CEDAR CITY — The Cedar Redmen are still adjusting to the new offense put in by second-year head coach Josh Bennett. Cedar, long known as a triple-option rushing team, switched to the spread offense last year, in part to try and take advantage of rising quarterback talent Mason Fakahua.
Fakahua is the top returning passer in Region 9 and looks to better his numbers from last year when he gained over 3600 yards in total offense and threw for 15 touchdowns.
Fakahua, whose father played collegiate football at Southern Utah, added 15 pounds to his frame without losing any quickness.
“He is a definite talent,” Bennett said. “He has the mental game to go with the physical. He reads the defenses well and is as much a threat with his legs as he is with his arm.” Fakahua averaged over 100 yards per game rushing last year.
Returning at wide receiver are second-team all state players Drake Lewis (35 catches, 586 yds, 5 tds) and Derek Ball (21 catches, 478 yds). Joining them in the receiver corps are Braden Garrett at wide receiver and Shem Mackert and Parker Haynie at tight ends. Lewis also averaged over 10 yards per carry out of his slot position last year.
The backfield will feature speedy tailback Travis Tait.
“No one knows about him yet,” said Bennett. “But they will soon. He has good speed.”
The offensive line is anchored by center Quaid Murray and also returns two other starters in Justin Gray and Ryder Bearnson.
As the team had adjusted to a new offense last season, the defense was modified for anticipated improvement this year.
“Last year we gave up 19 points per game,” said Bennett. “We got better as the season progressed, but we have switched our base defensive scheme from a 5-2 to nickel. There are very few run-oriented teams that we face, especially in our region. We are quicker on defense this year.
Cedar will return Murray and Mackert as starters at defensive end, while Daniel Jordan, Bearnson and Gray will platoon at the defensive tackle spots. The two middle linebackers are the two best returning in 3AA from last year, Jade Bulloch led 3AA with 139 tackles, while Bailey Gray was sixth with 90.
“Jade is in on every play,” said Bennett. “He has good recognition and flows to the ball quickly.”
The backfield will be manned by returning starter Lewis as well at Tait, Garrett and Trent Maurer. The new defensive scheme has produced positive results during the summer drills.
“We have maintained our toughness against the run,” said Gray. “But we have improved at stopping the short pass that hurt us last year.”
“Last year we played zone defense,” said Bulloch. “And a few good teams picked us apart. This year we have added extra coverage and we are also switching it up between zone and man. “
Cedar will face the same teams in the preseason as last year. The Redmen will open up on the road the first two weeks. On Aug. 19 they will travel to Provo to take on the 4A Bulldogs. The following week, they travel to Mesquite, Nev., to face Virgin Valley. They will then host crosstown rival Canyon View and Juab the following two weeks before beginning region play hosting preseason favorite Desert Hills.
The Redmen finished fourth last year in the 3AA South. They went 5-6 overall and lost to eventual state champion Logan in the quarterfinals. This year, they have been picked to finish second by the coach/media poll. Fakahua tied as Region 9 preseason player of the year with Desert Hills’ Nephi Sewell.
“In the 12 years I have been here, this is the best senior class I have seen come out of Cedar,” said Bennett. “It may be the best ever. We have talent and experience in both the skill positions and the lines. We have set high expectations. These seniors are leaders that can deliver those.”