High school football: Led by QB Noah Fuailetolo, Desert Hills’ experience makes it clear front-runner in Region 10

A quality returning starter at quarterback is a luxury that can completely change the outlook for a football team. That’s exactly the case for Desert Hills in Region 10.

A year ago Desert Hills was pegged to finish third in the region under first-year coach Rick Berry, but led by junior Noah Fuailetolo it ran the tables in league play to claim its first region title since 2015. The Thunder were bounced from the playoffs earlier than expected in a heartbreaking loss to Pine View, but with Fuailetolo returning at QB, the bull’s-eye is squarely placed on them.

Berry absolutely loves the scenario his players will be facing.

“Like I told the kids we aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this year, and I like that. I like the expectation that we have to go out every single week and perform,” said Berry.

That’s usually the case in Region 10 for every team, but Desert Hills got a reminder of that in the playoffs. In the final game of the regular season Desert Hills beat Pine View comfortably 38-17, but two weeks later after a first-round bye lost to the Panthers 37-35 in the quarterfinals on a touchdown on the final play of the game.

Only three starters return defensively for the Region 10 favorites, which will be the biggest question mark heading into the season for Desert Hills. The youngsters expected to slide into those new varsity roles have the talent and athleticism to excel, Berry just said they need the game experience.

Offensively that’s not an issue. Fuailetolo is back after passing for over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, while running back Tyden Morris is back along with a running back transfer from Crimson Cliffs, Kona Crowell.

“Having a three-year starter at QB, it’s nice. I coached against him his sophomore year and then the growth I’ve seen from that year to this year, is huge. Every year he’s gotten better. This year he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in,” said Berry.

Desert Hills’ coach knows the experience doesn’t guarantee the Thunder repeat Region 10 success.

“I think this year more than any, you could put a bunch of teams in a hat and just draw it. It’s always competitive down here. Kids are very well coached, great kids. Every week you’ve got to be ready to play, and that’s fun, it’s fun for the kids and fun for the fans,” said Berry.

Crimson Cliffs was pegged to finish second in Region 10 by the coaches, and first-year coach Wayne Alofipo disagrees with Berry’s assessment that the region is wide open.

“Desert Hills is the team to beat, no doubt. They’re loaded with seniors at skill and quarterback, and whenever you have that quarterback-running back combo you’re going to be special,” said Alofipo, who was an assistant coach at Crimson Cliffs before taking over as head coach.

Crimson Cliffs’ projection as runner-up in Region 10 is pretty surprising considering what little experience is returning. It has zero returning starters on offense, even though there’s a bit more returning offensively with five starters back. That new defense might only feature one senior starter as well as the Mustangs will be young and inexperienced.

Alofipo is the team’s defensive coordinator, and though he admits a steep learning curve lies ahead for his players, they’re very talented and good enough to make some noise in region.

Snow Canyon finished fourth in region with a 3-3 record a year ago, and this year is projected to finish third. It’s loaded with returning experience to make a similar jump as Desert Hills the year before.

A big reason why is nine returning starters, led by quarterback Hunter Johnson. As a junior last year he was third in the state in passing yards and touchdowns behind on 4A Player of the Year Kaden Cox at Ridgeline and then Desert Hills’ Fuailetolo.

“He had a really good junior season and we will look for him to be at the highest level this season as one of the elite QBs in the state with weapons to spread the ball around to,” said Esplin. “Defensively we have speed all over the field and we will be a physical defense with leaders on all levels that understand our system inside and out.”

Dixie has seven returning starters offensively to make a push for a region title, while Pine View figures to also be in the mix as always with experience at QB. Pine View won the region title in 2019 and 2020 before slipping a bit and finishing fifth in the region a year ago.

KJ Boyer will take over as head coach on an interim basis this season as Ray Hosner will be recovering from hip surgery.

Region 10 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Desert Hills Thunder

2022 schedule

Head coach: Rick Berry. Had an impressive debut season with Desert Hills in 2021 leading the program to a 9-2 record and a region title. He’s a graduate of Skyline High School and BYU Idaho.

Coach Rick Berry’s general outlook: We will have a three-year stater at QB, returning running back, multiple receivers and O-lineman. We are excited about our offensive and the possibilities and match up problems with this group. Our defense will be young, however, athletic and should be physical and more speed than last season.

Offensive coordinator: Sam Stevens

2021 offense: 37.1 ppg (No. 2 in 4A)

  • Seven returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Noah Fuailetolo, Sr., QB
  • Tyden Morris, Sr., RB
  • Tayven Mortensen, Sr., WR
  • Lincoln Holmes, Sr., WR
  • Cyrus Polu, So., TE
  • Stewart Taufa, So., T
  • Jarom Wilkins, Jr., T
  • Zach Ford, Sr., Slot

Key offensive newcomers

Kona Crowell, Sr., RB/WR

Ayzen Cummings, Sr., RB

Javien Cummings, Jr., WR

Defensive coordinator: Rick Berry

2021 defense: 21.8 ppg (No. 6 in 4A)

  • Three returning starters
  • 4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Cyrus Polu, So., LB
  • Lincoln Holmes, Sr., DB/LB
  • Tayven Mortensen, DB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Ayzen Cummings, Sr., LB
  • Kona Crowell, Sr., LB
  • Alec Tafua, So., DL
  • Hunter Clark, Jr., DB
  • Tamatasi Sauta, Sr., DL

2. Crimson Cliffs Mustangs

2022 schedule

Head coach: Wayne Alofipo. After assistant coaching stints at Dixie and Crimson Cliffs, Wayne Alofipo is taking over as head coach for the Mustangs in 2021. He’s a graduate of West High School and Dixie State University.

Coach Wayne Alofipo’s general outlook: We are replacing 16 starters in total, 11 on defense and six on offense. Offensively we return three lineman which is our biggest plus. We have two quarterbacks competing for the starting spot, Steele Barben and Darius Strickland. Mason Topalian will get the nod at the running back spot. Even though we replace three of our four receivers we have some young talent coming up to fill the roles. Konner Kell (is our only returning receiver but also our speed demon and explosive player), Luke Childs, Boston Adamson and Jordan Eaton (our star basketball player coming back to football for his senior year) then some other young guys like Owen Peterson, Noah Nielson and Malakai Alofipo.

Defensively we are replacing all 11 starters plus seven backups that were seniors. So this will be quite the task. We will be young and have a lot of growing up to do but experience can be relevant if we as coaches can increase the IQ rapidly.

Offensive coordinator: Kellan Weiss

2021 offense: 25.7 ppg (No. 6 in 4A)

  • Five returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Stone Hansen, Sr., OT/OG
  • Jacob Zarate, Jr., OT/OG
  • Conley Ulrich, Sr., OT/OG
  • Parker Andrus, Jr., OG (moving D-line)
  • Konner Kell, Jr., slot

Key offensive newcomers

  • Jordan Eaton, Sr., WR
  • Luke Childs, Jr., WR
  • Boston Adamson, Jr., WR
  • Owen Peterson, Jr., WR
  • Mason Topalian, Jr., RB
  • Steele Barben, Jr., QB
  • Darius Strickland, Jr., QB

Defensive coordinator: Wayne Alofipo

Crimson Cliffs defense: 15.7 ppg (No. 2 in 4A)

  • Zero returning starters
  • 3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

Key defensive newcomers

  • Keawe Ahquin, S
  • Jace Sweeten, S
  • Jordan Phillips, MLB
  • Brayson Phillips, OLB
  • Rowen Williams, OLB
  • Tyson Marshal, CB
  • Brock Baker, CB.
  • Jack Morby, CB
  • Parker Andrus, NB
  • Brooks Jensen, DE
  • Scott Nisson, DE

3. Snow Canyon Warriors

2022 schedule

Head coach: Mike Esplin. Entering his sixth season as head coach at Snow Canyon where his teams have posted a 34-28 record the past five years. He’s a graduate of Snow Canyon High School and the University of Utah.

Coach Mike Esplin’s general outlook: We are very excited about our potential as a team this season. We have athletes across the board many of them being returning starters. We also have more depth than we have possibly ever seen with a good junior and sophomore class coming through the system. We have great team speed at all positions. We return four offensive lineman and two defensive lineman. We will be led on offense by Hunter Johnson, a returning starter at quarterback. He had a really good junior season and we will look for him to be at the highest level this season as one of the elite QBs in the state with weapons to spread the ball around to. Defensively we have speed all over the field and we will be a physical defense with leaders on all levels that understand our system inside and out.

Offensive coordinator: Tim Nowatzke

2021 offense: 25.7 ppg (No. 5 in 4A)

  • Nine returning starters
  • Multiple offenses

Returning offensive starters

  • Hunter Johnson, Sr., QB
  • Bo Hickman, Sr., RB/Slot
  • Carson Nowatzke, RB/Slot
  • Tag Gubler, Jr., OL
  • Abram Gardner, Sr., OL
  • Beau Miller, Sr., OL
  • Traiden Filipe, Sr., OL
  • Brooks Esplin, Sr., WR
  • Jake Hill, Sr., WR
  • Will Warner, Sr., WR

Key offensive newcomers

  • Rylan Filipe, Jr., OL.
  • Teagan Hugh, Sr., RB
  • Kolter Stuart, Sr., WR
  • Dahrius Romander, Sr., RB
  • Brandon Gough, Sr., WR
  • Semaj Thompson, Jr., WR
  • Kai Kaufusi, Jr., OL

Defensive coordinator: Dre Smith

2021 defense: 25.9 ppg (No. 7 in 4A)

  • Six returning starters
  • Multiple defenses

Returning defensive starters

  • Brandon Gough, Sr., DB
  • Rio Ochoa, Sr., DL
  • Phoenix Oliver, Sr., DL
  • Brooks Esplin, Sr., DB
  • Rockwell Jones, Sr., LB
  • Jake Hill, Sr., DB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Kolter Stuart, Sr., DB
  • Duke Muir, Sr., DL
  • Makaio Swensen, Jr., LB
  • Tegun Whitehead, Jr., LB
  • Dahrius Romander, Sr., DB
  • Will West, Jr., LB
  • Konrad Green, Jr., DB

4. Dixie Flyers

2022 schedule

Head coach: Blaine Monkres. The most tenured coach in the state, Monkres is entering his 32nd season as a head coach in Utah with a 227-124 record. He’s coached at Morgan, Fremont, Murray, Riverton and Dixie. He’s in his second stint at Dixie, where he’s coached a combined 11 years with an 88-42 record and state titles in 2012 and 2014. He’s a graduate of Clearfield High School and Weber State.

Coach Blaine Monkres’ general outlook: We lost a lot of key players on both sides of the ball last year. Looking for some kids to step up on offense and defense. The region will be very good again this year. Hopefully our tough preseason schedule will prepare us for region play.

Offensive coordinator: Blaine Monkres

2021 offense: 31.1 ppg (No. 4 in 4A)

  • Seven returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Aiden Hatch, Sr., C
  • Alex Maycock, Sr., OT
  • Jordan Semmens, Sr., OG
  • Jeffery Christian, Sr., RB
  • Seth Takao, Sr., RB
  • Jaxon Barben, Jr., WR
  • Mason Kesterson, Sr., TE

Key offensive newcomers

  • Blake Watson, Sr., WR
  • Lucidio Bennett, So., WR
  • Jalen Schultz, Sr., QB

Defensive coordinator: Dan Odette

2021 defense: 21.6 ppg (No. 5 in 4A)

  • Three returning starters
  • 3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Chet Atkinson, Sr., S
  • Treven Alldredge, Sr., LB
  • Dave Hollings, Sr., LB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Junior Coughlin, So., S
  • Jake Dombroski, Jr., LB
  • Errol Dyer, Sr., CB
  • Kaden Cooper, Sr., CB

5. Pine View Panthers

2022 schedule

Head coach: KJ Boyer. Head coach Ray Hosner will be out this season for hip surgery, so KJ Boyer is taking over as head coach on an interim basis.

Coach Ray Hosner’s general outlook: We are excited for the upcoming season. Our kids have been working hard and had a busy summer. We can’t wait to see what their hard work will show during the season.

Offensive coordinator: Brett Harrison

2021 offense: 34.9 ppg (No. 3 in 4A)

  • Four returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Abe Roseland, Sr., QB
  • Sawyer Woods, Sr., QB
  • Camden Smith, Jr., G
  • Blake Stucki, Jr., WR

Defensive coordinator: Zach Tauteoli

2021 defense: 28.1 ppg (No. 8 in 4A)

  • Four returning starters
  • 4-2 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Caden Nelson, Jr., DE
  • Preston Christenson, Sr., S
  • Tyson Dinsmore, Sr., CB
  • Jacob Sersansie, Sr., Nickel

6. Cedar City Reds

2022 schedule

Head coach: Josh Bennett. Entering his eighth season as Cedar City’s head coach, tallying a 30-43 record over the previous seven seasons. He’s a graduate of Millard High School and Southern Utah University.

Coach Josh Bennett’s general outlook: We are excited for the upcoming season. With a number of returning starters and a great offseason commitment, we feel we have a team to compete at a high level in a challenging region.

Offensive coordinator: Sam Elliot

2021 offense: 19.7 ppg (No. 10 in 4A)

  • Nine returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Bryson Bennett, Sr., Center
  • Matthew Villa-Rowe, Sr., Guard
  • Trent Durbin, Sr., Guard
  • Zander Weaver, Sr., Guard
  • Koden Lunt, Jr., QB
  • Devin Crenshaw, Jr., RB
  • TreDyn Elliot, Jr., WR
  • Conner Hardman, Sr., TE/WR
  • Ammon York, Jr., WR

Key offensive newcomers

  • Jayson Ziegler, Sr., OL
  • Braxtyn Hascall, Jr., OL
  • Damien McGarvey, Sr., WR
  • Dontay McGarvey, Jr., WR
  • Tel Hirschi, Sr., WR

Defensive coordinator: Mark Esplin

2021 defense: 36.4 ppg (No. 11 in 4A)

  • Nine returning starters
  • 3-3/4-2 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Bryson Bennett, Sr., LB
  • Matthew Villa-Rowe, Sr., DL
  • Trent Durbin, Sr., DL
  • Xander Weaver, Sr. DL
  • Tel Hirschi, Sr., DB
  • Jake Ellis, Jr., DB
  • Jake Storie, Jr., DB
  • TreDyn Elliot, Jr., DB
  • Damien McGarvey, Sr., DB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Jourden Raftery, Jr., DE
  • Tyler Ogden, Sr., LB
  • Dontay McGarvey, Jr., DB
  • Jayson Ziegler, Sr., DL

7. Hurricane Tigers

2022 schedule

Head coach: Cory Ashby. Entering his second season as head coach at Hurricane after last year’s 2-9 debut season. He’s a graduate of Hurricane and Southern Utah University.

Coach Cory Ashby’s general outlook: The team understands that the only way to improve is through hard work. We are excited to get the season going with multiple two-year starters returning for their senior season. The team has worked harder this offseason than we ever had from inside the weightroom and classroom to out on the field. With a good base or returners and a good group of underclassman stepping into new roles I am excited to see all the work come out on the field. Leading the charge of returners are all three of our All-State athletes RJ Wright (WR), Carter Ashby (athlete) and Mahonri Tonumaipea (center).

Offensive coordinator: Carl Franke

2021 offense: 16.5 ppg (No. 11 in 4A)

  • Seven returning starters
  • Multiple offenses

Returning offensive starters

  • RJ Wright, Sr., WR
  • Carter Ashby, Sr., Athlete
  • Mahonri Tonumaipea, Sr., Center
  • Jake Barlow, Sr., OL
  • Alexander Stubbs, Jr., RB
  • Nifai Iloa, Sr., TE
  • Jace Meacham, Sr., WR

Key offensive newcomers

  • Gerritt Grondel, So., QB
  • Tovia Tuinei, Jr., OL
  • Tanner Erickson, So., OL
  • Ethan Staples, Jr., RB

Defensive coordinator: Nick Hansen.

2021 defense: 41 ppg (No. 13 in 4A)

  • Five returning starters
  • 3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Adrixx Clegg, Sr., DL
  • Kellan Pledger, Jr., LB
  • Hunter Prince, Jr., DB/LB
  • Carter Ashby, Sr., DB
  • Jace Meacham, Sr., DB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Landon Stewart, Jr., LB
  • Alek Campbell, Jr., DL
  • Connor Robinson, Sr., DL
  • Alexander Stubbs, Jr., LB

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