I don’t care if these kids are sophomores or not. We’re gonna throw the ball. —Bucky Orton

Note: Kanab finished with a 6-6 overall record in 2013 and tied for first in 1A South with a 3-1 record. It lost to Rich 18-13 in the 1A semifinals.

The Kanab Cowboys are taking a bit of a different approach to the 2014 campaign than they have in the past.

Conversations about winning region and state titles have been a prelude to previous years, but talk this season has focused primarily on simply getting better from rep to rep, minute to minute, game to game, week to week.

“I think we’re just too young right now to really worry about anything other than just really trying to get it figured out here for ourselves,” said 12th-year head coach Bucky Orton of a squad that will return just three starters on offense and four on defense from 2013. “We’re really, really starting over.”

That starting over will begin at arguably the most important position on the field, quarterback. A season ago, Merrill Terry passed for 1,521 yards to lead 1A, nearly doubling his closest challenger in the statistic. He also tossed 20 touchdowns, 12 more than the classification’s closest challenger. For good measure, he was second in 1A in rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns.

Orton is planning on using a platoon of sophomores at quarterback in an effort to try to replace Terry. Monte Glover has some quarterbacking experience and will bring a more traditional set of skills to the position. Layne Anderson has played running back and receiver growing up and will be looked to in option situations.

“We’ll see if we’re a much better offense with one of them and we’ll go that route, but I plan on using them both and I think that they’ll both bring some good things to our offense and hopefully collectively by the end of the year we’ll be somewhere close to where we were with Merrill. But I don’t know,” Orton said. “It’s yet to be determined.”

Despite breaking in two new quarterbacks, Orton said he won’t be afraid to continue throwing the ball out of the pistol spread offense.

“I don’t care if these kids are sophomores or not,” Orton said. “We’re gonna throw the ball. We’re gonna take our lumps early in the year if we have to, but we’re gonna spend a lot of time on being a balanced offense and making defenses play from sideline to sideline. That’s our philosophy, that’s what we’re gonna work at, that’s what we’re gonna set our goals to accomplish.”

The offensive and defensive lines will see the youth movement too, with up to four sophomores being considered for a starting spot. Though Orton has confidence in that bunch, he is comforted by the fact that senior Jace Little will anchor things at center.

“He’s just one of those guys that that’s why I feel OK about (the youth), is because he’s gonna make everyone around him better,” Orton said. “He’s a real great leader, team-player type guy and has just a huge, huge motor. That’s why I don’t feel quite maybe as nervous as I should is because of his leadership there.”

The rest of the defensive unit is likely where Kanab will find its strength. Brothers Aaron and Alex Foster were the team leaders in tackles a season ago and will both be back, with Aaron in the secondary and Alex at linebacker. With Little joining them up front, along with Cody Glover, Orton feels that the foundation for a stout defense is in place.

Just like on offense, though, Orton is somewhat concerned about what will happen in the trenches on defense.

“We gotta be able to stop the run,” he said. “All these teams want to just pound it down your throat, so I’m a little concerned. We’re a little light up front. We’re also quite inexperienced up front. It’s gonna take a collective effort for us to be a solid defense.”

Overall, Orton is looking forward to seeing how his inexperienced squad performs when the lights come on for real.

“I’m excited just to see where we can finish the season,” he said. “That’s kind of what my emphasis has been all summer long. It’s not how you start with a young team. It’s how we finish. It’s how committed we stay and it’s what we learn from our mistakes. We’re gonna focus on the process rather than the end result and just see where it takes us.”

Kanab Cowboys at a glance

Coach: Bucky Orton is entering his 12th season as head coach at Kanab, having compiled an 84-44 clip to date.

Offense

(3 returning starters; Pistol spread offense)

The Cowboys lost the most prolific player in 1A a season ago to graduation, quarterback Merrill Terry, and replacing his production with two sophomore signal-callers is going to be Kanab’s biggest question offensively. Combine that with the fact that the offensive line will also be young, and there could be some growing pains early.

Defense

Just four players will be back for the Cowboys on defense, but they're strong. Each position group has a leader who can help bring others along. It’s been said that defense wins games, and if Kanab is going to be successful in 2014, the players on this side of the ball will have to play particularly well as the offense gels over time.

Coaches preseason Region 1A South straw poll: First

Deseret News Region 1A South prediction: First

Bottom line: Kanab might not be ready to compete for a state title this season, but Orton has been there and knows what it takes to help his team win. The Cowboys could struggle early, but if the talent level is as high as it typically is in Kanab, the Cowboys should be strong before not too long and could make things interesting come playoff time.

….

Kanab coaching history

2003-current — Bucky Orton (84-44)

2002 — Dwaine Hatch (9-2)

1994-2001 — Rod Quarnberg (43-38)

1965-1993 — Arlyn Hafen (210-91)

1962-1964 — Steve Lunt (15-8-2)

1959-1961 — Louis Chatterly (10-11)

1957-1958 — Boyd Adams (4-10-1)

1950-1956 — unknown (10-19-3)

1949 — David Gates (4-2)

.....

Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years

2007 — Logan Mazzettia, RB/LB

2005 — Tyler Ramsay, RB/LB

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

2013 — Merrill Terry, QB/CB

2013 — Luke Crosby, RB/LB

2013 — Hadin Jones, WR/S

2013 — Nate Bowman, OL/DL

2012 — Brandon Jenson, QB/DB

2011 — Dylan Hill, OL/DL

2010 — Cody Barber, RB/LB

2009 — Rhees Jackson, WR/DE

2009 — Stetson Crandall, OL/LB

2008 — Craig Brinkerhoff, QB/DB

2008 — Bryce Hafen, RB/LB

2008 — Justin Orton, WR/DB

2007 — Ty Bunting, TE/DL

2007 — Thomas Quist, RB/DB

2007 — Levi Vincent, RB/LB

2007 — Rick Visser, OL/DL

2006 — Mitch Glazier, QB/DB

2006 — Shaun Johnson, RB/LB

2006 — TJ Reidhead, LB

2006 — Julius Visser, OL/DL

2005 — Tannner Chamberlain, WR/DE

2005 — Mitchell Glazier, QB/SS

2005 — Caleb Vincent, RB/LB

2004 — Brandon Brown, RB

2004 — Evan Orton, RB

2004 — Sterling Glover, TE

To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.

Ryan McDonald is a part-time reporter at the Deseret News. He was formerly the sports editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle, the campus newspaper at the University of Utah.