ST. GEORGE — Even with a new head coach, Snow Canyon is hoping continuity will be a key part of this year’s team.
One would think that those circumstances would lead to a rocky transformation into 2016. But the team is now being led by former defensive coordinator Mike Esplin, who has been with the program for the last five years. He also played for the Warriors. Esplin played on the 1996 state championship team.
“I was in the first class to go through Snow Canyon Middle and High School,” said Esplin. “This community is a part of me.”
Esplin is not convinced that this will be a “rebuilding” season.
“We lost starters, but we still return a lot of experience,” he said. “Our offseason program had over 100 people participating. What we do lack in experience, we more than make up with talent and tenacity.”
Last season saw Snow Canyon go 3-1 to begin the season, only to suffer a midseason slide, losing four out of five. The Warriors rebounded in the playoffs, winning their first two before losing to eventual champion Logan.
“Many were surprised with our success in the playoffs (including a win over Desert Hills),” said Esplin. “But we as a coaching staff were more surprised with our losses.”
At quarterback, Matt Kitchen beat out Austin Staheli to win the starting position.
“They are both so good,” said offensive coordinator Tim Nowatzke. “They are gifted, with contrasting skill sets. You won’t see Staheli rusting on the sidelines.”
Anchoring the offensive line will be four-year starter Wyatt Brinkerhoff. He is joined as a returning starter by Jayden Lacayo. Keihin Bracken also saw extensive playing time last season.
Joining Kitchen in the backfield will be Chris Poulsen, who played slot last year, but will get some snaps at running back this season. Parker Ence and Zack Nowatzke will also see some carries. Poulsen and Tyson Deland are the top two returning receivers.
The Warrior defense is led by linebacker Britton Webster. “Webster will be calling the plays for our defense,” said Esplin. “He is a 4.0 student and plays well instinctively.”
He will be joined at the other middle linebacker spot by three-year starter Kaleb Gates. The defensive line will be anchored by Brinkerhoff and Lacayo. Poulsen and Brooks Sampson return as defensive backfield starters. Nowatzke will also get a starting nod.
Snow Canyon will play five of its first six games on the road. The Warriors begin the season Aug. 19, traveling to Vernal, where they will take on Uintah. The following week, they travel to Pocatello, Idaho, to take on Shelley in the Rocky Mountain Challenge.
“We are looking forward to that trip,” said Esplin. “Teams forge together on long road trips like this. They will get to play in a domed stadium and get to know each other better off the field.
Snow Canyon will have its first home game the following week when Carbon visits St. George. Then it is back up north to face Ogden with the final preseason game. SC will begin region play with two games on the road at Hurricane and then Pine View. The schedule may seem unfriendly to the Warriors, but in 2015 they were 4-1 on the road and a woeful 1-4 at home.
Snow Canyon finished fifth in Region 9 last year at 1-4 and squeaked into the playoffs, but then shocked everybody with consecutive wins over Stansbury and Desert Hills. SC then fell to eventual state champion Logan in the semifinals. The Warriors have been picked to finish fifth again this year by the coaches/media preseason poll.
“The loss to Logan really hit us hard,” said Brinkerhoff. “We took two weeks to mourn, to say goodbye to our seniors. Then it was back to the weight room. We started rebuilding right away. The season can’t get here quick enough.”
2016 Snow Canyon Warriors football schedule
Aug. 19 — at Uintah, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — vs. Shelley, Idaho, (at Idaho State), 8:15 p.m.
Sept. 2 — CARBON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Ogden, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — at Pine View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — CEDAR, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — DIXIE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — at Desert Hills, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Snow Canyon High School
All-time record: 137-94 (22 years)
Region championships: 5 (1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2003 co)
Playoff appearances: 14
Current playoff appearance streak: 1 (2015)
All-time playoff record: 22-12
State championships: 2 (1996, 1999)
State championship record: 2-2
Most played rivalry: 25 meetings with Dixie dating back to 1994. Snow Canyon leads 14-11.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Warrior Kyle Coop holds the state record for average rushing yards per game during a season, 236.0, set in 2004. … Snow Canyon has a perfect playoff record at home — 10-0. Only Skyline has won more on its home field without losing (37).
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