Region 9 football preview: Snow Canyon returning core group of players; ranked in state preseason top 25

ST. GEORGE — Stepping onto the football field at Snow Canyon high school, screams and laughs echoed in the distance. As temperatures got above 110 on the turf, the people in the house that backs the north end zone was enjoying their afternoon in the pool. While they were doing flips and taking turns going down the water slide, the Warriors were working to get ready for the 2020 season.

Snow Canyon Warriors football prepares for the 2020 season in St. George, Utah, Aug. 5, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St George News

“Nope, no way,” Warriors head coach Mike Esplin said when asked about trading places. “I wouldn’t trade them right now.”

It has been a long spring and summer for the Warriors with schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but their first game of the 2020 Utah High School Activities Association season is on the horizon. After a loss in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A playoffs last year, the Warriors are returning some of their biggest pieces to their 2020 roster.

With Maxpreps’s first top 25 rankings for the state of Utah coming out on Wednesday, Snow Canyon is currently No. 21. They are also the only Southern Utah team listed in the top 25.

“It’s always a pleasure to be ranked highly in the preseason,” returning starting quarterback Landon Frei said. “Last year we had a good run in the playoffs, so we just have to try and do that again this year.”

Snow Canyon Warriors football prepares for the 2020 season in St. George, Utah, Aug. 5, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St George News

It is a new look for Esplin, who said last year they were certainly not the favorite. Region 9 was dominated by the star power of Pine View and Dixie, but most of those star players have since graduated.

Now the Warriors have the experience coming back from a team that made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament and finished fourth in a stacked Region 9.

Esplin said the highs and lows from the postseason last year have added more experience to his team. According to Esplin, they got so close they could smell it.

The first game was a massive comeback against Desert Hills on the road in the second round, and then the second game was a four-point loss to Park City. Esplin said it hurt even more that they were in a position to win the second game on the road.

“We got so close that we could smell that next game and then we could have had a chance to go win a championship, which we have been away from for a while,” Esplin said. “You win that game and who knows what happens, but both of those playoff games can be a mental component to becoming a great team with the kids we have this year.”

Now the Warriors will have a target on their backs this season, something they did not see last year. Esplin added that he thinks the team is thankful for it. After not having an offseason, he believes his kids are ready for the best out of their opponents while also being ready to give it their best effort.

Snow Canyon Warriors football prepares for the 2020 season in St. George, Utah, Aug. 5, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St George News

A few names to look out for on the Warriors will be Landon Frei, Bretton Stone and Braxton Hickman.

Frei will be the rock of the Warriors offense. Esplin said he brings the decision-making of a savvy veteran with him. His experience in the program has allowed him to major the right decisions within an offense with a number of reads to make. Due to this, Esplin does not have to coach him as much but instead has seen Frei coaching the underclassmen on the intricacies of their offense.

Another big piece offensively is Bretton Stone. Stone is a power back, someone Region 9 defense will not want to meet in the trenches. Not only is he powerful, but he brings speed, and Esplin characterized him as a next-level running back. He brings even more balance to the Warriors’ offense.

Stone said his biggest improvement in the offseason was his speed.

“I feel like I got a lot faster this offseason, so I’m just trying to score more touchdowns, get more yards per game and try to break some records this year,” Stone said. “Strength too, finishing runs and all that stuff.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Hickman will be back. The senior had 104 tackles last season and was a big piece of the defense for the Warriors. Hickman said they are balanced on the defensive side of things with a number of players coming back. The defensive line is also filled with seniors, showing that balance even more.

Snow Canyon Warriors football prepares for the 2020 season in St. George, Utah, August 5, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St George News

The Warriors open up their season with two road games at Cyprus and at Morgan. Both will be tests for the team, Esplin says.

“They are very good, both of those are away. Cyprus is a bigger school than us, they’re going to be talented game one,” Esplin said. “Then when we get to Morgan, they expect to win every game and win a championship. We need that before we go try and beat region teams.”

As for their key to a Region 9 title this season, Esplin said it is their consistency. Not only will consistency be big from game to game but also moment to moment. The Warriors cannot come out flat this year like they did last season against Desert Hills in the playoffs. Every team will be giving Snow Canyon their best effort.

The first game for the Warriors is against Cyprus in Magna, Utah on Aug. 14. Their first region game will be Sept. 4 at home against Canyon View.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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