ST. GEORGE — The Desert Hills High School football team has a new head coach this year, and the Thunder will bring an experienced squad to the field in the first season of 4A Region 10 competition.
The team was supposed to play a scrimmage but it was cancelled for player safety due to the blanket of smoke and haze that settled in over St. George Saturday night.
Instead the team was introduced to fans and media for pictures.
Head coach Rick Berry comes to Desert Hills via Dixie High, where he was a defensive coordinator. He spoke with St. George News on the field at the team’s introduction.
“I’ve been over at Dixie for a long time, so I’m kind of changing from the blue and white to the gold and black. Just happy to be here,” Berry said. “It’s such a tough region, I love the region. We got great kids and parent support, so it’s going to be a fun year. We’re looking forward to it.”
Last year the Thunder beat Mountain Crest 44-14 in the first round of the playoffs, then saw its season end in a loss at eventual state champion Sky View 42-12.
With many of the starting players from those games coming back this year, Berry expects the Thunder to be tough on their opponents. He said there has been a learning curve for the kids with new terminology and schemes on both sides of the ball.
“I’ve felt like really in the last three or four days we’ve really kind of settled in and have gotten familiar with what we’re trying to install,” Berry said. “The kids are buying in and I think we’re in good shape going into our first game.”
While Region 9 became Region 10 this year, the Thunder will face the same local rivalries and tough competition.
“It never changes down here. I tell the kids this, ‘You cannot take a week off.’ We have so much talent in Region 10,” Berry said. “Top to bottom you just can’t overlook anybody, it’s competitive. Great coaches in the region, so it’s a dogfight every Friday night.”
Playmakers Noah Fuailetolo and Awsten Turnbow return to lead the Thunder’s offense, protected by a solid line featuring Maguire May, Steele Wyman and Dawson Bundy.
“We’re pretty balanced on offense, I think maybe this year more than any,” said Berry. “We have a trio of really good running backs, we’re talented on the outside, it’s the second year for Noah and we have an experienced O-line.”
Defensively, Berry said he’s a traditional 4-3 guy that emphasizes pass rush.
“I love to bring some pressure, we mix things up, come from a lot of different areas, so we’ll get after them,” Berry said. “We’ll turn that front seven loose and let them go have some fun in the backfield.”
Some returning players who look to have big seasons for the defense are Robby Tangren, Eric Olsen and linebackers Jake Wilkins and CY Nunley.
The season doesn’t start easy for Desert Hills as the Thunder hosts San Juan in its first game Aug. 13. The Broncos moved down to 2A this year after being the leading scoring team in 3A last year, averaging 39 points per contest.
“That’s a tough opener,” Berry said. “I think they’re the only team I’ve ever heard of that has all of their starters back on both sides of the ball. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ll come out and try to slow them down.”
There’s lots of reasons to be optimistic about the Thunder’s potential. Desert Hills was ranked No.5 in 4A according to the Deseret News preseason coaches rankings.
Berry said he’s excited for the season and happy to be at Desert Hills.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.”
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