ST. GEORGE – Desert Hills electrified Region 9 last year with its tenacity and grit. Riding the coattails of quarterback Porter Harris, running back Mike Needham and receiver Ty Rutledge, the Thunder rode a wave of success to the 3A State Championship, where they fell to Hurricane 21-0.
With Harris and Needham gone, and head coach Jake Nelson stepping down, new head coach Carl Franke must trust in his younger guys to step up and get the job done.
“I think every year it’s a different hump,” Franke said. “There are many humps in the road. Last year we overcame a ton of obstacles just to get to the state game. This year we’re a lot younger, so we’re just going to have to take things one game at a time.”
Even so, Franke feels optimistic the rebuilding process won’t be as problematic as initially expected.
“I think we’re in good shape,” he said. “We don’t have as many seniors as last year when we had over 24. This year we have 14. But the seniors we do have are good quality kids who set the standards for our younger guys.”
One of those seniors is returning star Ty Rutledge, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound versatile receiver who made crucial plays in big games last season. Except this year, Rutledge will play a very different role – quarterback.
“It’ll be nice to have the ball in my hand, read the plays and lead the team,” Rutledge said.
His teammates and coach agree.
“I like him better at quarterback more than anything else,” said running back Bridger Cowdin. “He’s a great passer, athletic and accurate.”
Added Coach Franke: “Ty‘s biggest strengths are in his physicality, his strength and his leadership. The things he does on the field are unmatched by any kid in Region 9. He’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever seen.
“He’s a competitor who hates to lose. He wills his team to win. He helped carry us throughout the season (last year). He’s a kid that the others kids will look toward for leadership.”
As for all the talk about Desert Hills lacking experience, running back Brock Johnson simply shrugged it off.
“I’m excited to be out here with the young lineman,” he said. “A lot of people keep saying we’re not going to be very good because we have a lot of young guys. But we’re going to take it to them. We’re young and fast. It’s going to be fun.”
“Those young guys are going to have to carry us this year,” he said. “We need those young guys to come out and step up and help us out a lot.”
Johnson put it more delicately.
“We just want to come out and hit you in the face and go for the win. Physicality – that’s our goal.”
DESERT HILLS FILE
Head coach – Carl Franke (first year)
Quarterbacks – Ty Rutledge will start at quarterback this year. “Ty is just a great overall athlete,” said Franke. “He has a very strong arm and knows the game really well and has great leadership qualities. The kids should be able to rally behind him.”
Running Backs – Bridger Cowdin will be starting. Brock Johnson will get a lot of touches as well. “Both kids bring a couple of different directions to the position,” Franke said.
Receivers – “We have Jordan Hokanson, a junior, who will play in Ty’s position from last year –the slot – very athletic, skilled and really tough to defend. Tanner Reynolds is an outside receiver – great speed on the outside. Keenan Wittwer will probably start. And Brad Wulfenstein is really quick. We have a lot of team speed.”
Offensive line – “They’re going to be really young this year. Only one kid comes back from last year with varsity experience, Brock Doman. The first week will be a big test for him. We’ll start two sophomores, a senior and two juniors. We’re fairly young up front.”
Defensive line – “We have a lot of kids going both ways. Josh Anderson is probably one of the best tight ends in the state. He’s probably our biggest threat running the ball because he can do so many things on both sides of the ball.”
Linebackers – “We have a couple of returning starters: Sil Bundy, Travis Lagrone, Brock Johnson and some mixture of other names.”
Defensive backs – Rutledge will play safety for us. Wulfenstein is one of the best cover corners in our league.”
Special teams – “We have bunch of kids who’ll get an opportunity to play special teams. It’s an important position. Special teams can make or break the success of your game, but we want to give a lot of kids opportunities to come in and play.” Johnson and Al Yergenson are battling for the placekicker job. Cowdin will punt.
Intangibles – “We’re very young, so experience early on will help us. Syracuse and West will help us get going against a tough region. I’ve always said it’s as tough to win region as it is state. Limiting the mistakes will be huge. We have to stay focused and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Last year is last year. This is a new season.”
Desert Hills Schedule
Fri., Aug. 17 – at Syracuse
Fri., Aug. 24 – bye
Fri., Aug. 31 – West
Fri., Sept. 7 – at Canyon View
Fri., Sept. 14 – Pine View
Fri., Sept. 21 – at Dixie
Fri., Sept. 28 – at Stansbury
Fri., Oct. 5 – Snow Canyon
Thu., Oct. 11 – at Hurricane
Thu., Oct. 18 – Cedar
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