Football season is finally here.
The 122nd season of Utah high school football officially kicked off with a small-school clash at Layton Christian on Thursday, with 50 other endowment games scheduled on Friday.
Like the previous 121 seasons, there’s no shortage of optimism. An offseason of weightlifting and countless hours on the field this summer have every program believing this is their year.
For some, two or three wins would be considered a good season, while others will settle for nothing less than a state championship. To get fans geared up for what should be another fantastic season, here are 10 notable stories worth paying attention to this season.
Austin Kafentzis will make his 40th start as Jordan’s starting quarterback this Friday, and by the time the 2014 season is over he’ll have realistically rewritten every career passing and rushing record in the state.
The 2012 Mr. Football winner cares more about winning another state championship his senior season, but the records are hard to ignore.
He’s already the state record holder in total offense (13,919), rushing touchdowns (75) and touchdowns responsible for (149). He’s passed for 9,024 yards in his career, and needs 1,927 more to break that record. On the ground, he has 4,895 career yards, and needs 768 more to break that record.
With seven returning starters on offense, it’s only a matter of time until the records fall, and Jordan coach Eric Kjar said Kafentzis is ready.
“He works hard in practice and competes every day in practice, which I think is a big deal,” said Kjar. “He’s more polished as far as understanding the game and reads and coverage and knowing what we wants to do offensively. A lot of the kids look up to him because he’s done a lot over his career. I think he brings a lot of confidence to our team.”
There are 20 programs under the direction of new coaches this year. For some of the rookie head coaches, Friday night will be an eye-opening experience. For some of the veterans, it’s just another day at the office.
Of the 20 new coaches, five have previous head coaching experience: Provo’s Tony McGeary (Lone Peak), Mountain View’s Louis Wong (Timpview), Lehi’s Ed Larson (most recently Timpanogos), Granger’s Mike Morgan (West Jordan) and Davis’ Tyler Gladwell (Bonneville).
McGeary and Wong each won state titles coaching at their previous talent-rich programs, but that’s not a luxury they have at Provo or Mountain View. The programs they inherited have been in the dumps, and this season and the coming years will undoubtedly be their toughest coaching tests to date.
Now it’s 48 and counting. Duchesne beat Layton Christian 20-10 in the high school football season opener on Thursday, extending its state-record winning streak to 48 straight.
The previous record was 37 by Timpview, but Duchesne blew by that record in Week 3 last season en route to its fourth-straight 1A state title.
Duchesne faces arguably its toughest test of the season next week when it hosts 2A’s North Summit, and after that it will be favored in every game the rest of the season.
According to Utah prep football historian George Felt, Duchesne’s 48-game winning streak is currently the fourth-longest in the country. Bellevue, Washington — a team that hosts Alta this season — has won 54 straight. Ithaca, Michigan, and Regina (Iowa City), Iowa, have won 56 straight.
If Duchesne ran the tables again this season, it would end the year on a 59-game winning streak.
A year after a perfect 14-0 season — highlighted by an impressive come-from-behind victory at Valor Christian, Colorado — the Bingham Miners begin the 2014 campaign ranked No. 23 in the country, according to USA Today.
They will get a shot at No. 1 too. In Week 3 the Miners travel to Bishop Gorman, Nevada, currently the top-ranked team in the country, according to USA Today.
Bingham is one of five top programs in Utah who take on marquee out-of-state programs this season.
Timpview travels to Mission Hills, California, in Week 2, while East hits the road to take on Valor Christian in Week 3. In Week 4, Region 3 foes Jordan and Alta will both be on the road as Jordan travels to Cherry Creek, Colorado, and Alta ventures to Bellevue, Washington, ranked 16th nationally, according to MaxPreps.
After the 2010 season, three struggling programs turned to their roots and hired marquee names to turn their programs around.
Roy hired wildly successful coach Fred Fernandes, who was an all-state running back at Roy in 1978.
Orem turned to Tyler Anderson, someone who won a state title at Orem in 1987 and then went on to a fantastic career at BYU.
Tooele turned to Kyle Brady, the 2002 Mr. Football winner who enjoyed a solid career at the University of Utah playing for Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham.
Over the past three years, the programs have taken baby steps toward returning to relevance in their respective regions and classifications, but this could finally be the breakthrough year. Roy and Orem are both expected to contend for their region titles, while many believe Brady has positioned Tooele for similar relevance in 3AA North.
Whether 2014 proves to be the breakthrough year or not, the trio of coaches have made their alma maters respectable again.
From 2005 to 2009, Alta’s football team advanced to at least the 5A semifinals all five seasons, winning it all in 2007 and 2008. Even though it hasn’t reached Rice-Eccles Stadium the past four years because of some playoff upsets, Alta’s still been among the 5A elites the past four years.
The Corner Canyon High School split, however, has made a big dent on Alta’s numbers, and many believe Corner Canyon is poised to eventually replace Alta as the marquee football program in the southeast corner of Salt Lake County.
Could it start as early as this year?
Buoyed by 10 returning starters on each side of the ball, the Chargers are the Region 7 favorites and a program many expect to be in the 4A title hunt in November.
Alta and Corner Canyon don’t play each other this year, and probably won’t until they’re lumped in the same region together. But you can bet the football communities in that area are already looking forward to the showdown, and the trash talking has probably already begun.
Over the past three years, southern Utah teams have taken turns winning the 3A/3AA state championship — Hurricane (2011), Dixie (2012) and Desert Hills (2013).
Is Pine View next in line in 2014, or will Desert Hills establish itself as the new dominant program in 3AA like Juan Diego of a few years ago?
Desert Hills will have a chance to prove itself right out of the gates with a Week 1 showdown at Orem. Defensively, the Thunder should be just as good as last year, and if the offense rises to the occasion it could be a special season.
Pine View quarterback Kody Wilstead can’t be overlooked, however, after a banner season in 2013 in which he passed for 4,390 yards — the second-most in state history.
Roger Dupaix’s 35 years pacing the sidelines as the head coach at Highland and Skyline certainly made an impact on his children, because two are now following in his footsteps.
A year after Danny Dupaix took over as head coach at West Jordan, his brother Joe Dupaix is about to begin his first season at Timpanogos High.
They’ve got a great resource to turn to if they ever have questions. Roger Dupaix won 301 games during his 35 years, a state record. The elder Dupaix is actually serving as an assistant coach at West Jordan this season.
The Jaguars went 1-9 during Danny DuPaix’s first year, but his dad — who’s an assistant coach this year — reminded him that he struggled in his first two years at Highland.
“He’ll be the first one to tell you that the first few years are really hard. You’re trying to establish that consistency,” said Danny DuPaix. “You can’t turn any program around overnight. No coach, no hire, (or) single player is going to change the program. It’s the little things that I think he’s going to pay huge dividends for us.”
Highly recruited Brighton senior Osa Masina probably heads into the 2014 season with more watchful eyes than anyone.
A year after leading the Bengals to the title game, Masina has bulked up and is ready to do some damage.
“Everybody knows who Osa is. He’s a load back there,” said Brighton coach Ryan Bullett. “He’s about 15 pounds heavier than last year. At 6 foot 4, 230 and carrying the ball, he’s tough to tackle and he’s pretty unblockable at linebacker. He’s a matchup problem for offensive linemen.”
Last season he rushed for 1,643 yards and 25 touchdowns, while defensively he added 87 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks.
Without a lot of returning starters around him, he’s expected to take on an even bigger load for Brighton — all with the watchful eye of UCLA, Michigan, Wisconsin, USC and Arizona State, the five schools he’s narrowed his college choices down to.
Losing a state championship is never easy for any program.
For East, falling to Timpview 33-28 in last year’s 4A state championship was particularly painful after a perfect 13-0 season up until that point — and the critical watchful eye of the entire state after what unfolded the year before with an ineligible player.
The loss still stings, but the Leopards are trying to move on.
“I’m probably still not over it right now,” said linebacker Christian Folau. “But we have the same goals this year. It seems like our senior class has only experienced Rice-Eccles Stadium. We know the preparation and work our team needs to do to get back up there.”
East graduated most of last year’s offensive starters, but maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Timpview is the favorite in 4A this year, and maybe East will have more luck as the underdog in the big game this season.
CONTRIBUTING: Sarah Thomas and Amy Donaldson
James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.