High school football: Juab is still the 3A South’s team to beat

The stalwart and typically unchanging landscape of the 3A South region has plenty of upheaval, not from realignment, but thanks to a plethora of coaching changes that coincidentally happened all at once. Four of the six schools in the region enter this season with new coaches, all of whom are filling big shoes after their predecessors had exceptional tenures with each program.

Longtime head coaches Cole Meacham of Manti and Mike Bowring of Juab both retired. They were the longest and second-longest tenured head football coaches, respectively, in the state until their retirements. Meacham won three 2A state titles with the Templars while Bowring brought Juab its first-ever state title in 2020.

Rhett Bird of North Sanpete and Ryan Shaddix of Richfield both resigned as well, citing personal reasons. Bird’s seven-year tenure included North Sanpete’s first-ever state championship appearance, while Shaddix guided the Wildcats to their first 10-win season in the 21st century.

That said, the more things change, the more they stay the same, as three of the four openings went to veteran assistant coaches in the program, while Richfield rehired its previous head coach.

It may well be that hidden aspect of consistency that leads to the No. 1 preseason pick going to the most consistent world-beater in the region, the Juab Wasps.

New head coach Jake Downard spent 13 years as an assistant coach under Bowring and was on that state championship squad. Bowring’s retirement, which stemmed, among other things, from being called as a bishop in his local Latter-Day Saint ward, was completely unexpected to anyone on the staff.

That said, Downard’s plan for the Wasps is simple: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It’s hard to find fault with his plan. Under Bowring, the Wasps had been the class of the 3A South for the last four seasons, including three trips to the title game and four consecutive region titles. Since 2019, Juab hasn’t even lost a region game.

“Consistency is huge,” Downard said. “When we went through the interview process, a lot of my interview was about keeping things consistent for the kids and keeping the program going. We’ve got a pretty good program here. We’ve got, like, 120 kids out for football. … It’s been a good challenge for us.”

This season could be a little tougher for the Wasps as they not only have a coaching change, but also look to move on after the graduation of their quarterback. Former QB Alex Jackson, who is now serving a mission in England, went down as one of the most prolific passers in state history, throwing for 3,530 yards and 54 touchdowns with just three interceptions. His career numbers included 108 total passing touchdowns, becoming the eighth QB in Utah history to reach 100 TDs as he finished sixth all time.

Jackson is, by far, the greatest loss to the team, but the Wasps are going to have growing pains on offense regardless with just three starters returning. Thanks to nine returning starters on defense, it could be a year when Juab pivots back to being a defensively-minded team, similar to its 2020 title run, than an offensive one.

“It is an understatement to try and replace what Alex was able to accomplish and all he brought into our program. (He was an) unreal player and an even better kid,” Downard said. “Fortunately, we have some great QBs in our program. Austin Park is poised to have a big year, we have a great running back in Ryan Robison. We have solid skill players that are excited to show what they are capable of for our program. It will be an offense by committee. We will need to take what the defense will give us, and we have weapons that we are excited about.”

On a completely different side of things, the Canyon View Falcons are the No. 2 team in the region.

The Falcons are on a very different, albeit optimistic, journey from the Wasps. The team came out of nowhere last season to finish 8-4, just the second winning season for the program ever in the school’s 26 years of existence. The Falcons also reached the 3A semifinals as a No. 4 seed in the RPI and gave Juab a run for its money before falling short.

Not bad for a program with a historical record of 64-190.

Falcons head coach Burke Miller, just one of two coaches returning to the region from last season, said the team “can’t wait to get going in Week 1.” It’s all optimism within the program as the offense returns eight starters, including its QB, running back and two wide receivers. The team had an exceptionally young offensive line last season but will return four of five offensive linemen as the Falcons hope to better protect their signal caller in a spread offense.

Of the four teams with new coaches, perhaps no squad has more familiarity within its program than the Manti Templars, who were voted No. 3 in the rankings. Manti courted a number of suitors for the head job, but ultimately, the position went to Fred Taukei’aho, the 19-year assistant of Meacham.

Taukei’aho inherits a squad with six returning starters on offense and eight on defense. They’ll have a promising junior QB in Maison Starkweather, who has served as the primary backup since his freshman season and logged his first start last season.

Consistency is paying off for the Richfield Wildcats, who were pegged as the No. 4 team heading into the season. Richfield unexpectedly saw Shaddix resign after leading the program for the past three seasons, but coach Eric Thorson, who coached Richfield from 2014-2016, stepped back into the role.

Richfield has six returning starters on offense and seven on defense.

North Sanpete checks in at No. 5. North Sanpete’s previous season saw some change in real time as the Hawks pulled away from the spread they grew accustomed to over the last few seasons and started to focus more on the running game and playing smash-mouth football. Former Hawks offensive coordinator Tu Tui took over the program in place of Bird. Tui said the team will continue restoring the team’s old physical, power-running identity with five returning offensive starters and seven defensive starters.

Rounding out the votes is Carbon at No. 6. The Dinos return fewer starters than anyone with just three back on offense and five on defense. They are the only other program besides Canyon View with the same head coach as Phil Howa enters his fourth season.

3A South projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Juab Wasps

2023 schedule

Head coach: Jake Downard

Taking over as head coach for Mike Bowring, who’d patrolled the sidelines for 18 seasons at Juab, Downard is a graduate of North Summit High School and Utah State.

Coach Jake Downard’s general outlook

“We are excited for our 2023 season! This group has been putting in solid work since winter. We lost quite a bit of our offensive production that we have been working toward replacing this offseason.

“We also have quite a bit of talent, who have had a lot of success in our program and have a chip on their shoulder. They are excited for their opportunities to make some noise.

“We return quite a few players on our defense this year and we are working really hard to get back to where we belong defensively. Both our DL and OL will be a strength for our team this season. We have great tradition here at Juab and are blessed with unreal community support for our program. We have high expectations and the kids are excited to get the season going.”

Offensive coordinator: Austin Soper

2022 offense: 45.2 ppg (No. 1 in 3A).

Three returning starters.Multiple offenses.

Returning offensive starters

Austin Hopoate, Sr., OL.Ryan Robison, Sr., RB.Cooper Blackett, Sr., Slot WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Austin Park, Jr., QB.Hayden Park, Sr., Slot.Stockton Shepherd, Sr., Slot.Jaden Heap SO Slot WR.Easton Brown, Jr., OL.Brennan Webb, Jr., OL.Logan Phillips, Sr., OL.Dylan Callaway, Sr., OL.Weston Perry, Sr., WR.Dallen Harris, Sr., WR.Colton Johansen, Jr., WR.Beau Halverson, So., QB.

Defensive coordinator: Jake Downard

2022 defense: 24.5 ppg (No. 5 in 3A).

Nine returning starters.4-2-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Keagan Hall, Sr., DL.Kody Brandon, Sr., DL.Aisea Hosea, Sr., DL.Rance Christensen, Jr., DL.Porter Jackson, Jr., LB.Porter Anderson, Sr., LB.Cooper Blackett, Sr., FS.Hayden Park, Sr., SS.Cooper Nelson, Jr., WS.

Key defensive newcomers

Porter Wohlforth, Sr., DL.Rio Wright, Sr., DL.Connor Cowan, Jr., FS.Jay Rowley, Jr., LB.Andrew Woodland, Jr., LB.Sosaia Paongo, Jr., DB.Joe Garrett, Jr., DB.Payton Myers, So., DB.Jaden Heap, So., DB.

2. Canyon View Falcons

2023 schedule

Head coach: Burke Miller

After stints as an assistant coach at Parowan, Cedar and Canyon View, Burke Miller took over as Canyon View head coach last year and led the program to an 8-4 record and a 3A semifinal appearance. He’s a graduate of Moapa Valley High School and the University of Phoenix.

Coach Burke Miller’s general outlook

“We are excited to build off last year’s semifinal appearance. We return quite a few players from last year’s team. We can’t wait to get going Week 1!”

Offensive coordinator: Burke Miller

2022 offense: 29.1 ppg (No. 5 in 3A).

Eight returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Jaxon Jensen, QB, Sr.Asher Groft, RB, Sr.Traie Buhler, WR, Sr.Moose Barton, OL, Sr.Peyton Roundy, OL, Sr.Parker Cheney, C, Jr.Trenton Ludlow, WR, Jr.Colt Parker, OL, Jr.

Key offensive newcomers

Deegan Davies, WR, Jr.Asher Slack, WR, Jr.Caleb Paule, WR, Jr.Dax Nichol, WR, Jr.Jayson Higgins, RB, Jr.

Defensive coordinator: Pat Ward

2022 defense: 22.3 ppg (No. 4 in 3A).

Six returning starters.4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Traie Buhler, Sr., DB.Marc Richardson, Sr., DL/LB.Lincoln Rushton, Sr., LB.Scotty Irons, Sr., LB.Sam Vest, Jr., DE.Trenton Ludlow DB.

Key defensive newcomers

Seth Morris, Jr., DB.Asher Groft, Sr., DB.Dalton Malcolm, Jr., DE.

3. Manti Templars

2023 schedule

Head coach: Fred Taukei’aho

After serving as an assistant coach at Manti for 19 of the past 21 years starting in 2002, he’s taking over as head coach for Cole Meacham, who retired after 23 years. He’s a graduate of Lahaina Luna High School on Maui and Snow College.

Coach Fred Taukei’aho’s general outlook

“I feel confident in our team and our returners this year, who bring back great leadership. Having a couple years of experience with our offense has been helpful in preparing for this coming season. Defensively we have a lot of returners who have been working hard in the off-season, and are eager to get on the field. We have some new players coming up that are ready to fill the holes, and as a team we are excited to start the season.”

Offensive coordinator: Cameron Shumway

2022 offense: 28.83 ppg (No. 6 in 3A).

Six returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Braxton Henningson, Sr., OL.Tima Moe, Sr., OL.Trace Cox, Sr., OL.Reggie Frischknecht, Sr., WR/TE.Hunter Stevens, Sr., WR.Preston Thompson, Sr., WR/TE.

Key offensive newcomers

Maison Starkweather, Jr., QB.Carter Mason, So., QB.Kevin Sterner, Sr., WR/TE.Stone Mortensen, So., WR.Isaac Crowther, So., RB.Tala Taulapapa, So., RB.Max Taukeiaho, So., OL.Mac Olsen, So., WR/TE.Trace Justesen, Jr., WR.

Defensive coordinator: Cory Hatch

2022 defense: 28.67 ppg (No. 7 in 3A).

Eight returning starters.4-2-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Braxton Henningson, Sr., DL.Tima Moe, Sr., DL.Lincoln Alder, Jr., DL.Dallin Sweat, Sr., LB.Kelan Layton, Sr., LB.Bo Stevens, Sr., LB.Hunter Stevens, Sr., CB.Reggie Frischknecht, Sr., S.

Key defensive newcomers

Preston Thompson, Sr., DL.Trace Cox, Sr., DL.Max Taukeiaho, So., DL.Kevin Sterner, Sr., LB.Will Osborn, Jr., LB.Colby Simons, Jr., LB.Tala Taulapapa, So., LB.Lane Cox, Jr., CB.Dax Anderson, Jr., CB.Stone Mortensen, So., CB.

4. Richfield Wildcats

2023 schedule

Head coach: Eric Thorson

Entering his first season as head coach in his second stint at Richfield. He previously coached at Richfield from 2014-2016, where his teams posted a 10-21 record. He’s a graduate of Davis High and Utah State.

Coach Eric Thorson’s general outlook

“Having the majority of the starting lineup returning, Richfield is looking to be competitive. The schedule is tougher this year than in the recent past, but with seasoned players, the growth of playing a tougher schedule should pay off later in the year.”

Offensive coordinator: Eric Thorson

2022 offense: 31.7 ppg (No. 4 in 3A).

Six returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Nathan Young, Sr., OL.Ashton White, Sr., OL.Ryker Buchanan, Sr., OL.Reggie Hafen, Sr., QB.Kai Thomas, Sr., WR.Cort Moon, Sr., TE.

Key offensive newcomers

Beck Giblete, Sr., RB.Gage Yardley, Jr., WR.Griffin Wayman, Jr., WR.Slate Reitz, Jr., RB.Malik Fautin, Jr., WR.Drey Myers, Sr., RB.Daken Douglas, Sr., WR.

Defensive coordinator: Chet White

2022 defense: 16.58 ppg (No. 2 in 3A).

Seven returning starters.5-2-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Nathan Young, Sr., DL.Ashton White, Sr., DL.Tanner Pollock, Jr., DB.Gage Yardley, Jr., LB.Malik Fautin, Jr., DB.Cort Moon, Sr., LB.Ryker Buchanan, Sr., DL.

Key defensive newcomers

Dax Fjord, Sr., LB.Fisher Arnold, Sr., DT.Coleman Thorson, Jr., DT.Slate Reitz, Jr., LB.

5. North Sanpete Hawks

2023 schedule

Head coach: Tu Tui

The Kahuku High School alum is entering his first year as head coach for the Hawks. He’s a graduate of Southern Utah University.

Coach Tu Tui’s general outlook

“We are enthusiastic about this upcoming season. The student-athletes have been putting in the work during the offseason in the weight room, getting stronger and building that team bond. We return many of our OL/DL, and they know that they are the key to our success. I know we at North Sanpete need to reestablish physical superiority and get back to our roots. I’m excited for what we will bring to the 3A table.”

Offensive coordinator: Nic Evans

2022 offense: 20.9 ppg (No. 9 in 3A).

Five returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Jacob Blackham, Sr. OL.Kelbe Herring, Sr., OL.Marshall Wright, Sr., OL.Carson Cook, Sr., WR switching to QB.Cache Nicolson, Sr., RB.

Key offensive newcomers

Daniel Lewis, Sr., WR.Odin Laupapa, Jr., TE.Preston Madsen, Jr., WR.Damon Vogt, Jr., OL.Payton Hendry, Sr., TE.Jackson Ivory, Sr., OL.Kash Cook, Jr., RB.Jayden Reyes, Jr., RB.

Defensive coordinator: Tu Tui

2022 defense: 27.3 ppg (No. 6 in 3A).

Seven returning starters.Multiple defenses.

Returning defensive starters

Kelbe Herring, Sr., DL.Cache Nicolson, Sr., DL.Jacob Blackham, Sr., DL.Odin Laupapa, Jr., LB.Preston Madsen, Jr., DB.Carson Cook, Sr., DB.Daniel Lewis, Sr., DB.

Key defensive newcomers

Kash Cook, Jr., LB.Cole Staker, Jr., DL.Payton Hendry, Sr., DL.Gage Oldroyd, Jr., DB.Tyler Harward, Sr., DL.Krew King, Jr., DB.Wyatt Williams, So., DB.

6. Carbon Dinos

2023 schedule

Head coach: Phil Howa

Entering his fourth season as head coach at Carbon after a 5-26 record his first three years. His previous head coaching job was 35 years earlier as he coached one season at East Carbon High School in 1984, finishing with a 3-6 record. In between, he spent 28 years as the head coach at Helper Middle School. He’s a graduate of Carbon High School and Southern Utah University.

Coach Phil Howa’s general outlook

“Carbon High football is getting better day to day. We have seen an increase in the number of athletes that have come out this year. The offseason has been productive and well-attended. We are seeing an increase in confidence and positive attitudes towards this season. The coaching staff has been together for three years and are well together more than ever. Our goal at Carbon High is to be a playoff contender and to be competitive in every game we play.”

Offensive coordinator: Brandon Wilson

2022 offense: 9.1 ppg (No. 12 in 3A).

Three returning starters.Flex Bone/Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Marshea Marvidakis.Dominic Cowan.Alan Saccomano.

Key offensive newcomers

Anthony Wilson, Jr., RB.Maddux Wilson, So., TE.Deagan Richards, Jr., WR.McKade Manzanares, Jr., WR.Garrett Chappell, Jr., OL.Riley Winder, Sr., OL.

Defensive coordinator: Phil Howa

2022 defense: 38.2 ppg (No. 12 in 3A).

Five returning starters.4-4 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Alan Saccomano, Jr., DL.Stockton Kennedy, Jr., DB.Jeremy Smith, Sr., LB.Diego Vega, Sr., DL.Trevor Jones, Sr., DB.

Key defensive newcomers

Deegan Richards, Jr., DB.Trace Crespin, So., DB.Maddux Wilson, So., DE.Alexis Bueno, Sr., LB.McKade Manzanares, Jr., DB.Anthony Wilson, Jr., LB.Stetson Paulson, Jr., LB.Logan Anderson, Jr., LB/SS.Stockton Kennedy, Jr., DB.

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