Football

High school football: Morgan preseason No. 1 in 3A North

To say that the Morgan Trojans were the best team in 3A football last season would be an understatement. Words hardly do justice for the level of sheer dominance they exhibited throughout the 2022 season, looking oftentimes like a borderline 6A team that was in the wrong league.

Morgan head coach Jared Barlow said his program “turned the page” last year. The Trojans last won 3A in 2019 but fell short in the title game the following two years, although both of those losses could have been considered upsets. Then, in 2022, whatever ceiling may have existed above Morgan’s head was shattered.

Morgan beat opponents by an average of 34.1 points per game, and its defense allowed fewer touchdowns than games played. If that wasn’t enough, the Trojans went up against Juab, which had perhaps one of the most prolific offenses in recent memory with a record-setting quarterback under center, and absolutely pulverized the Wasps, 55-3.

Even as Barlow takes stock of a new year with a fairly younger team, the Trojans clearly remain the class of the 3A North and frankly all of 3A in general. His fellow coaches knew it, which is why Morgan unanimously took the top spot in preseason for the 3A North rankings.

The Trojans were heavily senior-laden last season, so they’ll return just eight total starters to the team — five on offense, three on defense. 

“I think every year is a new year,” Barlow said. “Last year’s group was a special group. We just understand this is a new year and a new team.”

Yet, even with a relatively low number of starters, a program performing the way Morgan has for the last several seasons seems to be in a state of perennial reload without having to rebuild much. The Trojans return junior running back Jett Salmon, who ran for nearly 479 yards and 10 TDs. They’ll also return their second-best receiver, senior Lincoln Gilson, who had 52 catches for 709 yards and seven TDs last year. Three of last year’s five offensive linemen return, so even though they’ll be breaking in a new QB, junior Beck Sheffield, the small supporting cast checks every box.

Morgan’s teardown of Juab may have had a ripple effect on Barlow’s ability to schedule for nonregion play. The coach said he had trouble getting anyone in the 3A South to agree to a game, so instead, the Trojans will run through a gauntlet of 4A squads — Crimson Cliffs, Bear River, Sky View and Green Canyon — before capping off nonregion play with a trip to the 5A Kearns Cougars.

So what chance does the rest of the region have? If ever there’s been a “David” to Morgan’s “Goliath,” it is Grantsville. The Cowboys, who polled at No. 2 in the region, were perhaps the best shot anyone had at the Trojans last season. Morgan had an average of roughly a four-TD lead on opponents last season, but in the two teams’ regular season matchup, the Cowboys trailed just 14-13  at the half before Morgan pulled away in the third quarter. The Cowboys are the only 3A squad that has a win over Morgan in the last two seasons.

“There are a lot of good teams in the 3A North,” Barlow said. “Grantsville’s always a good game for us. … It’s easy to get up for because you know how hard they’re working, and you know how hard you have to play to have a chance to beat them.”

The trouble for Grantsville this season is, like Morgan, the Cowboys were heavily affected by graduation. Only seven starters return — three on offense, four on defense — and all three of the offensive returners are linemen. The task is on Grantsville coach Kody Byrd and his staff to bring along a whole new crop of skill players at every position.

“I’m really excited,” Byrd said. “We did lose quite a few kids, but I think we’ve got some really talented kids stepping up to fill those voids, and we’re excited to see what they can do.”

The Cowboys are certainly looking forward to that Morgan game, in which the Trojans will be out in Grantsville to play this year. 

“For as long as I’ve been a part of this program, it’s just a great, great matchup, and they’re always pretty tight,” Byrd said. “It’s just a matter of which kids want it more.”

What happens over the rest of the 3A North could be somewhat of a toss-up. Both Barlow and Byrd were vocal about expecting a lot of improvement out of the often lower-finishing teams in the region, and the votes from coaches showed the perspective of tighter competition.

Even Ben Lomond got a vote to finish in second place.

As it shakes out, Juan Diego checks in at No. 3, and the Soaring Eagle have far more returning production than the other top teams. Juan Diego was extremely young with numerous sophomore starters, and all of that returns as seven starters return on offense, four of which are juniors. Five starters are back on defense, four of which are also juniors.

Despite its youth, Juan Diego navigated a tough schedule to reach 6-6 last year. The Soaring Eagle’s unique veer offense will benefit from the return of QB Hayden Mezenan, who totaled 16 touchdowns (8 by air, 8 by ground).

Ogden comes in at No. 4, and the Tigers know they have a lot of work to do. Coach Erik Thompson cited some offseason struggles with injuries and inexperience that still must be overcome, but is optimistic in the team’s ability to compete when at full-strength. The Tigers return four starters on offense and six on defense.

Union had just one win last season in region play but checks in at No. 5. The Cougars lost four games last season by just one possession, but inexperience will be an obstacle to overcome. The Cougars have just two returning offensive starters to go with five on defense. They’ll also have a new head coach for the first time in 11 years as Dustin Long enters the program.

Rounding out the rankings at No. 6 may be the most interesting team of them all, Ben Lomond. The Scots have struggled for some time now as a football program, but multiple coaches had high praise for their potential this season. In addition, they have the most returning starters by a mile, with nine returning on offense and 10 on defense.

3A North projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Morgan Trojans

2023 schedule

Head coach: Jared Barlow

Entering his fourth season as head coach at Morgan after posting a 30-7 record his first three seasons, including a state title in 2022. He previously served as an assistant coach at Morgan for 15 years. He’s a graduate of Morgan High School and Weber State.

Coach Jared Barlow’s general outlook

“We are excited for a new chapter in our program. Having our classification stay as it was gives us an opportunity to compete against some quality programs. The preseason will prepare us for a tough region schedule. There are so many things to look forward to and can’t wait for a season kickoff on Aug. 11.”

Offensive coordinator: Chase Roberts

2022 offense: 41.23 ppg (No. 2 in 3A).

Five returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Cooper McGiven, Sr., OL.Izaiah Henshilwood, Jr., OL.Will Fisher, Sr., OL.Lincoln Gilson, Jr., WR.Jett Salmon, Jr., RB.

Key offensive newcomers

Christian Nunez, Sr., WR.Luke Olson, Sr., OL.Derrick Tilby, Sr., WR.Zak Sargent, Sr., RB.Brogan Garrett, Sr., WR.Beck Sheffield, Jr., QB.

Defensive coordinator: Matt Larsen

2022 defense: 6.92 ppg (No. 1 in 3A).

Three returning starters.3-4 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Zak Sargent, Sr., LB.Tate Nelson, Sr., FS.Jett Salmon, Jr., LB.

Key defensive newcomers

Tate Steel, Jr., DL.Treyson Rich, Sr., DL.Nick Preece, Jr., DL.Tytan Willis, Sr., LB.Krew Galbraith, Jr., LB.Cameron Menlove, Sr., C.Jack Despain, Jr., C.Abe Anderton, Jr., SS.

2. Grantsville Cowboys

2023 schedule

Head coach: Kody Byrd

Entering his seventh year as head coach at Grantsville with a 50-21 record in his first six seasons, including a state title in 2022. He’s a graduate of Granite High School and Occidental College in California.

Coach Kody Byrd’s general outlook

“We feel really good about our chances this season. We have a good class of seniors coming up and a strong class of juniors ready to step up and fill new roles on the team.”

Offensive coordinator: Josh McMorris

2022 offense: 37.1 ppg (No. 3 in 3A).

Three returning starters.Multiple Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Damian Nelson, Sr., OL.Deagan Herren, Sr., OL.Jax Allred, Jr., OL.

Key offensive newcomers

Keegan Kinsman, Sr., RB.Max Critchlow, Sr., OL.Jack Hendrix, Sr., WR.Keltin Byrd, Jr., WR.

Defensive coordinator: Danny Warren

2022 defense: 17.5 ppg (No. 3 in 3A).

Four returning starters.4-2-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Lee Maile, Jr., Safety.Hayden Hall, Sr., CB.Luke Gourley, Jr., DL.Conner Horrocks, Sr., DL.

Key defensive newcomers

Griffin Kimber, Sr., LB.Krue Warren, Jr., Safety.Talon Butler, Jr., LB.Mason Butler, Jr., Safety.

3. Juan Diego Soaring Eagle

2023 schedule

Head coach: Ron James

Led Juan Diego to a 6-6 record in his first year as head coach. He took over last year with 30 years of professional and college coaching experience. He’s a graduate of Christian Brothers High School in New York and Siena College in New York.

Coach Ron James’s general outlook

“We have a young football team that will feature many two-way starters from our junior class. The few seniors we have are experienced and eager to lead the charge. Our schedule is challenging, featuring teams above our classification as well as region opponents who regularly compete for 3A state titles.”

Offensive coordinator: DJ Larson

2022 offense: 23.83 ppg (No. 8 in 3A).

Seven returning starters.Veer offense.

Returning offensive starters

Hayden Mezenan, QB, Jr.Jeremiah Onwo, OG, Jr.Adric Liljestrand, OG, Jr.Antonio Archuletta, RB, Jr.Austin Lund, OC, Sr.Angelo Lewis, WR, Sr.Andrew Garzella, WR, Sr.

Key offensive newcomers

Darion Otto, TE, Jr.Victor Barrigan, RB, Sr.

Defensive coordinator: Ron James

2022 defense: 35 ppg (No. 11 in 3A)

Five returning starters.4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Angelo Lewis, DB, Sr.Jeremiah Onwo, DT, Jr.Adric Liljestrand, DT, Jr.Antonio Archuletta, LB, Jr.Peyton McCormick, DB, Jr.

Key defensive newcomers

Darion Otto, DE, Jr.Toby Hardin, LB, Jr.Victor Barrigan, LB, Jr.Corbin Buckley, LB, Jr.

4. Ogden Tigers

2023 schedule

Head coach: Erik Thompson

Entering his seventh season as head coach at Ogden, where his teams own a 26-40 record the past six years. Prior to that he was the head coach at Northridge for 13 seasons from 2004 to 2016, finishing with a 79-60 record. He’s a graduate of Roy High School and Mesa State.

Coach Erik Thompson’s general outlook

“We have a very close team with great unity and grit! They have been working very hard in the offseason in the weight room. We have some dynamic playmakers back on both sides of the ball. We have some work to do to on the offensive line and at quarterback where we lack experience.

“I feel that the closeness of this team will help them overachieve and surprise the critics. We are a team that is working to become a F.A.M.I.L.Y. and we’re grateful to get to play a great game of football. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a handful of offseason injuries and inexperience. I feel that eventually, when this team gets healthy, gains some experience and executes, we will be a tough team to play.”

Offensive coordinator: Erik Thompson

2022 offense: 18.3 ppg (No. 10 in 3A).

Four returning starters.Spread/Wing-T offenses.

Returning offensive starters

Kire Thompson, WR.Max Trujillo, RB.Lincoln Barnes, TE.Kolton Rich, OC.

Key offensive newcomers

Carter Rasmussen, OL.Eduardo Contreras, OL.Dallon Miller, WR.Kale Adams, WR.Lucas Heiner, RB.Vinnie Apodaca, QB.Will Minkevitch, QB.

Defensive coordinator: Terry Larsen

2022 defense: 31.9 ppg (No. 9 in 3A).

Six returning starters.3-4 multiple defenses.

Returning defensive starters

Carter Rasmussen, DE.Alonso Solis, DT.Eduardo Contreras, DT.Lucas Heiner, LB.Jayden Long, FS.Zack Richards, CB.

Key defensive newcomers

Gordy Allred, LB.Aaron Butler, OLB.Kire Thompson, SS.Chaz Sanchez, CB.

5. Union Cougars

2023 schedule

Head coach: Dustin Long

Takes over as head coach at Union, where he replaces Matt Labrum as head coach after he led the program for 11 years. He’s a graduate of Juab High and Thomas Edison University.

Coach Dustin Long’s general outlook

“The kids are excited to see the results of a tough offseason. They’ve been working hard in the weight room since March and showing progress, so we’re all excited to see what that translates to on the field.”

Offensive coordinator: Austin Jackson

2022 offense: 24.27 ppg (No. 7 in 3A).

Returning offensive starters

Daxtyn Feild, RB.Rylind Wood, WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Gannon Labrum, ATH, So.Bo Earl, WR So.Kyler Hackford, RB, Jr.Howdy Jackson, OL, Sr.Will Gamble, TE, Sr.Jacob Sasser, WR, Sr.

Defensive coordinator: Dustin Long

2022 defense: 28.91 ppg (No. 8 in 3A).

Five returning starters.4-2-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Will Gamble, Sr., FS.Crew Iverson, Sr., CB.Talon Dall, Jr., CB.Gannon Labrum, So., S.Kalani Palei, Jr., DL.

Key defensive newcomers

Bo Earl, Jr., S.Jacob Sasser, Sr., LB.Isaac Mecham, Jr., LB.Zade Swain, So, DL.Chase Duncan, Jr., DL.Jed Chatwin, Jr., LB.

6. Ben Lomond Scots

2023 schedule

Head coach: Lyndon Johnson

Entering his fifth season as Ben Lomond’s head coach after posting an 8-36 record the past four years. He’s a graduate of Rich High School and Weber State. Johnson’s previous head coaching experience all came on the hardcourt as he spent 15 combined years as head basketball coach at Roy, Brighton and Northridge.

Coach Lyndon Johnson’s general outlook

“We feel this is a special senior class. We are returning 17 starters from both sides of the ball and our kicker, who was one of the best in the state, is also returning. We have many kids who are 3-4 year starters and our freshman QB is back and more poised to dominate. It’s going to come down to us executing at all phases because we definitely have the talent and skill. We have DI athletes playing on both sides of the ball. We are excited for this season.

Offensive coordinator: Nate Tuatagaloa

2022 offense: 14.6 ppg (No. 11 in 3A).

Nine returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Manase Tuatagaloa, Sr., QB.Aunese Tuatagaloa, Sr., WR.Davian Muñoz, Sr., WR.Hunter Christensen, Sr., WR.Jaxon Watson, Sr., WR.Charlie Thornblad, Sr., HB.John Suka, Jr., WR.Miguel Santos, Sr., OL.Jake East, Sr., OL.

Key offensive newcomers

Kyreese Hester, Sr., OL.John Suka, Jr., WR (bigger role).Cadence Hayman, Sr., WR/TE.Maika Kurkowski, Jr., WR.

Defensive coordinator: Lyndon Johnson

2022 defense: 33.2 ppg (No. 10 in 3A).

Ten returning starters.3/4 Hybrid defense.

Returning defensive starters

Aunese Tuatagaloa, Sr., CB.Jaxon Watson, Sr., CB.Davian Muñoz, Sr., S.Charlie Thornblad, Sr., S.Jake East, Sr., DL.Miguel Santos, Sr., DL.Luke Wharton, Sr., DL.Braedon Gil, Sr., S/LB.Haidynn Burdette, Sr., LB.Rohan Green, Sr., LB.

Key defensive newcomers

Manase Tuatagaloa, So., Edge.Cadence Hayman, , Sr., LB.Izzy Arocha, So., CB.Jaxon Espinoza, So., S.Kenyon Marks, Sr., LB.John Suka, Jr., CB.Maika Kurkowski, Jr., LB.

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