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High school football: Monticello preseason No. 1 in 8-player football

Stability is one of the biggest talking points among coaches in the 1A eight-player league heading into the 2023 season. By no means is it perfect, and success still very much feels like a year-to-year thing, but the league seems to be building on positive momentum.

A year ago in the inaugural season of eight-player football, the postseason was only allowed to proceed after Gunnison Valley agreed to bump down from 11-player football to fill out what ended up being just a seven-team bracket.

In 2023, with St. Joseph joining the ranks and Utah School for the Deaf and the Blind expected to participate in the postseason unlike a year ago, the league now has eight full-time teams who will exclusively play eight-player football. The league was expecting to have nine teams, but Diamond Ranch is being forced to close its doors after the Utah Department of Health and Human Services denied the license renewal for the residential treatment school.

It was a slight knock for the league, but everything will proceed as normal for the Aug. 11 season-opening kickoff for the remaining eight teams.

“Every geographical region is going to have some tough teams. Rich and Altamont are going to build on their success and be very tough. Water Canyon is going to be tough down in the southwest after its inaugural year. All in all I think it’s going to be a very competitive year,” said Monticello coach Reed Anderson.

USDB did end up playing four games a year ago — including a game at Louisiana School for the Deaf — but it opted not to participate in the state tournament.

Top seed Gunnison Valley ended up winning that inaugural eight-player state championship, beating No. 3 seed Monticello 26-22 in an entertaining title game at Southern Utah University.

With Gunnison Valley competing exclusively in 11-player football this fall, Monticello heads into the upcoming season as the preseason No. 1.

Anderson’s team returns three starters on offense and five on defense, and he believes the depth is there to build on last year’s 8-4 record.

“As with every team, we have some big holes to fill. We lost some good senior leadership and I’m confident in the seniors to be to continue building on what we did last year. The first part of the season is going to be filled with moving players around and figuring our best combination to get our best team on the field,” said Anderson.

JD McDonald is Monticello’s top returning player, as he was a first-team all-state quarterback and defensive back a year ago.

Water Canyon and Rich were the other semifinalists a year ago, and not surprisingly they will open the season ranked No. 2 and 3 in the Deseret News coaches preseason rankings.

For Rich, it has a 38-year history of football success and after some recent down years the program is hoping eight-player football is the pathway to competing successfully again.

For Water Canyon, the program is still in its infancy after its debut 2022 season in which the program posted a 3-9 record. It lost to Gunnison Valley 61-6 in the semifinals.

“Excited for our second season as a football program and ready to compete,” said coach Heber Horsley.

His team returns four starters on each side of the ball as it looks to take the next step as a program.

As for the other programs heading into the second year of eight-player football — Altamont, Whitehorse, Monument Valley and USDB — they all collectively hope the experience gained a year ago lessens the learning curve for coaches and players alike heading into the 2023 season.

1A 8-player projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Monticello Buckaroos

2023 schedule

Head coach: Reed Anderson

Entering his sixth season as head coach at his alma mater, tallying a 19-29 record in his first five seasons.

Coach Reed Anderson’s general outlook

“As with every team, we have some big holes to fill. We lost some good senior leadership and I’m confident in the seniors to be to continue building on what we did last year. The first part of the season is going to be filled with moving players around and figuring our best combination to get our best team on the field. Once we figure that out I feel confident our team can do some great things and win some games. You always need to start with your line and we are no different. We lost much of our size on the line and so we will need to be much quicker on the line rather than using power. Once our offensive and defensive lines are solidified we will be able to make big jumps on our growth. We hope to be playing our best ball at the end of the year and I’m confident that this team has the ability to get to that point.”

Offensive coordinator: Reed Anderson

Three returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

JD McDonald, Sr, QB.Mason Atwood, Sr., G.Robert Morrison, Sr., RB/WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Tavon Black, Jr., RB.Zac Thayn, Sr., WR/TE.Thomas Fullmer, Sr., RB.Chandler Henderson, Sr., C.Tyson Wheeler, Jr., TE.Carter Rogers, Jr., WR.

Defensive coordinator: Tyrel Snyder

Five returning starters.3-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Mason Atwood, Sr., NG.Robert Morrison, Sr., LB.Zac Thayn, Sr., LB.Thomas Fullmer, Sr., DE.JD McDonald, Sr., Secondary.

Key defensive newcomers

Tavon Black, Jr., LB.Camren Carpenter, Jr., NG.Carter Rogers, Jr., DB.

2. Water Canyon Wildcats

2023 schedule

Head coach: Heber Horsley

Led Water Canyon to a 2-8 record in the school’s first year playing high school football last year. He’s a graduate of Centennial Academy in Arizona and Mojave Community College.

Coach Heber Horsley’s general outlook

“Excited for our second season as a football program and ready to compete.”

Offensive coordinator: Heber Horsley

Four returning starters.Fast offense.

Returning offensive starters

Kyden Johnson, Sr., RB.Aaron Barlow, Sr., WR.Fred Jessop, Sr., G.David Barlow, Sr., WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Tucker Averett, Jr., WR.Wallace Cooke, Jr., RB.Johnny Johnson, Jr., QB.

Defensive coordinator: Robert Hammon

Four returning starters.4-4 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Johnny Johnson, Jr., DB.Kyden Johnson, Sr., DE.Aaron Barlow, Sr., DB.Fred Jessop, Sr., DT.

Key defensive newcomers

Rylan Barlow, Jr., LB.John Wayne West, Jr., LB.Domonic LaCorti, Jr., DE.Tucker Averett, Jr., S.

3. Rich Rebels

2023 schedule

Head coach: Tyson Larsen

The former all-stater from Rich High School is entering his second season as head coach after last year’s 5-7 debut season.

Coach Tyson Larsen’s general outlook

“Our guys are excited. We have some quality older kids returning plus a decent group of younger kids working hard hoping to fill some big shoes left behind.”

Offensive coordinator: Tyson Larsen

Six returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Jaden Desch, Sr., WR.Levi Stonehouse, Sr., WR.Noah Parry, Sr., RB.Jack Bell, Sr., OL.Carson Muirbrook, Sr., OL.Carter Hoffman, Jr., QB.

Defensive coordinator: Lex Cornia

Returning defensive starters

Levi Stonehouse, Sr., DB.Noah Parry, Sr., DL.Jack Bell, Sr., DL.Carson Muirbrook, Sr., DL.Jaden Desch, Sr., DB.

4. Altamont Longhorns

2023 schedule

Head coach: Chuck Woodhouse

He’s entering his third season as Altamont’s head coach as it will participate in eight-player football for a third-straight year.

Coach Chuck Woodhouse’s general outlook

“We look good, these young men have worked extremely hard in the offseason and it should be a good year for us.”

Offensive coordinator: Chuck Woodhouse

Seven returning starters.Wing-T.

Returning offensive starters

Braydon Webb.Dillon Ivie.Thatcher Rust.Grayson Panas.Gavin Jesson.Kaleb Witbeck.Kase Farnsworth.

Key offensive newcomers

Breydon Jesson.Easton Theener.Parker Phillips.

Defensive coordinator: Mike Foy

Five returning starters.3-2 stack.

Returning defensive starters

Gavin Jesson.Kase Farnsworth.Braydon Webb.Dillon Ivie.Thatcher Rust.

Key defensive newcomers

Easton Theener.Chaz Thacker.Parker Phillips.

5. Whitehorse Raiders

2023 schedule

Head coach: Andrae Beard

Additional info not provided.

6. Monument Valley Cougars

2023 schedule

Head coach: Brad Upshaw

Entering his second year as head coach at Monument Valley after leading the team to a 1-8 record a year ago.

Coach Brad Upshaw’s general outlook

“After a very tough 2022 season we feel better about the process of building our program’s foundation. Of course winning can escalate that process but the sting of losing has led to an off-season of discovery, learning and now teaching.”

Offensive coordinator: Brad Upshaw

Five returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Joshua Hicks, Sr.Melias Cly, Sr.Haylon Harrison, Jr.Shayden Fatt, Jr.Tobias Gray, Jr.

Key offensive newcomers

Defensive coordinator: Roland Yazzie

Five returning starters.3-2, 3-3, and 4-1 fronts.

Returning defensive starters

Joshua Hicks, Sr.Melias Cly, Sr.Haylon Harrison, Jr.Shayden Fatt, Jr.Tobias Gray, Jr.

7. St. Joseph Jayhawks

2023 schedule

Head coach: Jeremy Hunt-Loveless

Additional info not provided.

8. USDB Eagles

2023 schedule

Head coach: Brian Tingley

Coach Brian Tingley’s general outlook

“Our football program is entering in its second season with lots of learning and growth from our first season in 2022. We are looking to improve from last season to be competitive in various aspects of the game week in and week out. The football team is super excited to participate in the UHSAA league and play with other deaf schools across the country.”

Offensive coordinator: Brian Tingley

Six returning starters.Spread run game.

Defensive coordinator: Austin Davis

Six returning starters.Undetermined.

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