Around early August last year, Southern Utahns who might’ve wanted to go on a roller coaster could either make the short trip to Las Vegas and the roller coaster at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino, or drive up to Farmington to go to the Lagoon amusement park.
Or they could’ve watched Snow Canyon’s football season unfold.
The Warriors went 6-6 last year, culminating with a 3AA state playoff semifinal appearance. They crushed Ogden 45-0 in the fourth game, then lost to Pine View 8-6 the next week.
They lost badly at Cedar, then rebounded and handily beat Dixie, the 3AA South Region champs and state runners-up, 38-23 on the road.
“Last year we had incredible games, but those came after really terrible games like the Cedar game last year,” senior offensive lineman Wyatt Brinkerhoff said.
This year it’s all about staying focused and ‘hyped’ week in and week out for the Warriors. Snow Canyon appears to know the issue last year was the tendency to look down on teams. They’re all the wiser now.
“Don’t look at teams differently. Don’t do so much thinking, ‘Oh this team’s good, we’ve got to bring it this game.’ We’ve just got to bring it every game. Don’t look down on anyone,” linebacker Kaleb Gates said.
Matt Kitchen will start as quarterback for the Warriors, beating out Austin Staheli for the starting nod, though new head coach Mike Esplin says the staff wants to keep the two quarterbacks competing throughout the season. Chris Poulsen is expected to start at running back and will likely see some time at defensive back, according to Esplin.
Brinkerhoff, the vocal leader of the team and the player most likely to use a philosophical quote to make a point to the team, anchors a young offensive line that is focusing on technique and footwork to compensate for a size disadvantage. Gates and fellow linebacker Britton Webster anchor the defense that allowed 16.3 points per game last season.
Esplin, a Snow Canyon alum who previously served as defensive coordinator, added that there aren’t a lot of positions on the team that are set, which is by design so they can create competition like with the quarterbacks. He said the playbooks are largely the same except for trimming the amount of plays on offense, also by design.
“We’re not trying to learn as many things, so we’ve gotten better at the things that we’ve repped a lot more times,” Esplin said.
The Warriors are aiming for a region championship despite being picked to finish dead last by media outlets and observers. While some players said they felt a little disrespected, they’re using it as motivation.
“We actually sent that in the group chat today and everyone’s getting excited for it, cause that’s where we were last year and we made a good run,” Poulsen said.
That good run included upsetting Stansbury on the road before avenging an regular-season drubbing by Desert Hills and upsetting the Thunder. The resulting semifinal appearance at Rice-Eccles Stadium also served as a “payday” for the program, which has seen an increase in kids coming out to play, and general interest.
“If you look from four years ago to now, there’s definitely a big buy in, the school’s more excited, there’s more support in the community, all that stuff helps,” Esplin said.
Follow Patrick Carr on Twitter @patrickcarr_ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/patrickjosephcarr1/ or call him at (435) 231-3834.
Snow Canyon Warriors
Coach: Mike Esplin (First season)
2015 record: 6-6 (1-4, 3AA South Region)
Key Returning Players: RB/CB Chris Poulsen, OL Wyatt Brinkerhoff, LB Kaleb Gates, LB Britton Webster
Schedule: Five of the Warriors’ first six games are on the road, including the season opener at 4A Uintah and a trip to Idaho State to take on the Shelley Russets in the first two weeks. Snow Canyon has just three home games: Carbon, Cedar and Dixie.
Aug. 19: at Uintah, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26: vs. Shelley (at Idaho State), 8:15 p.m.
Sept. 2: vs. Carbon, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9: at Ogden, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16: at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23: at Pine View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30: vs. Cedar, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7: vs. Dixie, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21: at Desert Hills, 7 p.m.
Prep football 2016
The Spectrum & Daily News’ team-by-team prep football preview schedule:
Tuesday: Diamond Ranch Academy
Today: Desert Hills
Monday, Aug. 15: Snow Canyon
Tuesday, Aug. 16: Hurricane
Wednesday, Aug. 17: Pine View
Thursday, Aug. 18: Canyon View