High school football: San Juan gets No. 1 billing in the 2A South

Through last season’s 2A football state playoffs, eventual champion San Juan proved that sometimes the best defense is indeed a good offense.

The Broncos were scarcely challenged in a 13-0 season capped by a demolition of Beaver for the second year in a row, securing their second straight title and eighth in school history. The Broncos haven’t actually lost a game since its season opener in 2021, marking a 25-game winning streak.

In addition to that, San Juan returns a young man by the name of Parker Snyder.

That’s just a few good reasons why coaches across the 2A South agreed on the Broncos as being the preseason No. 1 team in the region entering the new season.

“(Our) greatest advantage is our experience in our returners and (the) confidence in knowing what it takes to be there at the end,” San Juan coach Barkley Christiansen said.

From a team that was already consistently and considerably more talented than virtually all of its competition, the Broncos will return eight starters on offense: the quarterback (Snyder), the top running back, two top receivers, and four of five offensive linemen.

Snyder’s not just any quarterback either. The senior lit up the state to the tune of over 3,500 passing yards and 46 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. If Snyder throws for 51 scores this season, he’ll become the ninth quarterback in state history to reach 100 passing TDs. Christiansen expects Snyder will be reaching for those benchmarks. “He’s never satisfied,” he said.

Senior running back Zach Conway is another huge threat after posting 1,399 rushing yards and 20 TDs. He also caught 29 passes for 577 yards and eight TDs.

On defense, San Juan returns seven starters to a unit that pitched two shutouts and held four other opponents to a touchdown or less. The Broncos’ leading sack artist is Conway, who had eight sacks in the 2022 season. Outside of that, there will be production that needs replacing. Several of their leading tacklers graduated, and their top two defensive backs are also gone. Of the two DBs returning, one of them is Snyder, who undoubtedly will need to be focused on keeping the offense on track.

San Juan’s run of dominance has been magnetic in terms of the team’s participation. Roughly 90 kids turned out to join the team.

“I truly feel we are going to take the next step and not just be known as an offensive team, but a complete team,” Christiansen said.

For the last two seasons, San Juan’s top challenger has been Beaver, meeting them twice in the state title team, but realignment dropped the Beavers down to 1A. If anyone stands a chance of unseating the Broncos, it may well be the team that fought them down to the wire in the semifinals last year.

That is San Juan’s region foe, the Emery Spartans, who secured a No. 2 ranking. The Spartans recently made the arduous climb back into contention in the 2A South, thanks to a 7-4 season, but even more impressive was the 56-48 shootout they got into with the undefeated Broncos as they nearly made the trip to the title game themselves.

In that game, quarterback Wade Stilson, returning as a senior this year, wowed watchers with a 528-yard passing performance, the seventh-most single-game passing yards in state history, as he accounted for five passing TDs and another two scores on the ground.

Similar to Snyder, Stilson had a significant year under center, throwing for 2,792 yards and 32 TDs with 10 interceptions, the second-most TD passes in 2A.

Coach Jon Faimalo, in his third year with the program, incurred a 25-49 career record in his first six years with the program, which saw its first winning season in 10 years last fall, but it could be the time that Emery makes a return to the limelight. Emery last won the state championship in 1987.

The Spartans, just like San Juan, also return eight starters on offense and seven on defense, and those starters come in virtually every position group.

For Faimalo, Emery’s focus is to “continue where we left off last year.”

“I think Wade’s arm (in the semifinal game) was an eye-opener to everybody,” Faimalo said. “It showed we could hang with a team like San Juan. Hopefully, defensively we can get better than last year … and get more stops.”

Between the Broncos and the Spartans, the sheer volume of returning production frankly dwarfs the other three schools in their region as no one else returns more than five starters to either side of the ball.

After a year of adjustment, the Delta Rabbits come in at No. 3 in the rankings as coach Colin Christensen enters his second year. Transitioning from a run-heavy option scheme to a spread offense was a difficult task, but Delta still pulled its way to 4-8 and hopes to take another step forward. At the center of that will be a new QB in junior Hunt Robinson, who has three returning linemen and a running back joining him.

South Sevier checks in at No. 4 and Grand comes in as the No. 5 team to round out the rankings.

2A South projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. San Juan Broncos

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Barkley Christensen

Entering his seventh season as head coach at his alma mater, where his teams have posted a 51-19 record over the past four seasons, including a state title in 2021 and 2022. He’s a graduate of Dixie State.

Coach Barkley Christensen’s general outlook

We are very excited coming into this season. After going back to back, the kids are more than motivated to try and make it three. We have 90 plus kids out for football this year and we are enjoying the depth of a 5-6A team. The kids know the pressure that is on them and are embracing it. We know there are some great teams in 2A and we are very excited for the challenge. The hardest problem we are trying to solve right now is who is going to win jobs and play where. We bring back eight guys on offense and seven on defense and we feel we have guys ready to fill the roles from the seniors we lost. We expect to keep the offensive production we had last year because of our O-line, and it helps bringing back a backfield with the fire power of Parker Snyder and Zack Conway. Defensively, I truly feel we are going to take the next step and not just be known as an offensive team, but a complete team. The kids have been working extremely hard this summer and they are ready for it to be August!

Offensive coordinator: Barkley Christensen

2022 offense: 46.38 ppg (No. 1 in 2A)

Eight returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Parker Snyder, Sr., QBZack Conway, Sr., RBKeaton Ivins, Sr., WRAnthony Done, Sr., WRTaeg Palmer, Sr., OLTaylor Black, Sr., OLJarrod Burke, Sr., OLIsaac Warner, Sr., OL

Key offensive newcomers

Brigham Nielson, Sr., WRTyler Peherson, Sr., WRTrace Bennet, Sr., Tight EndJake Ivins, Jr., WREaston Langston, Sr., OLCooper Palmer, Jr., OLCash Palmer, Sophomore, OLOwen Adams, Jr., WRCutler Baker, Jr., OLJavin Montella, Jr., WR

Defensive coordinator: Bobby Bowring

2022 defense: 17.54 ppg (No. 3 in 2A)

Seven returning starters4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

Taylor Black, Sr., DTZack Conway, Sr., DL, LBJordan Duke, Sr., LBJake Ivins, Jr., LBTrace Bennet, Sr., LBParker Snyer, Sr., FSBrigham Nielson, Sr., SS

Key defensive newcomers

Jaiten Knight, Jr., DEDeklan Helquist, Sr., DBJavin Montella, Jr., FSBranten Bethea, Jr., FSTaeg Palmer, Sr., DEJarrod Burke, Sr., DTAnthony Done, Sr., DBOwen Adams, Jr., DEBrody Bilbao, Jr., DBJosiah LaPalmer, Jr., DBJD Palmer, Jr., LB

2. Emery Spartans

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Jon Faimalo

Entering his eighth season as head coach at Emery, with a 25-49 record in his first seven seasons. He’s a graduate of Emery High School and Snow College.

Coach Jon Faimalo’s general outlook

We bring back a lot of experienced players from last year’s team and look forward to carrying over some of that same momentum we had from last year.

Offensive coordinator: Chris Justice

2022 offense: 31.09 ppg (No. 4 in 2A)

Eight returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Wade Stilson, Sr., QBCreek Sharp, Sr., WRMatt Olsen, Sr., WRDane Sitterud, Sr., RBEaston Thornley, Sr., OLDerick Jensen, Sr., OLJared Cowley, Sr., OLKalib Olsen, Jr., OL

Key offensive newcomers

Mason Stilson, Sr., WRBoston Huntington, Sr., WRJaxon Johnson, Jr., WRLuke Justice, Sr., WR

Defensive coordinator: Jon Faimalo

2022 defense: 26.55 ppg (No. 7 in 2A)

Seven returning starters4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

Creek Sharp, Sr., DBDane Sitterud, Sr., LBMatt Olsen, Sr., LBBoston Huntington, Sr., LBPeyton Alton, Sr., SEaston Thornely, Sr., DLKalib Olsen, Jr., DL

Key defensive newcomers

Mason Stilson, Sr., DBLuke Justice, Sr., SJaxon Johnson, Jr., SDerick Jensen, Sr., DEJared Cowley, Sr., DEJosh Howard, Jr., DT

3. Delta Rabbits

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Colin Christensen

Enters his second season as head coach at Delta after a 4-8 debut season. He’s a graduate of Delta High School in 2012, and also the University of Utah.

Coach Colin Christensen’s general outlook

The 2023 season should be an exciting season for Delta. We have some great kids coming back that will be leaders for us. Our senior class is full of great kids that will help steer us in the right direction as a team. There are plenty of holes to fill and a need for kids to step up in almost all positions — but that is what is exciting about the upcoming season, a lot of kids will get chances to contribute. We are excited for the upcoming season to hopefully put the work in to be competitive in a strong 2A class.

Offensive coordinator: Colin Christensen

2022 offense: 20.08 ppg (No. 8 in 2A)

Five returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Marcus Chase, Sr., TEElijah Webb, Sr., OLCooper Nielsen, Sr., OLColter Bloomfield, Sr., OLTy Stefanoff, Jr., RB

Key offensive newcomers

Hunt Robinson, Jr., QBKadence Lovell, Sr., WRKyson Jensen, Jr., OLBraedyn Tom, Jr., RBBlade Brandow, Sr., RBConnor Pruitt, Jr., WRKael Bryan, Jr., OL

Defensive coordinator: Jake Abbott

2022 defense: 31.5 ppg (No. 10 in 2A)

Four returning starters4-2-5 defense

Returning defensive starters

Marcus Chase, Sr., LBDrew Beckstrom, Sr., LBTy Stefanoff, Jr., DEColter Bloomfield, Sr., DL

Key defensive newcomers

Brock Rowley, Sr., LBRoper Crane, Jr., DBCalder Johnson, Jr., DLAlex Walker, Jr., LB

4. South Sevier Rams

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Bryce Twitchell

Heading into his first season as head coach at his alma mater. He’s a graduate of Southern Utah University.

Coach Bryce Twitchell’s general outlook

There is a lot of excitement surrounding our football program for the upcoming season. Our players have been putting in a lot of work in the weight room and on the field during the offseason. We have a good group of upperclassmen who have had a lot of varsity experience and are looking forward to competing. Our team has high expectations for this season.

Offensive coordinator: Bryce Twitchell

2022 offense: 21.83 ppg (No. 6 in 2A)

Four returning startersWing-T offense

Returning offensive starters

Kanyon Okerlund, Jr., QB (new position)Brock Hardinger, Sr., OLBrock Bair, Sr., RBHolden Unsicker, Jr., OL

Key offensive newcomers

Grayson Jenkins, Sr., WRBoston Palmer, Jr., RBRyker Freeman, Jr., RBNate Anderson, Jr., OLChase Spackman, Jr., WR

Defensive coordinator: Bryan Castle

2022 defense: 28.08 ppg (No. 8 in 2A)

Five returning starters3-5 defense

Returning defensive starters

Kanyon Okerlund, Jr., LBBrock Bair, Sr., LBBrock Hardinger, Sr., DEHolden Unsicker, Jr., DTGrayson Jenkins, Sr., DB

Key defensive newcomers

Ryker Freeman, Jr., LBBoston Palmer, Jr., LBQuade Peterson, So., DEChase Spakman, Jr., LB

5. Grand Red Devils

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Dennis Wells

After a one-year hiatus, Dennis Wells returned to Grand last year and led his alma mater to a 2-9 record. He previously coached at Grand from 2002 to 2020. His coaching record sits at 104-112 heading into his 21st year, including a state title in 2005. He’s a graduate of Southern Utah University.

Coach Dennis Wells’s general outlook

We are definitely rebuilding. We have a few bright spots that we can build on. It will take a few more years to completely turn this program around.

Offensive coordinator: Dennis Wells

2022 offense: 14 ppg (No. 11 in 2A)

Four returning startersWing T offense

Returning offensive starters

Beachem Bosh, Jr., CCaden Swasey, Jr., OGLane Berry, Sr., TEAiden Gordon, Sr., TB

Key offensive newcomers

Aiden Gordon, is switching from OL to TBCooper Swasey, WB, Jr.Tyler Stott, G, So.Shane Randal, FB, Sr.

Defensive coordinator: Ron Dolphin

2022 defense: 37.27 ppg (No. 11 in 2A)

Four returning starters3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

Cooper Swasey, Jr., SSLane Berry, Sr., DLAiden Gordon, Sr., OLBCaden Swasey, Jr., DL

Key defensive newcomers

Beachem Bosh, Jr., NGShane Randal, Sr., LBLane Peterson, Jr., DBJose Santana, So., LB

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