LAYTON -- After a promising 3-2 start out of the gate last year, the Layton season quickly unraveled as the Lancers dropped its final five games, scoring a touchdown or less in four of those contests.
While injuries and internal matters caused the Lancers to adjust on the fly, the biggest issue seems to have been a lack of team cohesiveness, a matter which this year's squad is conscientiously focusing on.
"Last year we were a bunch of individuals," Layton coach Jim Batchelor said. "After sitting down with the kids coming back at the end of the season, everyone that I asked what we needed to do better said unity. They knew it. This year we have shown a lot of unity, energy and excitement."
Layton has reason to be optimistic, even though it will again face three of the four state 5-A semifinalists (Syracuse, Fremont and Jordan) and that doesn't even include a road game against an always formidable Bingham squad that manhandled the Lancers 47-13 in 2011.
"(The preseason schedule) tells us where we need to be if we want to compete in the region," Batchelor says. "Bingham and Jordan will be competing for a state title."
Junior Hunter Evans will return at quarterback after being thrust into action in the fourth game as a sophomore when the starter left the team.
"Hunter, being thrown into the fire, handled it well," Batchelor said. "He grew about two inches and put on 20 pounds so he's bigger and stronger. He has a great arm and is accurate, but his strength is his composure in the pocket. He may surprise a lot of people."
Evans will have the benefit of throwing to Utah State signee Tyler Fox at slotback who Batchelor says "is very shifty, can cut on a dime and you have to be able to catch him to tackle him".
At running back, Willie Uasilaa returns after his season ended with a broken leg in the third game last year. He will be backed up by junior Davis Marriot, while the fullback rotation will feature Daviaire Dickerson, Atlas Armstrong and Alex Astle.
Joining Fox at receiver are Marcus Kemp, Ryan Hernandez and Jordan Jaramillo with Nate Vandergraff and Preston Brown at tight end.
The line features a mix of youth and experience with three-year starter Zackery Wilding at guard along with fellow senior Joe Randall. Sophomore Spencer Davis and junior Brandon Nieto will handle the center duties with juniors Stetson Wood and Landon Brown and senior Johnny Blackmon at tackle. Jeff Ball will assume the kicking chores..
The Lancers will mix things up a bit on defense, at times lining up in a 3-4 set to exploit their depth at linebacker. Layton hopes to eliminate some of the infrequent yet critical, game-changing big plays that it has been susceptible to recently.
Vandergraff and Blackmon will be the starting bookends on the line with Wood and sophomore Mason Ewing as backups.
Russ Gamolsen, Davis and Devin Hatch will see action at either noseguard or tackle, depending on the formation. Rounding out the front seven will be Wilding and Armstrong as middle linebackers with Dickerson and Curtis Turner on the outside.
While the Layton secondary struggled against summer camp competition, it was missing several starters and figures to be much improved as the season kicks off. Fox, Uasilaa and Jaramillo will be the cornerbacks with Marriott, Kemp, Cayden Mangum and Chris Merzlock at safety. Vandergraff will take care of the punting duties.
"This group is more physical than what I've seen over the last few years," Batchelor noted. "We always want to be a physical, swarming defense. They understand what we've got to do."