Football

High school football: Teams in new-look Region 4 excited for 5A

Except for a couple of team swaps, the West side region of the Salt Lake valley didn’t change all that much in the latest UHSAA realignment. But despite that, there’s a completely different feeling surrounding the region heading into the 2023 season.

As 6A schools in recent years, Cyprus, Granger, Hunter, Kearns, Taylorsville and West Jordan were often overmatched when they were forced to compete against the traditional powers of 6A football.

All six, however, have dropped down into Class 5A this year to form the new Region 4, and there’s a feeling within those teams that there’s a more realistic change to be competitive at the state level.

“The region being placed in 5A is a good move. The participation numbers in our region have been 60% to 50% of the participation numbers of the other 6A schools. We have a good number of local rivalries within our region that makes it fun for our kids and communities,” said Kearns coach Matt Rickards.

His team lost to Riverton 48-16 in the 6A first round a year ago. Of the six current Region 4 schools, they went 0-5 in the playoffs a year ago.

Five of the six teams are from the old Region 2, with West and Roy the only teams departing to different regions — both dropping down to 6A.

West Jordan shifts over to Region 4 from Region 3 last season, where it had an impressive showing to finish tied for second in the region with Riverton with a 3-2 record. It turned heads with region wins over Riverton and Herriman, but it ultimately lost to West 45-0 in the 6A second round after a first-round bye.

Despite returning the bulk of its offensive and defensive starters a year ago, West Jordan was pegged to finish third in the Region 4 preseason rankings by the coaches.

It’s a region that West Jordan coach Ron Halbert said everyone is exciting about participating in.

“We have all West side schools. Back to the old original. Being that our schools are so close in proximity and similar in demographics it will be fun with a lot of these kids that know each other,” said Halbert, who’s entering his third year as head coach at West Jordan.

He’s been very pleased with the participation numbers this season, particularly in the trenches as the program seeks its third straight winning season.

Granger is the team that will open the 2023 season as the early favorite in Region 4.

It finished last with a 5-5 record, its first non-losing season since post a 5-6 record in 2016. Coach Pala Vaitu’u’s squad returns five starters on offense and four on defense as it looks to build on the momentum from a year ago.

While Granger enjoyed some rare success a year ago, region rival Kearns suffered through some rare adversity. It went 2-9, snapping a seven-year streak of at least seven victories.

Nine offensive starters and seven defensive starters return, which gives the Cougars plenty of reason to be optimistic about 2023.

“Given that many of our players are returning with a lot of experience the season looks to be trending in a positive direction. If myself and the coaches can get our players to understand the schemes, techniques, discipline, and instill some toughness I feel we can be pretty good,” said Rickards. “I would like to compete for a region championship and make a deep run in the tournament. Ultimately our progress on those things I mentioned will determine the success in those areas.”

Cyprus was projected fourth in the region. Coach Tyler Garcia said the program has taken a hit with some noteworthy outgoing transfers, but he continues to focus on the culture within the program and instilling pride in the community.

“We have some young players stepping up to fill vacancies. We know that we are going to make mistakes, but we are also going to learn from them and get better each week. Many people count us out, but I am confident that through our hard work and playing as a team we will surprise some people this year,” said Garcia.

Cyprus will lean heavily on its dynamic returning starting quarterback, Skyler Armenta. He rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last season, including 16 TDs.

The projected bottom two teams in the new-look Region 4 are Hunter and Taylorsville, each of which only won two games a year ago.

“We have been working hard during the off season and are looking to improve on last year’s performance,” said second-year coach Harold Moleni.

Region 4 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Granger Lancers

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Pala Vaitu’u

Entering his fifth year as head coach at Granger, with a 10-31 record during that stretch. Previously he served as the head coach at Taylorsville for three years where his teams went 12-20. He’s a graduate of Compton High School in California and SLCC.

Offensive coordinator: Ulualo Vaitu’u Jr

2022 offense: 21.9 ppg (No. 15 in 6A)

Five returning startersMultiple offenses

Returning offensive starters

Landon Figueroa, Sr., WRJohvian Ki, Sr., WRChase Stiles, Sr., OLKyler Peterson, Jr., OLMalu Sili, Sr., 0L

Key offensive newcomers

Carson Sue’sue, Sr., QBJordan Tuuao, Sr., RBDee Kofe, Jr., RB/FBUisi Tuuao, Jr., WRTyler Arlaud, Sr., TEMekiloni (Benson) Kofe, Sr., OL/DLPorter Vaituu, Sr., OLVaka Patetefa, Sr., DL/TE/FB

Co- Defensive coordinator: Pita Tanuvasa and Tyler Haslam

2022 defense: 19.3 ppg (No. 8 in 6A)

Four returning startersMultiple defenses

Returning defensive starters

Jordan Tuuao, Sr., WLBJohvian Ki, Sr., DBMason Kasataki, Jr., DLMikey Matangi, Sr., DL

Key defensive newcomers

Vaka Patetefa, Sr., DLMekiloni Benson Kofe, Sr., DLTaufa Tonga, Sr., DLTyler Arlaud, Sr., LBMaka Sonasi, Jr., MLBElijah Scott, Sr., DBAltrese Fale, Sr., SS

2. Kearns Cougars

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Matt Rickards

Entering his 11th season as head coach at Kearns High School, where he’s tallied a 66-44 record over the previous decade. He’s a graduate of Hunter High School and Weber State.

Coach Matt Rickards’s general outlook

Given that many of our players are returning with a lot of experience the season looks to be trending in a positive direction. If myself and coaches can get our players to understand the schemes, techniques, discipline, and instill some toughness I feel we can be pretty good. I would like to compete for a Region Championship and make a deep run in the tournament. Ultimately our progress on those things I mentioned will determine the success in those areas.

Offensively we return nearly the entire offense from last year. Our line had a very good offseason and I expect our skills group to play well. Defensively I really like our front 7 and the things they have been doing so far. We think our safeties are very good and capable of making plays in the pass game along with coming up and making tackles in the box. We are further along in June then we were in the middle of last season, so it looks promising.

Offensive coordinator: Bryan Good

2022 offense: 18.6 ppg (No. 19 in 6A)

Nine returning startersMultiple offenses

Returning offensive starters

Ivan Kaufusi, Sr., RTMatt Aiono, Sr., LGMark Aiono, Sr., RGRay Tongolei, Sr., LTKayden Morrey, Sr., WRKymani Fautea, Sr., RBMarley Sio, Jr., WR/AthBryce Benson, Jr., QBTeki Finau So, QB/AthWill Moe, Jr., TE

Key offensive newcomers

Lamoni Matua, Jr., WRGavon Riggs, Sr., TESiua Pauni, Sr., OL

Defensive coordinator: Matt Rickards

2022 defense: 34.0 ppg (No. 22 in 6A)

Seven returning starters3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

Ryan Talo, Sr., LBKymani Falepailangi, Sr., DLAries Faletui, Sr., LBLione Hola, Jr., LBFiki Talia, Jr., LBTohi Similai, Jr., DLAlijah Levao, Jr., DL

Key defensive newcomers

Gabe Talia, Jr., SMarley Sio, Jr., SKyler Buhler, Jr., CBToke Kupu, Sr., DL

3. West Jordan Jaguars

2023 Schedule

Head Coach: Ron Halbert

Heading into his third season as head coach after posting an 14-7 record the first two seasons. He’s a long-time assistant coach at several schools in Utah, including six years at West Jordan from 1989 to 1995. He’s a graduate of Roy High School and Southern Utah.

Coach Ron Halbert’s general outlook

We will have a lot of experience back on our defensive side. Our defense was the big impact last year that we needed to win some big games. We have a big stable of running backs that will get a lot of carries. We have over 30 offensive linemen out this year and has been very competitive on who will be the starters. Our culture has really made a big change in that we have really come together as a team and that will have each others back. B.L.U.E.

Offensive coordinator: Cayden Mietchen

2022 offense: 21.2 ppg (No. 17 in 6A)

Ten returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Dominic Overby, Sr., WRKyle Curtis, Sr., SlotBeau Brant, Jr., CenterSaiah Misifoa, Sr., TackleNisi Talanoa, Sr., FBOpeti Maka, Jr.Jaxon Harris, Sr., TECarter Fredrickson, Sr., G

Key offensive newcomers

Nia Ioapo Soph WRJackson Roybal, Sr., QBGio Polanco, Jr., RBGavin Houston, Sr., SlotTraedon Siaosi, Jr., GOpeti Naulu, Jr., G

Defensive coordinator: Ron Halbert

2022 defense: 22.4 ppg (No. 11 in 6A)

Seven returning starters4-2-5 and 3-4-4 and Stack defense

Returning defensive starters

Jaxon Harris, Sr., LBDominic Overby, Sr., FSDimitri Lovio, Sr., CornerKyle Curtis, Sr., SS/CIan Matau, Jr., Corner

Key defensive newcomers

Traedon Siaosi, Jr., Nose/TackleKeaton Lewis, Jr., LBer/DEOpeti Naulu, Jr., DlineJackson Worthington, DECody Johnson, Soph SSPorter Creasy, SafetyNela Tupola, Frosh, DlineJulio Ruiz, Sr., DEMarcus Lopez, Soph, LBLA Moala, Soph, LBTevita Maakafi, Sr., LBAyden Dean, Jr., Corner

4. Cyprus Pirates

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Tyler Garcia

Entering his fifth season with the Pirates, recording a 9-33 those first four seasons. Garcia is a graduate of Cyprus High School and Denver University.

Coach Tyler Garcia’s general outlook

The desire to create “super teams” like in the professional leagues creates a different dynamic each year. Players being allowed to enter a high school transfer portal and having it be glamorized on social media not only has a negative impact on the teams and the game of football but also in the communities in terms of loyalty, pride, and service. We have lost some players this year to this way of thinking, but we continue to improve and we continue to promote pride in our community and our school as well as focus on the concept that the TEAM is greater than individual. We have some young players stepping up to fill vacancies. We know that we are going to make mistakes, but we are also going to learn from them and get better each week. Many people count us out, but I am confident that through our hard work and playing as a team we will surprise some people this year. I am excited to see how we respond to adversity and how we grow as a team throughout the season.

Offensive coordinator: Travis Mehlhoff

2022 offense: 21.6 ppg (No. 16 in 6A)

Five returning startersOur offensive identity is a run-first identity

Returning offensive starters

Skyler Armenta QB/SS, Sr.Carter Langford WR, Sr.Brayden Leng SB, Sr.Trey Lester RB, Sr.Spencer Speirs TE, Sr.

Key offensive newcomers

Jared Chavez FB, Sr.Britton Jepsen SB, Jr.Dayton Valdez OL, So.

Defensive coordinator: Casey Miller

2022 defense: 35.1 ppg (No. 24 in 6A)

Four returning starters4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

Carter Langford FS, Sr.Brayden Leng CB, Sr.Aleki Langi LB, Sr.Uha Malekamu LB, Jr.

Key defensive newcomers

Kayson Mayo DE, Jr.Britton Jepsen SS, Jr.Mason Glover Utility, Sr.Luis Koziba CB, Sr.Gabriel Draper Utility, Sr.Davontee Madera DB, Sr.

5. Hunter Wolverines

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Harold Moleni

Led his alma mater to a 2-8 record in his debut season last year. He’s a graduate of the University of Hawaii.

Coach Harold Moleni’s general outlook

We have been working hard during the offseason and are looking to improve on last year’s performance.

Offensive coordinator: Aaron Rodney

2022 offense: 13.5 ppg (No. 24 in 6A)

Three returning startersMultiple offenses

Returning offensive starters

Lote Sotele, Sr.Jonathan Lole, Sr.Uluaki Taukeavea, Jr.

Key offensive newcomers

Jared Chase, Jr.Lui Schwenke, Sr.Daniel Misinale, Jr.

Defensive coordinator: Travis Aiono

2022 defense: 30.5 ppg (No. 19 in 6A)

Four returning starters3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

Siope Havea, Sr.Sione Manisela, Jr.Lucas Heflin, Sr.MJ Taulafo, Sr.

Key defensive newcomers

Landon Graham, So.Paula Makaafi, Fr.

6. Taylorsville Warriors

2023 Schedule

Head coach: Chris Rosales

He’s entering his third season as head coach at Taylorsville, where his teams own a 2-17 record over that span. He’s a graduate of Hillcrest High School and Eagle Gate College.

Coach Chris Rosales’ general outlook

The Warriors are looking to build off their success they had last season. The Warriors will be having their first game outside of Utah on Aug. 18 against Chatfield High School in Colorado.

Offensive coordinator: Ryan Lang

2022 offense: 11.7 ppg (No. 25 in 6A)

Nine returning startersSpread offense

Returning offensive starters

Leland Ako, Sr., RBJack Billingsley, Sr., WRBrandon Gustman, Sr., TEKobe Allen, Jr., WRKarsan Kirkman, Jr., WRJacob Lee, Jr., OLWes Hall, So., OLCole Kramer, Jr., QB

Key offensive newcomers

Marshall Evans, Jr., RBElijah Rix, Jr., OL

Defensive coordinator: Chris Rosales

2022 defense: 33.5 ppg (No. 21 in 6A)

Seven returning startersNickel defense

Returning defensive starters

Brandon Bills, Sr., DBKarsan Kirkman, Jr., DBMichael Lawerence, Sr., DTManny Gustman, Sr., LBBrandon Gustman, Sr., DEMalakhai Peterson, Sr., LBHolden Cottle, Jr., DB

Key defensive newcomers

Nephi Taufa, Sr., LB/DBBronson Dallimore, Sr., DE

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