ST. GEORGE – Dixie High football coach Andy Stokes always seems to have a secret, like he knows something everyone else doesn’t.
And his team was picked to finish third last year.
But things went south for Dixie after quarterback Jacob Barben severely injured his foot. Dixie stumbled in the playoffs, barely beating Bear River and then losing to Pine View by 21. So the 2017 season may very well hinge on the health of the now-senior Barben. Will the signal-caller be at 100 percent?
“We’ve been practicing and Jacob looks good,” Stokes said. “(Last year), he was smooth, he was smart and he was on top of his game and he’s right back there right now. He’s there, he’s back.”
That will be a huge factor as Dixie opens the season. Barben wasn’t just good before the injury – he was phenomenal. He had a 65 percent completion rate while throwing for more than 250 yards a game and 22 touchdowns vs. just five interceptions. He also ran for 282 yards and six TDs.
But Barben’s injury also exposed a huge weakness in Dixie last year.
“One thing Jacob has done a fabulous job with that I did a bad job with last year is developing the next dudes,” Stokes said. “He’s done a really good job of developing our underclassmen and our backups, so if something should happen, we’ll be ready. I think that’s a lesson we learned last year.”
Of course, having an all-state stud like Hobbs Nygberg to throw to will help Barben (and his backups). Nyberg caught 55 passes for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago. He also rushed for 640 yards and five scores and even played some quarterback after Barben was injured.
But Dixie is far from a two-man team. In fact, the Flyers are loaded on defense and at the skill positions on offense. Barben will be able to hand the ball off to tough junior running back Ammon Ah Quin, who had 897 rushing yards last year. And Nyberg is joined by returning receivers by Payden Harrah and Nate Mahi.
The big void on offense will be the line play. Stokes said his young line is inexperienced, but tough.
“You don’t win games on Friday night, you win games in the weight room. You win games in April. You win games when you’re tired in your training and you push it just a little bit harder. That’s what wins games,” he said.
The pressure will be on that group of linemen – LT Burgess, Wyatt Hansen, Nick Collins, Slayde Kolb and Nate Cox – to protect Barben and make holes for Ah Quin.
On defense, the Flyers lose star linebacker Malakai Fakahua (graduation). But DE/LB Tyson Fisher is back for his senior year and Payton Wilgar emerged last year as a key defensive back. He’s so good, in fact, he may end up as outside linebacker for Dixie.
Plus, Dixie has underrated, but strong returners Jake Staheli (MLB), Magalei Stevenson (MLB), Kaden Williams (DE), Tyson Miller (DB) and Faisi Faumui (DB).
Newcomers to watch for Dixie on defense include Nate Cox and Connor Walden on the line, Marshall Smith and Stuart Seegmiller at linebacker and Josh Pulsipher at safety.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Dixie will be a brutal preseason. The Flyers open with a road game vs. Springville, then host 6A Lone Peak, with a trip to Tooele the following week. Emerging from those games healthy (win or lose) will be key as Dixie starts region play at home against Snow Canyon on Sept. 8.
Coach Andy Stokes
2016 Results (7-4, 5-0)
Springville 37, Dixie 21
Lone Peak 47, Dixie 21
Alta 35, Dixie 14
Dixie 42, Canyon View 28
Dixie 38, Pine View 7
Dixie 24, Cedar 7
Dixie 31, Desert Hills 22
Dixie 48, Snow Canyon 21
Dixie 42, Hurricane 14
Dixie 26, Bear River 25
Pine View 35, Dixie 14
2017 schedule (home games bolded)
Aug. 18 – at Springville
Aug. 25 – vs. Lone Peak
Sept. 1 – at Tooele
Sept. 8 – vs. Snow Canyon
Sept. 15 – at Madison (Calif.)
Sept. 22 – at Pine View
Sept. 29 – vs. Canyon View
Oct. 5 – vs. Hurricane
Oct. 11 – at Desert Hills
Oct. 19 – at Cedar
Returning starters: Offense 5, defense 7
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