ST. GEORGE — When it comes to the Desert Hills Thunder, everyone’s talking about Nephi Sewell. And rightfully so. A star his sophomore season, Sewell made it just four plays into his junior year before suffering a scary season-ending injury to his neck.
“It definitely was hard going through the last 12 months,” Sewell said. “It was hard watching games that we lost. It definitely hurt. I can’t really explain how excited I was (to be cleared to play again). The man above has my back and he has a plan for all of us.”
Sewell was picked by the media and coaches at the 3AA South Media Day to be the region’s co-MVP (along with Cedar’s Mason Fakahua). His value is hard to pinpoint exactly, but his talent as a ball carrier, kick returner and defensive back is unquestioned.
“It’s like a wild horse being locked up — you just have to let him be what he is,” DH coach Carl Franke said. “He definitely jumped off script pretty quick (during this summer’s return to action). But I can’t blame him. He’s got to be who he is.”
Of course, Desert Hills wasn’t tabbed to win the region just because Nephi Sewell is back. Though the Thunder will be breaking in a new quarterback in Quinn Kiser, DH has a lot of help for the young quarterback.
Marco Jordan emerged as a go-to back last season and sophomore Brock Parry also got some huge minutes late last year at running back. The Thunder will have to break in a receiving corps with only Logan Hokanson getting significant playing time last year (watch out for newcomers Braxton Porter and Gavin Young).
But the real strength of this DH team will be its line. Monstrous and talented Penei Sewell and Bundy Sewell will anchor the trenches on both sides of the ball and Houston Stapley also figures to be very, very good. Adeeb Jaouni will also be key up front protecting Kiser and opening holes for Jordan and Sewell.
“It’s like a dream come true, really, running behind all them beasts,” Jordan said. “Plus, I don’t know, I’m kind of small so you can’t see me behind them, so that’s a plus.”
Those guys will also star on defense up front, with Nephi Sewell and Ryan Hoppie taking care of the back end at the safety spots.
Jake Stokes and Noah Sewell are two linebackers that figure to play a lot, with Giovanni Vaifanua likely starting at corner and Hunter Holt factoring in the mix at safety.
The Thunder will be tested right away with a season-opening road game at 5A Jordan, which is loaded with returning talent on offense. After a home game Aug. 26 vs. Salem Hills, Desert Hills then hits the road for three straight, including the region opener at Cedar on Sept. 16.
Look for a little more variety with the Thunder offense this year as well, with some two-back, two tight end sets and even the pistol formation.
“Every year, every coach has the same problem — they gotta replace people,” Franke said. “You just hope the younger guys step up and that’s what the summer’s for.”
2016 Desert Hills Thunder football schedule
Aug. 19 — at Jordan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — SALEM HILLS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — at Foothill, Nevada, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Grantsville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Cedar, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — HURRICANE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Dixie, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — PINE VIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — SNOW CANYON, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Desert Hills High School
All-time record: 59-32 (8 years)
Region championships: 3 (2012 co, 2014 co, 2015 co)
Playoff appearances: 8
Current playoff appearance streak: 8 (2008-2015)
All-time playoff record: 11-7
State championships: 1 (2013)
State championship record: 1-1
Most played rivalry: 10 meetings with Hurricane, series tied 5-5.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Desert Hills, 8 years old, is one of just four schools to make the playoffs every year of its history.
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