Warriors hope to rebound after tough year, tough week

ST. GEORGE – It was a disappointing season last year and a disappointing start last week against San Juan for the Snow Canyon Warriors. According to coach Jay Graft, Snow Canyon was within a few plays of being a legit contender last season, but lacked something vital to every championship team.

“Too many guys wanted to be a hero over the last few years and didn’t believe and trust in their teammates,” he said. “They trusted a few here and a few there – and they may have liked each other – but there’s got to be more than that. There’s got to be some genuine love and concern in each other.”

For that reason alone, Graft feels this season’s squad will produce more than just two wins and possibly give Region 9’s best a run for their money.

“The kids here have been working hard and doing what they’re supposed to,” he said. “I’m really happy with the chemistry right now. It’s great to see the older kids help the younger kids and vice-versa. To me that’s how you really win games. You can be great athletes, but if you can’t count on your teammates and they can’t count on you, then you’re always going to come up short.”

Middle linebacker Cade Bunting credits the improved team chemistry with off-the-field activities that allowed the older and younger kids to more fully gel into an individual unit.

“We’ve been a lot closer this off-season,” he said. “We’ve been hanging out more, working out together and going to the lake. Those activities have helped us become a stronger unit. We trust each other a lot more.”

Another difference this season will be Mason Smith, who will start as quarterback after flirting briefly with the role in each of the past two seasons.

“We need to finish those drives,” Smith said. “We couldn’t do that last year. But (the receivers and I) worked hard in the offseason to get our timing down.”

Smith is excited to show his skills in the position.

“I like to throw the ball, but running has to be a part of your game, too,” he said. “I want to be multi-dimensional, so teams won’t know what to expect.”

“Mason’s a great leader,” Graft said. “He executes very, very well. What he supposedly lacks in size and stature, he makes up for in heart. The kids follow him and believe in him – physically he’s going to be able to get the job done.”

Co-team captain Jake Lindsey felt this season presented an immense challenge for him and his fellow leaders, not just in terms of running plays and making defensive stops, but keeping the team working in unison.

“We have to make sure we stay on top of the emotion of the team and do our best to fix the problem,” he said. “It’s great to have physicality, but you have to make sure you’re a team. You have to keep them psyched up and ready to play.”

Head coach – Jay Graft (Sixth year, 32-36)

Quarterbacks – “Jake Frei is doing a great job,” said Graft. “We’re working with him so that when the time comes, if something happens to Mason, then he’s ready mentally and physically to go.”

Running backs – Mitchell Phillips will lead the charge on the running game after running for 561 yards in his junior season.

Receivers – Graft: “I think the only con I see right now is our numbers – they’re not really where they should be. It’d be nice to have a few more kids playing football. But it is what it is.”

Offensive line – Smith: “Our offense has been working hard. We’ve put in the time, now we need to show it on the field.”

Defensive line – “We have a great defense,” said Bunting. “Region 9 usually has a lot of strong offenses, but our defense is solid. I think we have what it takes. We have good linebackers, a great secondary … We’ve played together for quite a while now. We have what it takes.”

Linebackers – Bunting: “We’re hoping for a positive season, or at least one better than last year. We’re hoping we can come together and finish games the way we couldn’t last year.”

Defensive backs – Shandon Esplin (corner) and Jake Graft (safety) are the anchors.

Special teams – Branson Stafford will be the placekicker. He made a 34-yarder in Week 1 against San Juan.

Intangibles – Team chemistry, more than anything else, will help Snow Canyon bounce back from last season’s disappointment.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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