Football

High school football: South Summit has ‘unfinished business’ as the No. 1 team in the 2A North

The landscape of the 2A North has always been an interesting one, consisting almost entirely of private and charter schools along the Wasatch Front as opposed to the rural public high schools of the 2A South.

This season could be a fun one for those teams, with two new head coaches and a lot of momentum.

Lance Burrell, formerly of Providence Hall, took the reins at American Leadership Academy, and Justin Wilbur took on the job at Summit Academy, which greatly ups the likelihood for the region to break script a little in regards to past seasons.

That said, when it comes to preseason polls, it’s hard to look far past an already elite team bringing almost everyone back, which is why South Summit, fresh off an 11-1 season and a trip to the 2A semifinals, was pegged as the No. 1 team in the 2A North entering this fall.

The Wildcats’ 2022 season outcome is a classic test of looking at a glass as half-full or half-empty. Burning through an undefeated regular season was an impressive look, especially with nonregion victories over multiple upper-classification teams and a blowout win over an out-of-state opponent. However, all that success came to a screeching halt in the 2A semifinals, when Beaver unceremoniously ousted them from the playoffs in a 35-0 shutout.

One can certainly argue it was a season ahead of expectations for first-year head coach Mike Ruf, but the team is certainly not content with leaving championship aspirations on the doorstep.

“I think we have some unfinished business,” Ruf said. “South Summit’s always had a tradition of excellence. We’ve been very consistent in being one of those top-echelon teams, and our goal is to continue that. … That’s all anyone can ask for is to be in contention (in the end) and hope things go your way.”

The Wildcats will have a solid chance at things going their way as they return nine starters to their offense and six to their defense. South Summit was particularly versatile in terms of how it defeated its opponents. The offense averaged 34.3 points per game, while the defense pitched three shutouts and allowed just 35 points to region opponents.

The Wildcats will have both their starting quarterback in Bracken Lassche and top rusher in Britton Woolstenhulme. Lassche threw for 2,123 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season, while Woolstenhulme had six TDs on the ground.

Defensively, South Summit was an agent of chaos, scoring six defensive TDs and nabbing 15 interceptions between 11 different players. This year, the team returns its second-leading sack artist, Noah Gunnerson, who had 10 sacks last season. 

South Summit, the only public school team, seems like it might be the surest bet in a region that promises to be a wild ride, especially with LCA in the mix.

“It could be anybody’s game as far as the top four,” Ruf said.

In the midst of all that, Providence Hall, the region’s No. 2 team, quietly put together an offseason all about “buying in,” and after taking large strides forward in 2022, the Patriots may be about to have their moment.

“It’s been kinda cool,” Hardcastle said. “I’ve been a part of the program since its inception. We’re now in our fifth season. … Seeing it grow from what really was just a JV team playing varsity in its first year to now being a team where people know about us now. We’re not going into this (season) as a surprise like last year.”

The Patriots went 5-6 last season and struggled mightily out of the gate with a 1-3 start but started to ascend later, eventually picking up a signature win over Summit Academy and making it to the 2A quarterfinals.

Providence Hall could be especially dangerous this year in that the Patriots return nine starters to a pro-style/spread offense: the quarterback, running back, three receivers and four offensive linemen.

Coming in at No. 3 is Summit Academy. The Bears are due for a soft reset after losing much of their production from last year, and they’ll have a new coach in Wilbur to guide it. Just four starters on offense and three on defense return to the team, including a few sophomores who got to play varsity in their freshman years. 

Wilbur, who is a University of Utah graduate, took on the role of defensive coordinator, which may signal a change in identity from the team that was third in 2A in scoring last season. 

Even for a team that got voted No. 4 in region, elevated from a lower classification, and has more production lost from last year than almost any other team in the state, Layton Christian still appears to have people’s attention. 

The Eagles are fresh off a championship year as they claimed the 1A title in a 55-19 blowout, but this year will likely be far more challenging for coach Ray Stowers and his squad. There are no returning starters on offense and just three on defense.

“They’re tough,” Ruf said of the Eagles. “They’ve got some great coaches that are going to have those guys dialed in once again. I get that there’s attrition, but they’re going to have dudes ready to play.”

American Leadership comes in at No. 5 as the Eagles start a new era under Burrell and an all-new coaching staff.

Finally, a very young but experienced Judge Memorial squad took the No. 6 spot.

2A North projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. South Summit Wildcats

2023 schedule

Head coach: Mike Ruf

Heading into his second season as head coach at his alma mater after leading the team to an 11-1 record a year ago.

Coach Mike Ruf’s general outlook

“We are very excited for this upcoming season. Lots of returners who are hoping to be able to do great things again this year.”

Offensive coordinators: Rob Gempler/Isaac Tillet

2022 offense: 34.33 ppg (No. 2 in 2A).

Nine returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Bracken Lassche, Sr., QB.Jeramiah Jesse, Sr., OL.Brennan Montgomery, Sr., OL.Trey Stembridge, Sr., RB.Britton Woolstenhulme, Sr., RB.Stratton Stevens, Sr., WR.Mitchell Gempeler, Sr., WR.Braedon Larson, Sr., OL.JT Williams, Sr., OL.

Defensive coordinators: Mike Osguthorpe/Dave Bateman

2022 defense: 11.08 ppg (No. 1 in 2A).

Six returning starters.4-4 defense..

Returning defensive starters

Braeden Osguthorpe.Noah Gunnerson.Brandon Mora.Kaden Hunter.Brady Freeman.Cole Lloyd.

2. Providence Hall Patriots

2023 schedule

Head coach: Jake Hardcastle

A graduate of Wasatch High and Dixie State, he’s entering his second season as head coach at Providence Hall after last year’s 5-6 debut season.

Coach Jake Hardcastle’s general outlook

“Expectations have never been higher at Providence Hall. We are an experienced senior-led team that believes they belong on the field with anybody. Having a player-led team is huge and our leaders are taking ownership of that and are becoming player coaches on and off the field. We don’t have large numbers this year but those players that are with us are bought in and are ready.”

Offensive coordinator: Brian Jacketta

2022 offense: 21.64 ppg (No. 7 in 2A).

Nine returning starters.Pro spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Maile Fonua, Sr., OL.Sebastian Fonua, Sr., OL.Tui Fonua, Sr., QB.Aaron Barlow, Sr., WR.Jaiden Reyes, Sr., WR.Cade Fox, Sr., WR.Boden Welch, Sr., OL.Easton Thompson, Sr., RB.Alex Reynolds, Sr., OL.

Key offensive newcomers

Daylan Alzamora, Sr., OL.Tyler Warnick, Jr., WR.

Defensive coordinator: Dave Smith

2022 defense: 22.18 ppg (No. 4 in 2A).

Six returning starters.3-3-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Jaiden Reyes, Sr., DB.Maile Fonua, Sr., DL.Sebastian Fonua, Sr., DL.Cade Fox, Sr., DB.Aaron Barlow, Sr., DB.Easton Thompson, Sr., LB.

Key defensive newcomers

Brayden Grayson, Jr., LB.Cannon Heatherington, Jr., DL.Dominic Noguera, So., DB.

3. Summit Academy Bears

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Justin Wilbur

The Lehi graduate is heading into his first season as head coach at Summit Academy. He’s a graduate of the University of Utah.

Coach Justin Wilbur’s general outlook

“We may not have as many returning starters as in years past and are much younger than in the past, but we might be the deepest we have ever been. We have a lot of great underclassmen competing and pushing the seniors. We have a great receiving core, may be better upfront than last year, and have a great RB returning. On defense, we have the top edge guy in the region returning, and a great group of linebackers and DBs. We will be fast and aggressive on defense. Our kicker will return so special teams will be impactful for us as well. Overall, we are excited to see how the young kids step up and compete.”

Offensive coordinator: Parker Morrill

2022 offense: 31.67 ppg (No. 3 in 2A).

Four returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Caleb Blake, So., C.Bronson Dixon, Jr., RB.Kyle Lively, Jr., WR.Josh Morrill, Sr., WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Aden Stines, Sr., WR.Kyan Anderson, Sr., QB.Logan Serr, Sr., OL.Max Despain, Sr., OL.Tarun Ashliesh, Sr., OL.Jake Briggs, Sr., OL.

Defensive coordinator: Justin Wilbur

2022 defense: 26.17 ppg (No. 6 in 2A).

Three returning starters.3/4 4/3 defenses.

Returning defensive starters

Owen Egler, Sr., Edge.Khaii Matagi, Sr., LB.Tug Wilbur, Soph, Edge (started offense last year).

Key defensive newcomers

Caden Collotzi, Sr., LBM.Max Despain, Sr., DL.Ace Dressler, Sr., S.Thomas Richardson, Sr., S.Cole Stokoe, Sr., DB.

4. Layton Christian Eagles

2023 schedule

Head coach: Ray Stowers

Stowers is entering his third season as head coach at Layton Christian, owning a 19-8 record and a 1A state title in 2022. He’s a graduate of Iolani High School in Hawaii and the University of Utah. Prior to taking the LCA job, he was an administrative assistant at the University of Utah.

Coach Ray Stowers’ general outlook

“We’re going to be a young team looking to make our mark this year. We are excited and looking forward to the challenge in the 2A.”

Offensive coordinator: Ray Stowers

2022 offense: 30.31 ppg (No. 5 in 1A).

Zero returning starters.Spread offense.

Key offensive newcomers

Defensive coordinator: Cory Jones

2022 defense: 10.69 ppg (No. 1 in 1A).

Three returning starters.4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Max Montgomery, Sr., FS.Justin Sau, Jr., C.Iverson Report, Jr., DL.

Key defensive newcomers

5. American Leadership Eagles

2023 schedule

Head coach: Lance Burrell

Taking over as head coach for ALA after previously serving as a head coach at Providence Hall with a 3-8 record. He’s a graduate of Cactus High School in Arizona and Southern Utah.

Coach Lance Burrell’s general outlook

“We are excited and looking forward to this season. The effort, attitude and toughness our kids have shown from January to now is nothing short of impressive, and as a staff, we are eager to see them earn the outcomes they have worked for. The kids have really embraced the weight room, and the expectations for our program going forward have been set. We have a very talented team assembled and made up of the best athletes our school has to offer. We put together a talented, energetic, hard-working staff that has really committed to our kids and the success we can have at ALA. E.A.T.

Offensive coordinator: Lance Burrell

2022 offense: 5.73 ppg (No. 12 in 2A).

Six returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Gabe Huff, Sr., TE.Noah Swarnes, Jr., WR.Seth Hernandez, Sr., WR.Briggs Nielsen, Jr., C.Koby Creviston, Sr., OL.Nico Marble, So., QB.

Key offensive newcomers

Tad Swarnes, Jr., WR.Kannon Huntsman, Jr., RB.Hinkley Morley, Sr., Slot.Jordan Vogt, Sr., OL.Alec Corona, Sr., QB.

Defensive coordinator: Justin Hugie

2022 defense: 53 ppg (No. 12 in 2A).

Four returning starters.3-3-5 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Gabe Huff, Sr., LB.Chris Marble, Sr., LB.Noah Swarnes, Jr., DB.Koby Creviston, Sr., DL.

Key defensive newcomers

Jordan Vogt, Sr., DL.Tad Swarnes, Jr., DB.Gabe Hill, So, DB.Hinkley Morley, Sr., DB.

6. Judge Memorial Bulldogs

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Will Hawes

Entering his fifth season as head coach at Judge Memorial, where his teams are 7-34 the past fourth years. Previously coached at Layton Christian and Clearfield. He was at Layton Christian from 2007 to 2011, finishing with a 21-29 record, and was Clearfield’s coach in 2012 and 2013 ending with a 5-15 record. He’s a graduate of Locke High School in California and Weber State.

Coach Will Hawes’ general outlook

“This year, our goal is to compete to win. Play hard, fast and under control as a team. Do your job with 100% effort and accountability. Win As one!”

Offensive coordinator: Rashad Kennedy

2022 offense: 18.91 ppg (No. 9 in 2A).

Nine returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Tyrese Boyce, Sr., RB.Calvin McAward, Sr., QB.Oliver Laughlin, Sr., C.Thomas Gutierrez, Sr., WR.Henry Thompson, Sr., Slot /WR.Kyle Fredericks, Sr., OT.Kaden Merrills.Malakhy Smith, Jr., G.Jake Marland, Jr., G.

Key offensive newcomers

Jayden Vaughns, Jr., OT.Texas Wilde, Jr., RB.King Long Soph, WR.Sean Urwin Soph, RB.

Defensive coordinator: Chuck Miller

2022 defense: 30.45 ppg (No. 9 in 2A).

Five returning starters.4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Tyrese Boyce, Sr., OLB.Henry Thompson, Sr., CB.Kyle Fredericks, Sr., DE.Malakhy Smith, Jr., NG.Marcus Herrera, Jr., FS.

Key defensive newcomers

Carter Imamura, Jr., SS.Max Ledyard, Jr., DE.Jayden Vaughns, Jr., DT.King Long Soph, DB.Demarion Hope Soph, DB.Erik Mickelson Soph, DE

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