Pleasant Grove Vikings

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Taylor Walkenhorst

Entering his third season as head coach at Pleasant Grove, where his team’s have posted a 7-16 record the past two years.

Coach Taylor Walkenhorst’s general outlook

Have some good starters returning. If we can stay focused on the details and develop mental toughness we will have the things we need to win. Winning takes attention to detail, mental and physical toughness, and each player doing their job within their role on the team.

Offensive coordinator: Taylor Walkenhorst

2022 offense: 25.8 ppg (No. 10 in 6A)

Five returning startersSpread & West Coast offense

Returning offensive starters

Shawn Cottle, WRMakai Peterson, WRKael MCcoy, SlotLucas Jackson, OLQuade Coombs, OLMataira Brown, WR

Key offensive newcomers

Defensive coordinator: Taylor Walkenhorst & Steve Brady

2022 defense: 22.0 ppg (No. 10 in 6A)

Eight returning startersMulti front defense

Returning defensive starters

Thatcher Coon, EndLucas Jackson, TackleBronco Winterton, SafetyShawn Cottle, SafetyGabe McCoy, CornerMakai Peterson, CornerTua Wolfgramm, LBTrevyn Gates, LB

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