ST. GEORGE – Oh what a difference two years makes in high school athletics.
The Dixie Flyers were state champions in 2012, led by senior all-state quarterback Blake Barney in a magical season. Last year, the Flyers followed up that success with a 9-3 season, finishing undefeated and first in the 3AA South and eventually losing in the state semifinals to region rival and eventual champion Desert Hills. While Coach Blaine Monkres had several returning starters and a ton of experience last year, he has the exact opposite for the 2014 campaign. The Flyers will start the year with only five returning starters (two on defense and three on offense). The Flyers graduated many players that were three-year starters.
“We are taking a big hit as far as experienced, game-tested players,” said Monkres. “But the kids moving up run the exact same offense and defense at the lower levels. There are several talented players that have been waiting for this opportunity coming up through the sophomore and JV ranks. They will still have to adjust to the speed and intensity they will face at the varsity level, but they will not have to learn a new system.”
Fortunately, a key piece returns. Ammon Takau took over the QB reins from Barney and had a stellar initial season, completing 66 percent of his passes and gaining 3,079 yards of total offense and 33 touchdowns.
“Ammon made great strides last year,” said Monkres. “His adjustment from the sophomore to varsity level was quick and his leadership this year will help others make that adjustment.”
Gone are most of Takau’s targets from last year. Two-time all stater Drew Batchelor, all stater Tanner Webster, and talented receivers Lucas Hildebrandt and Andy Appel have all moved on. Jaden Harrison and Konner Aitken are the two receivers returning with the most varsity experience.
“Harrison and Aitken will be our two slot receivers,” said Monkres. “They are both athletic and will step right in.” Bret Barber and Logan Schweitzer will likely start at the wideouts.
The Flyers will have senior Chris Hall take the bulk of the carries at the running back position. Tre Miller will also get extended play at running back. Jaxon Davis, the sole remaining starter from the championship team, and Blake Patterson will provide experience at the offensive line.
“Our line this year will actually have greater size,” said Davis. “We have put a lot of work in the weight room as a unit. The kids that have moved up are bigger than the ones they are replacing.”
On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Wayne Alofipo has nine positions to fill. Defensive backs Tre Miller and Harrison are the sole returnees. Anchoring the defensive line will be Jake Welker and Keanu Faumuina at the ends.
“Welker did not start for us last year but played extensively,” said Alofipo. “He has stepped easily into that starting role.”
The bigger task for Alofipo is to replace the entire linebacking crew for the defense. Hall will start in the middle and be flanked by Samson Kennedy and Namu Stevenson.
Dixie will host Springville to start the season before taking on 5A schools Lehi and Riverton. Their last pre-region test will be Canyon View before hosting Pine View on September 19.
Though the Flyers graduated the bulk of their starters, Monkres reitereated that the cupboard wasn’t bare.
“Not returning starters does not mean we are not returning experience,” said Monkres. “These kids filling in have varsity experience and know our offensive and defensive systems. They have done the work in the weight room and in the preseason.”
Next man up.
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