ST. GEORGE – Discipline and commitment are two of the themes at the Zion Lions football camp this year. At third one should be continuity.
The Lions, who start the season Saturday night at home (7 p.m. at Pine View High School) against the Las Vegas Spartans, feature a roster full of players that have been a part of the team for years – some even back to the St. George Blitz and Dixie Rebels days.
Misi Tupe, who has been the headliner for the Lions for years, is back, along with Josh Ford, Brandon “Smashmouth” Thompson, Dave Bishoff and Bailey Glass, among many others. Another name from the past, Diarra Fields, rejoins the team as well.
An impressive offensive line and a defense that features just about everyone from last year’s squad anchor the Lions for 2017.
“You’ll notice we have a lot fewer guys this year and that’s by design,” Zion head coach Dale Stott said. “The guys we invited back are the one’s who are committed. And these guys, this core group, is very good. I’m very excited about this year’s team.”
There will be some shuffling of positions, enabled partially by the return of Fields. He will be the quarterback, replacing both Ford and Tupe, who took snaps last year. Fields, who has been away from the game for more than four years after dealing with some personal and legal issues (now resolved), is a former Rocky Mountain Football League MVP.
“He’s a true pocket passer and has a rocket for an arm,” Stott said. “He can still move, but he doesn’t move as well as Misi. But then we still have Misi, who we can use in certain situations.”
Tupe, who played safety and linebacker collegiately, has shown off his athleticism by playing just about any position on the field. His play at QB has helped the Lions get to the championship game of the RMFL three years straight. But as good as Tupe is at QB, he’s even better as a linebacker, laying the wood on opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
“That’s bad news for the rest of the league that Misi’s playing defense full time,” Stott said. “I feel bad for the ball carriers around the league.”
Ford returns to wide receiver, or “X,” in the offense, with Bailey Glass as the “Z” and Clifton Smith as the “Y” receiver. RJ Best will start at tight end.
“Our receiving corps, especially with Josh Ford back out there, is the best we’ve had since I’ve been part of the team,” Stott said.
At running back, former Pine View record-holder Prentiss Miller will be starting. Miller, who was a tough, but small runner for the Panthers, has bulked up, adding about 20 pounds of muscle. Jorey Hansen will also play at RB and Matt Feula, another Pine View product, always seems to end up playing some at running back.
The O-line will be big and bad, with familiar names Russ Hunt at center and Leon Wade at guard, along with Saula Taufa, a former Dixie State star. The tackles are Pat Au, a monstrous (6-foot-9, 375-pounds) former Snow College All-American and Austin Best, a former Snow Canyon star and current bodybuilder.
On defense, the playmaker Bishoff will play linebacker along with Tupe, Thompson and Chris Pritchard, a fearsome group that will be hard to score on. Former Hurricane star Isaiah Johnson, who is just 18-years-old, will add youth and energy at LB as well.
The D-line starters slated right now are Vince Feula at nose guard, and Doug Roberts and Ben Alualu at the ends. Also, expect Joe Feula and LJ Tiatia to play. Vince Feula and Roberts are returning starters and Alualu will be a key contributor.
The secondary will be fast and experienced, with returning cornerbacks Dominic Vargas and Trey Smith, plus speedy newcomer Martavius Mallory, who may also play safety, along with Isaac Katoa.
Dillon Bishoff returns to handle the placekicking duties for Zion.
The Lions open with the Las Vegas Spartans this Saturday, then take a week off before hosting five straight home games at Panther Stadium, beginning with an Apr. 8 rematch of last year’s RMFL championship against the Wasatch Revolution.
The Rev and the Lions will be favored once again to meet in this year’s championship. The current “Big 9 South” conference has contracted down to five teams: The Lions, the Rev, the Davis Vipers, the Utah Shock and the Utah Wildcats.
Three Las Vegas teams that participated in the RMFl last season have joined a league in California.
“Semi-pro leagues do that, expand and contract, and we’ve seen that before,” Stott said. “One thing it does right away is make the other teams up north stronger, because many of the best players from the teams that folded are now playing for the teams that remain.”
The Rev are based in Ogden, with the Vipers playing in Layton. The Shock are based in Bluffdale in the south part of the Salt Lake Valley and the Wildcats are in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Lions play the Rev and the Shock twice (home-and-home) and face the Vipers and Wildcats just one time, both in St. George. Zion also plays Colorado power Grand Junction Gladiators on Apr. 15 at PVHS. The Lions have no road games the first six weeks of the season, then play only road games or byes from May 13 through Jun. 3.
The RMFL playoffs begin Jun. 10. For more on the Lions, including a roster, schedule and art, visit ZionLionsFootball.com.
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