High school football: Green Canyon tabbed Region 11 favorite, hopes to continue the North’s recent dominance of 4A

Over the past few seasons, Region 11 has been one to keep your eyes on.

The region has been the home of the last three 4A state champions, two of which went on to finish their season undefeated (Sky View in 2020 and Ridgeline last year).

After the RiverHawks cruised in dominant fashion last season — defeating their opponents by an average of 30.8 points per game — it appears that the region is back up for grabs once again, but who’s the favorite to claim that top spot?

The coaches’ preseason projections have tabbed the Green Canyon as the early favorites to win that race. If the projections come to fruition, it would be the Wolves’ first ever region championship.

“It shows the respect that (the coaches) have for our kids, and that’s just really cool and humbling,” Green Canyon head coach Craig Anhder said.

Despite bowing out in the quarterfinals against Crimson Cliffs, the Wolves boasted the second-best scoring defense in 4A last season, behind only Ridgeline.

With eight defensive starters returning, including three of the team’s four leading tacklers from last season (Peyton Johnson, Tate White and Will Wheatley), it appears that the rock-solid defense will be on display once again.

“Our kids (on defense) are tough, they love playing tough football and they thrive playing tough football,” Anhder said. “The essence of good defensive football is being legal, but being nasty as well, and that’s how our kids play. We’ve still got some holes to fill, but I’m excited about where we’re at.”

The offense also returns key production with quarterback Jack Stephens back under center along with backfield mate Gavin Christiansen, who finished as the team’s leading rusher last season.

The offensive line will be anchored by three-year starter Dylan Atkinson, who is the only returning starter up front for Green Canyon. Anhder said that the rest of the offensive line will need to step up this year in order for the unit to thrive.

While the Wolves bring back a majority of their production on both sides of the ball, the same can’t be said for the reigning 4A state champion, Ridgeline, which loses its record-breaking quarterback, Kaden Cox.

The RiverHawks also lose 4A’s leading rusher, Noah White, along with 1,000-yard receiver Stratford Simmons.

Though there are significant vacancies to fill, Ridgeline head coach Travis Cox said that the team is going to embrace the same “one week at a time” mentality that earned them a 13-0 record last season.

Replacing Kaden Cox as the signal-caller will be the team’s top receiver last year, Jackson Olsen. Quarterback is actually the original position of the senior, who remarkably played wideout for the first time last season.

Travis Cox said that the offense — led by three returning starters on the offensive line (Jake Alles, Easton Dahlke and Levi Painter) — might do different things from last year’s group, but he feels good about the unit heading into the season.

“We’re losing a lot of guys, but when you can rely on the offensive line that’s been through the wars that those guys have been through, that gives us a lot of confidence,” Travis Cox said. “Our team believes in those guys up front and we feel confident going forward.”

Though the offense will look different, Ridgeline does return five starters on defense, including top pass rusher Tanner Paskett (10 sacks last year).

Picked by the coaches to finish second in the region, it seems that the region’s coaches don’t think the RiverHawks will be suffering many withdrawals this season.

Coming in at third in the poll is Sky View, who faces even more turnover on its roster than Ridgeline, but the consistency of the program through recent years has garnered plenty of respect from the region’s coaches.

One starter on offense and three defensive starters return from last season’s squad that suffered a heartbreaking, one-point overtime loss to Dixie in the quarterfinals.

Juniors Carson Thatcher and Jace Favero will battle for the Bobcats’ quarterback snaps, but linebackers Cam Carling and Kason Spackman return to quarterback the defense.

Mountain Crest and its new head coach Ryan Visser came in at fourth in the preseason projections. The Mustangs struggled to a 2-9 record last season, but the third coaching staff in as many seasons will look to turn things around.

Bear River (fifth) and Logan (sixth) round out the projected region standings as they each seek spots in the top half of the region after bottom three finishes over the past few years.

But as the teams gear up for the season, each are aware that it’s going to take a lot more than the opinions of opposing coaches in order to finish where they hope to be. That work is done on the field.

“It’s not about where we’re picked to start, it’s where we want to finish that really matters,” Anhder said.

“We want to end first and that’s going to take a lot of work to do that in a region as tough as (Region 11). There’s very, very good coaches, great players that commit to doing things right, so it’ll take a lot of work to win one game, let alone many.”

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