Note: The Hawks finished region play in second place with a 4-2 record. Overall they were 4-7 on the season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to Northridge.

DRAPER — Last year the Hawks felt like they underachieved when they exited the playoffs in the first round.

They hope that with a new year, a new region and a new head coach, they will again contend for the 5A state title.

"Definitely this year, we've got something special," said Weston Rallis, a senior.

Despite their early exit from the playoffs last year, the players know that just wearing the Hawk uniform makes them a target.

"We know the radar is on us because we're Alta football," said senior running back Bryan Engstrom.

The team looks forward to hitting the field in their first game against 4A powerhouse, Timpview.

The schedule will test the Hawks in every way as they face defending 5A champion Bingham in week two and California's Crenshaw High in week three. In week four, the Hawks face Riverton and then head into their new region schedule.

"I love the new region," said head coach Bob Stephens. "I think all of the teams are tough — Jordan, Brighton and Cottonwood — all three are considered our rivals. And West Jordan and Copper Hills, we don't get to play very often and its nice having them incorporated in the region."

The Hawks were ranked No. 3 in the state in preseason polls.

"I have heard the rankings," said Brandon Meyer, senior left tackle. "But I don't think it matters until Friday night when we strap it up and play. We haven't done anything to deserve that yet."

He knows they have to prove they are one of the state's best teams each Friday night.

"What people say we are, and what we actually are, are two different things," he said.

Stephens takes over the program after Les Hamilton, who is now at Hunter High. Hamilton compiled a 60-18 record with two state championships in 2007 and 2008 along with a 74-29 overall record as a head coach. In Hamilton's six years at Alta his teams won at least a share of the region championship five times and advanced to the semifinals five consecutive times throughout the same time span from 2005-09. Stephens coached the offensive line under Hamilton, whom he called "one of my mentors. I learned a great deal from him."

So does he feel pressure as he takes over one of the state's most successful programs?

"Absolutely," he said smiling. "I wanted the job to try and keep the tradition and success that these boys have had. I love these kids. I want to see them succeed, not only on the football field but in life as well."

Like his players, he feels intense loyalty to the school they represent.

"I'm a Hawk," he said smiling. "I feel a tremendous amount of loyalty, and I am here to see Alta succeed in all levels — in the classroom, on the field and in life."

Hawks at a glance

Coach Bob Stephens takes over the Hawks' football program after 14 years as an assistant. A former BYU football player, he graduated from La Mirada High in California.

Offense

(4 returning)

Steven Richards, a senior tight end, will lead the team's offense. Senior quarterback Tyson Blackner and senior running back Bryan Engstrom will be key to the team's success. Blackner didn't start most of the season, but he still managed to pass for 536 yards and four touchdowns. He is as dangerous on the run as he is throwing.

Defense

(7 returning)

Austin Lee (safety) and Rhett Sandlin (middle linebacker) will anchor the team's defense. With a lot of returning starters, the defense will be led by a new coach, Scott Ditty. Sandlin had two interceptions last season.

2011 Schedule

Aug. 19 - TIMPVIEW, 7 p.m.

Aug. 27 - vs. Bingham at Rice-Eccles, 8 p.m.

Sept. 3 - Crenshaw High at Mission Viejo, Calif., 2:15 p.m.

Sept. 9 - at Riverton, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 - JORDAN, 7 p.m.

Sept. 24 - Taft High, Calif. at Rio Tinto, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 - at Brighton, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 - at Copper Hills, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 - at West Jordan, 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 - COTTONWOOD, 7 p.m.

EMAIL: adonaldson@desnews.com