* Note: This is the second of our season previews for Region 9 football. The preview schedule is as follows:
Today: Hurricane; Tuesday: Dixie; Wednesday: Pine View; Thursday: Desert Hills; Friday: Snow Canyon. Also, look for our game day Capsules every Friday.
ST. GEORGE — For all of the excitement the Dixie Flyers football team brought to fans last season, they still have a lot to prove this year to convince anyone they’re region champion material.
Firstly, while last season’s success caught a lot of people off guard, at the very least Dixie proved it could hang with the big boys. Unfortunately, by proving themselves capable, the Flyers put themselves in a position where they are now expected to win – no small feat given the ever-escalating talent found in Region 9.
“Every year we kind of take on a different personality,” said Blaine Monkres, who enters his fifth season as Dixie’s head coach. “We were on the fortunate end of winning a couple of close games last season that made us 7-2 instead of 2-7. That’s a credit to the kids working hard to get the job done. They have the capability to go far if they stick with it and work hard.”
Finishing 4-2 in the region, good enough for a second-place tie in Region 9 with Desert Hills and Cedar, Dixie’s rise to fame jump-started after the Flyers upset Pine View 35-33 in a thrilling September match-up.
Dixie then hit a wall in back-to-back losses against Hurricane and Desert Hills, but quickly regained its footing and closed out the season on a 3-0 tear.
“Obviously every school down here wants to emphasize winning the region championship and we’re no different than anyone else,” Monkres said. “That’s our No. 1 goal. If you get that No. 1 seed, you got two home games. We want to make the tournament and win region and I think this group can do that.”
Monkres’s current roster provides plenty of reason for such optimism. For starters, Dixie boasts one of the deepest receiving corps in southern Utah.
“We have a strong corp this year,” said returning quarterback Blake Barney. “We have a couple of backups for every single position that can really play. (Kyle) Hansen hurt his knee in basketball, but he’s coming back and should be great. (Drew) Batchelor and (Tanner) Webster and (Lukas) Hildebrandt – they all played a lot last year, so I think they can get a lot of runs in. And they’re all so fast.”
Indeed, while not exactly large in stature, save for Hansen who is 6-foot-2, Dixie’s receiving unit offers speed, agility and athleticism.
“They are pretty quick, that’s their strength,” Monkres said. “We don’t have any guys with blazing speed, but they can get open and they can catch the ball. We’ll see how they do when the game starts. Then we’ll see if they’re the real deal or not. But I think they’re going to be a solid core.”
Wide receiver Lukas Hildebrandt, a 5-foot-10 junior, said improved team chemistry has played a part in his team’s increased strength.
“We’ve developed some good chemistry,” he said. “We did things like come out on our own and play catch with each other, which really helped everyone get to know one another a lot better.”
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” said senior Chris Whetten.
Of course, no receiver can flourish without a good quarterback. Enter Barney, who will begin the season more confident than ever.
“My sophomore year was pretty hard,” he said. “There were a lot of learning experiences that year. My junior year was a lot better and hopefully I can progress more this season.”
Monkres offered his own assessment.
“He’s become a leader over the past few years and the kids really look to him,” he said. “We expect some big things out of him. He’s a senior this year and has done a good job for us so far. He just needs to throw a few less interceptions and a few more touchdowns and throw for a few more yards and hopefully that will equate into a few more wins for us.”
Other tangibles to the Flyers’ improved status include a stronger offensive line and, hopefully, a much improved defense.
“We’ve got a lot of experience back on the defensive end,” Monkres said. “Guys who are really solid. We’re better in the secondary then we were last year. We have some scrappy guys on both sides of the ball. Hopefully that can win some games for us.”
As typical, though, Monkres wasn’t about to make any bold predictions. Instead he reiterated a previous statement:
“The key to a good season is being able to win close games. We won a couple of two-pointers last year and if you can win those kind of games, then you’re going to get some good seeding heading into the playoffs.”
Head coach – Blaine Monkres (22nd season, 156-86) Quarterbacks – Barney enters his final season as Dixie’s starting QB, while Batchelor remains a strong backup who has, in the words of Coach Monkres, “Great hands and speed.”
Running backs – Taylor Berry and Joseph Mitchell will get the bulk of the carries. “We can run both Taylor and Joseph in a two-back set or we can run them individually,” said defensive coordinator Rick Berry. “They complement one another.”
Receivers – Hildebrandt, Batchelor and Hansen are the top three, but Dixie boasts a deep receiving corps this year, especially if Hansen returns in full health off his knee injury.
Offensive line – Jesse Lambert and Gavin Graff lead the way. “Offensive line-wise, we have some big guys. They’re not huge, but they’re scrappy,” Monkres said. “Graff will anchor the offensive line. Lambert will start on the O-line. The rest will have to follow their lead.”
Defensive line – Chris Abraham is the anchor.
Linebackers – Taylor Berry will be the point man in his dad’s defense. Coach Berry felt like his defensive core was strong, especially with Taylor in the lead position.
Defensive backs – Whetten, who will also play slot receiver on offense, got a lot of experience a season ago.
Special teams – Tyson Graff will handle most of the returns.
Intangibles – Captains Lambert, Berry and Barney provide much-needed leadership. “These guys are our core guys – our captains,” Rick Berry said. They’ll have to lead the team.”
Fri., Aug. 17 – Springville
Fri., Aug. 24 – River Valley, Ariz.
Fri., Aug. 31 – at Provo
Fri., Sept. 7 – Pine View
Fri., Sept. 14 – at Hurricane
Fri., Sept. 21 – Desert Hills
Fri., Sept. 28 – at Canyon View
Fri., Oct. 5 – Cedar
Fri., Oct. 12 – at Snow Canyon
Thu., Oct. 17 – bye
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