No one has ever won on potential. We do have potential to compete. I wouldn’t be surprised if we won a lot of games, we have that type of group of kids. —North Sanpete first-year coach Rick Wilson
Note: North Sanpete finished with a 3-8 overall record in 2013 and tied for third in 3A South with a 2-3 record. It lost to Judge 35-0 in the 3A quarterfinals.
MOUNT PLEASANT — North Sanpete first-year coach Rick Wilson has tried easing his way into a potentially awkward situation.
There are some players who were hurt that former coach Matt Roberts left quite abruptly in late May, and they have been slow to embrace the new regime. Others, however, are thrilled Roberts is gone for a variety of reasons.
Since being hired in early June, Wilson has tried to mend the necessary fences while getting his players to buy into his philosophy and plans for a North Sanpete football program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007.
“I couldn’t have expected more. I’ve been around the game long enough to know that you have coaches, you have parents, you have community, you have players, but when it comes right down to it, how the players are going to react is what really determines the tone and expectations of the team going forward,” said Wilson, a former defensive coordinator at Snow College.
At team camp in mid-July, Wilson was thrilled to see a group of seniors rally together and set the tone for what he hopes is a great 2014 season.
“No one has ever won on potential. We do have potential to compete. I wouldn’t be surprised if we won a lot of games, we have that type of group of kids,” said Wilson. “But we wouldn’t be surprised if we struggled. It’s just hard to predict how the kids will come together.”
Wilson isn’t a complete stranger to the team he’s inherited.
When this year’s seniors were freshmen, Wilson served as North Sanpete’s defensive coordinator during the one season Steve Coburn was head coach. He recalls the talent in that freshman class and the younger levels being pretty good, and he’s hoping to bottle that into a winning football program this fall.
The Hawks did qualify for the playoffs last year, but it was hardly a banner year with a 3-7 regular-season record. It lost to eventual state champ Judge 35-0 in the 3A quarterfinals.
In going back and watching film of that Judge game and others, Wilson couldn’t help but get frustrated.
“I couldn’t find much of an identity in watching them play. We’re trying to establish more of an identity based on players we have,” said Wilson.
Ultimately, he wants that identity to be a mix of run and pass. But, he’s going to let personnel dictate how aggressively North Sanpete throws the ball. If the offensive line can’t protect quarterback Brady Wheeler, Wilson has no problem running two-receiver routes. Conversely, if the line is taking care of business, he wants offensive coordinator Tyler Bailey to spread it out and sling it around.
Wheeler’s maturation will play a big role too.
As a freshman back in 2011, he was thrust into the starting QB role when senior Rhett Bird went down with a serious thumb injury. Wheeler is now a four-year starter, but there are still plenty of question marks surrounding his game.
In three years he’s completed just 42 percent of his passes for 2,503 yards, 15 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
Wilson has been impressed by how hard Wheeler’s worked to get better.
“He’s been to a lot of camps. He’s done a lot of things, and now it’s time to settle in and get some timing down with his own players. His fundamentals have improved so well. He is fundamentally sound, but how we put it together as a team is always a big question,” said Wilson.
The offensive line in front of him has an assortment of question marks with very little returning experience, but Wilson will tweak the play calling to make sure Wheeler is comfortable.
If that means handing the ball off to Spencer Applegarth more frequently, that’s what North Sanpete will do. If it means Wheeler targets tight end Bob Serrano in short passing routes over deep receiver routes, that’s what will happen.
The season-long goal offensively is a basic one — execution and protection.
Defense is Wilson’s bread and butter, and with his coaching experience at both the high school and college level, the Hawks should be a strong unit in 3A this season.
“We run a pretty aggressive defense. We like to execute our defense almost like you do an offense and have them figure out where we’re coming from,” said Wilson.
North Sanpete at a glance
Coach: Rick Wilson is entering his first year as head coach at North Sanpete High School. He’s a graduate of Mountain View High School.
(4 returning starters; I-back offense)
After Carbon, North Sanpete was the second-lowest-scoring team in 3A last year at just 14.3 ppg. Coach Wilson believes the lack of identity was a big reason why. This year the offense will lean on the experience of four-year starting quarterback Brady Wheeler to increase that efficiency. There are weapons to make it happen. Dylan Olson and Zack Lee are both returning contributors at receiver, while sophomore Holden Atkinson could make big contributions. Tight end Bob Serrano is a athlete that can cause mismatches, while Layne Cook and Tallon Wanlass are athletes that can be used in the run or pass. Spencer Applegarth is back after leading the Hawks with 663 rushing yards last year, but Wilson said he’s being pushed by several others for playing time.
(4 returning starters)
With question marks offensively, North Sanpete’s defense needs to be ready to roll from Week 1 this season. A strong linebacking corps makes that a real possibility. Wanlass and Cook finished first and second on the team in tackles a year ago, and they’re solid players for Wilson’s new defense to lean on. Lee returns at safety after finishing as one of the leading tacklers a year ago as well. Olson didn’t play much defense last year, but he’s really come on this summer as a strong cornerback.
Coaches preseason 3A South straw poll: Fourth
Deseret News 3A South prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: A coaching change in early June has only added to the uncertainty surrounding North Sanpete this fall. Rick Wilson is a smart coach with a great resume, but it’s going to take time for him to implement his philosophies. Last year North Sanpete snuck into the playoffs on the last play of the season, and in a region where Delta and Canyon View should both be improved, that might be how it needs to unfold again.
North Sanpete coaching history
2014 — Rick Wilson (0-0)
2012-2013 — Matt Roberts (8-14)
2011 — Steve Coburn (4-7)
2008-2010 — Casey Jensen (6-24)
2005-2007 — Ben Morley (13-19)
2004 — Blake Turner (6-5)
1991-2003 — Mark Wootton (73-56)
1988-1990 — Todd Peacock (17-11)
1987 — Gary Stears (2-7)
1985-1986 — Dale Barker (1-15)
1984 — Dave Peck (7-3)
1979-1983 — Paul Tidwell (16-30)
1974-1978 — Brent Thorne (13-36)
1973 — Roger Tree (3-5-1)
1967-1972 — unknown (20-33)
1965-1966 — Brent Rock (10-7)
1960-1964 — unknown (18-14)
1956-1959 — Mack Wilkey (16-12)
1954-1955 — Don Holbrook (5-7-1)
1951-1953 — unknown (2-21)
1950 — E.G. Brunger (3-3)
1929-1949 — unknown (21-73-4)
1927-1928 — Donald Simmons (4-6)
1919-1926 — unknown (14-10-2)
1915-1916 — unknown (2-3-1)
1912-1913 — unknown (1-1)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2007 — Russell Christensen, DL
2005 — Tyson Church, RB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.