ST. GEORGE – Dixie has had a great four-year run, winning two state football titles and finishing as runners-up last year. But the Flyers only have three returning offensive starters and five on defense.
Second-year head coach Andy Stokes didn’t put them there.
“Every team has its own personality and ingredients,” he said. “I expect them to do the best they can with what they have.”
Dixie, tabbed to finish third in the 3AA South Media Day poll, has a key returnee in middle linebacker Malakai Fakahua, a three-year starter. Others include middle linebacker Buddy Stevenson, defensive end Tyson Fisher, linebacker Cutler Thomas and defensive backs Payton Wilgar and Hobbs Nyberg.
“We lost two big pieces in Keanu Faumuina and Jeff Martinez,” Dixie defensive coordinator Wayne Alofipo said. “Even though we have the most pieces coming back, the most important pieces aren’t there yet. But we’ve got some guys that are competing out there.”
Offensive returnees include linemen Tim Miles and Gavin Begay and receiver Nyberg, a thrilling playmaker who had 39 catches for 789 yards and eight TDs last season.
Jacob Barben will be the quarterback. “He’s the perfect fit for the mold we have,” Stokes said.
Barben played only in mop-up duties last year, but did get to throw a TD pass to his older brother Bret, who graduated last season.
“I have some experience,” Barben said. “I learned a lot with those few reps.”
Newcomers on offense include Ammon Ah Quin at running back and Payden Harrah, Nate Mahi and Josh Topham at receiver.
Fakahua, a tackling machine, will be one of the team leaders, a job he embraces.
“The biggest thing is trying to take what they’ve taught us and become an extension on the field.” he said. “Coach has said before that he expects someone to step up and be an extension of himself on the field. We’re excited. This is a new young team.”
Dixie is 39-12 the past four seasons, making it to at least the state semifinals in each of those years, including championships in 2012 and 2014. The Flyers will stick to the spread offense, with Stokes affirming that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Dixie averaged just a shade under 40 points a game last season.
But a brutal early season schedule could have Dixie fans a little frustrated through the first few weeks. After opening at home against a very good 4A Springville team, Dixie will take five straight road trips, including to Class 5A Alta and Lone Peak.
“Our preseason will be comparable to as good as the teams in region will be,” Stokes said. “Desert Hills is stacked; Snow Canyon, Pine View and Cedar are talking state championship. And I think Hurricane could be one of the top two teams with what they have coming back. We’ve got some incredible teams in this region.”
The road trips could be a plus, too. “It’s good to be on the road because we need to bond,” Stokes said.
Last year’s Flyers were 4-1 in region and 9-3 overall.
2016 Dixie Flyers football schedule
Aug. 19 — SPRINGVILLE, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — at Lone Peak, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — at Alta, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Canyon View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Pine View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — at Cedar, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — DESERT HILLS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Snow Canyon, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — HURRICANE, 7 p.m.
Felts Facts for Dixie High School
All-time record: 415-242-6 (71 years)
Region championships: 24 (1949, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970 co, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1991 co, 1994 co, 2009 co, 2013, 2015 co)
Playoff appearances: 42
Current playoff appearance streak: 5 (2011-2015)
All-time playoff record: 59-34
State championships: 8 (1957, 1967, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1998, 2012, 2014)
State championship record: 8-3
Most played rivalry: 86 meetings with Cedar dating back to 1949. Dixie leads 53-33.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Flyer Lukas Hildebrandt set the record for reception yards in a state-championship game with 203 in 2012. … Dixie’s Luke Carter was one of just eight Utah prep gridders to return a fumble 99 yards (2004). … The 1998 Flyers were one of just two teams to win a Tuesday region-playoff game just to get into the tournament and go on to win a state championship. … The Flyers hold the record for most two-point conversions in a game with eight (seven rush, one passing) set in a 1972 quarterfinal bout.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.