ST. GEORGE – The Dixie Flyers don’t want to dwell on last season.
By all accounts, it was a great year. The defending Region 9 champions went undefeated in region action during the regular season, had an eight game winning streak and advanced to the 3AA semifinals.
An upset at the hands of eventual state champion and rival Desert Hills left a sour taste in the Flyers’ mouths, however. A taste they’re hoping to erase this season.
“Our goals are high. We feel like we want to go all the way this year, and we feel like we can,” QB Ammon Takau said. “We have great coaches that can teach kids, and we have a lot of athletic kids looking for a spot, so I feel like we will compete this year.”
In his first year as a quarterback, Takau completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,641 yards and 27 touchdowns, along with 15 interceptions. He was also the team’s second leading rusher, with 438 yards and six scores on the ground.
“Ammon is back, and he just picked up where he left off last year. Hopefully he can make that next step and improve on what he did last year,” Dixie head coach Blain Monkres said.
“He did a good job, but obviously you want to see some improvement and do a little better this year. He’s come a long ways, and understands the offense a lot better and understands what I’m looking for.”
While Takau is back to lead the offense, his surrounding cast is going to look a little different. Leading rusher and receiver Drew Batchelor is now wearing purple at Weber State, and his next two leading receivers — Lukas Hildebrandt and Andy Appel — also graduated.
Combined, that’s 1,881 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns that will not be returning.
Despite those losses, the cupboard isn’t bare. Jaden Harrison and Konner Aitken both bring varsity experience to the table, and Monkres said he expects big things from junior Bret Barben, a big wide receiver with great hands. Senior Logan Schweitzer is also ready to contribute.
“Some of the guys that played last year, it seemed like they’d been here forever. A lot of them started as sophomores and had been playing for three years,” Monkres said. “This year there’s a lot of new faces out here, a lot of guys that hadn’t had any varsity time. A lot of guys this is going to be their first varsity experience coming up this Friday.”
While the offense isn’t starting entirely from scratch, the same can’t be said for a defense that is replacing 10 of 11 starters, and only brings back two players with significant varsity experience — Harrison and fellow DB Trey Miller.
“We’re replacing almost everybody. Right now (defense is) our emphasis in meetings and in team time and everything. We’re spending a lot more time on defense than we have in the past,” Monkres said. “We’re replacing a lot of guys … but we’re hoping we can find some guys to step up and get the job done.”
One of those players expected to step up is safety R.J. Wilgar, who is bringing his talents over from the basketball team. Wilgar received praise from both Monkres and Harrison for his work over the summer, as did cornerback Mason Oki who will start opposite Harrison.
Junior defensive lineman Jeff Martinez is another player expected to be a key cog on this season, as Monkres said teams are going to have a tough time containing him. He will be joined up front by Keanu Faumuina and hopefully Jake Welker if he is able to overcome an injury.
Though Dixie’s defense may not have the star power it had a season ago, Harrison said he expects big things from that side of the ball.
“I think we’re maybe more of a team this year, kind of coming together a little bit, like gelling together and just having a lot more fun in practices,” he said. “(We’re) yelling a lot; having a good time being a team.”
The Flyers will get to test out that unity at home Friday when they host Springville at 7 p.m. to kick off the season. The Red Devils defeated Dixie, 21-20, in thrilling fashion at the start of last season.
Monkres just hopes his team is ready.
“All those guys are new, it’s all going to be a new experience for them. Hopefully they can get up to game speed and understand the varsity game and what it takes to get the job done,” he said.
“I think with the right mindset going in, they have the capability of getting that done. We’ll just have to wait and see when we go out and play a game.”
Follow Tim Olsen on Twitter, @TheRealTO.
Fall Sports Previews
Part 4 of 8
Next up: Hurricane
Dixie Flyers 2014 Schedule
• Aug. 22: vs. Springville, 7 p.m.
• Aug. 29: at Lehi, 7 p.m.
• Sept. 5: vs. Riverton, 7 p.m.
• Sept. 12: at Canyon View, 7 p.m.
• Sept. 19: vs. Pine View, 7 p.m.
• Sept. 26: at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 3: vs. Desert Hills, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 9: at Payson, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 15: vs. Cedar, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 24: at Snow Canyon, 7 p.m.