ST. GEORGE – Defending state champion Desert Hills was tabbed as the team to beat, with Dixie’s Hobbs Nyberg being chosen as the preseason player of the year, at the annual Region 9 Media Day, put on by St. George News, ESPN Radio and CEC-TV.
The voting for the top team was extremely close, with Desert Hills earning four first-place votes among the 13 ballots turned in by the seven Region 9 football coaches and six members of the local media. That helped earn the Thunder 63 total points, one point ahead of Dixie (62 points, two first-place votes) and two points ahead of Pine View (61 points, three first-place votes), the team Desert Hills beat by one point in last season’s 3AA state championship game.
Snow Canyon was picked fourth with 41 points and two first-place votes, with Hurricane fifth (32), Cedar sixth (29) and Canyon View seventh (18).
Much of the discussion throughout the Media Day event centered around the move by the Utah High School Activities Association to place the entire Region 9 into the 4A classification.
“I like it and the competition will better, but I think the South is still loaded,” Desert Hills coach Carl Franke said.
Speedy multi-sport star Nyberg was on every ballot as preseason MVP. He was phenomenal during his junior season, pulling in 55 passes for 1,048 yards and nine touchdowns, while also rushing for 640 yards and five TDs and passing for 121 yards and three more TDs.
But, like the team vote, the preseason MVP vote was also extremely close. Highly-touted Desert Hills offensive lineman Penei Sewell, who is being courted by such college football power programs as USC and Alabama, was on all but one ballot. That’s the most votes ever for an offensive lineman at the Region 9 football Media Day.
Pine View running back Jacob Mpungi was third in the preseason MVP balloting. The Panther senior rushed for 1,649 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, leading PV all the way to the state championship game.
Rounding out the top vote-getters in preseason MVP voting are Dixie quarterback Jacob Barben, who is coming off a serious foot injury, and Pine View receiver Michael Moten (both on six ballots). Dixie defensive end/linebacker Tyson Fisher (five ballots) and Pine View quarterback Ryan Javines (five) were next up.
DH’s Brock Parry and Hurricane’s Jaron Cordova also received multiple votes, as did DH quarterback Noah Sewell, Pine View linebacker Christian Reis and Hurricane tailback Luke Maggio.
Others receiving at least one vote were Hurricane’s Kolby Heaton, Snow Canyon’s Spencer Snow and Jayden Lacayo, Cedar’s Jarom Maurer, and Pine View’s Brooks Maile.
The media event featured 20-minute segments from all seven Region 9 teams, including Canyon View, which returns to Region 9 after spending four years in football’s 3A classification (one classification lower than the rest of current Region 9).
The Falcons kicked off the three-hour event at 3 p.m., represented by new head coach Skyler Miller along with several of his players.
“We’re really excited about being back,” Miller said. “We see Region 9 as being one of the best regions in the entire state. Week to week, it could come down to a region or state championship and we’re very lucky to be a part of that again.”
Second-year coach Josh Bennett led his Cedar Redmen into the spotlight next, followed by Hurricane and coach Steve Pearson. Second-year head coach Mike Esplin then presented his Snow Canyon Warriors, who lost several really close games last season.
“We have six or seven guys on both sides of the ball coming back that have almost a full year of starting experience and a big senior class,” Esplin said. “We haven’t had that the last couple of years so leadership and all those types of things grow because of the numbers that we have … and the seniors that we have.”
Dixie, which won the region last season, followed SC and coach Andy Stokes presented some of his stars, including Nyberg and Barben.
The final two teams were the ones that met in the 3AA state championship game, Pine View and Desert Hills.
Pine View, with assistant coach Ben Meyer, vowed to remember losing the state championship on the last play of the season, while the Thunder and head coach Carl Franke talked about his team’s desire to reload and make another run at a state title.
The Media Day concluded with Andy Griffin, Devin Dixon, Mike McGary and Andy Thompson wrapping up the event and the preseason votes being tallied.
Region 9 Preseason Poll (1st vts, pts)
1. Desert Hills (4) 63
2. Dixie (2) 62
3. Pine View (3) 61
4. Snow Canyon (2) 41
5. Hurricane 32
6. Cedar 29
7. Canyon View 18
Region 9 Preseason MVP Voting
1. Hobbs Nyberg, DX
2. Penei Sewell, DH
3. Jacob Mpungi, PV
4t. Jacob Barben, DX
4t. Michael Moten, PV
6. Tyson Fisher, DX
7t. Ryan Javines, PV
7t. Brock Parry, DH
9. Jaron Cordova, HU
10t. Luke Maggio, HU
10t. Noah Sewell, DH
10t. Christian Reis, PV
Others receiving votes – Koby Heaton, HU; Spencer Snow, SC; Jayden Lacayo, SC; Jarom Maurer, CD; Brooks Maile, PV.
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