FARMINGTON — Ask anyone around Farmington High’s football program during last year’s inaugural season and they would’ve acknowledged the expected turbulence that came with being a new team at a new school.
The Phoenix lined up the near-equivalent of a junior varsity team at the varsity level, went 2-8 in the regular season, but won two region games to get into the playoffs where the Phoenix lost in the first round.
Along the way, they picked up some bumps and bruises. Or in the words of head coach Daniel Coats, they got “mopped.”
But there was improvement. In the first five games, Farmington suffered five losses by an average margin of 34.2 points. The Phoenix went 2-4 the final six games.
Another common phrase heard around the school and the program was, ‘Just wait until next year,’ even if it irked some players who were getting thrown around in the course of the season.
“This year, there’s no more next year, this is the year we’re going to make some stuff happen,” senior Hayden Toone said.
Where other teams looked at the schedule last season, saw Farmington and immediately thought, ‘New school, this should be a cakewalk,’ that thought has now turned to, ‘Uh oh.’
No. 1: the Phoenix returns an overwhelming majority of last year’s team, which had a lot of young, inexperienced, talented players.
“There’s a lot of guys that I didn’t use the way I should’ve last year and I didn’t use enough," Coats said. "I kind of almost pulled the reigns back on them because I didn’t know them well enough to be like, ‘Dude, go, be free.’ The offseason was like, ‘Holy crap, we’re loaded, we’ve got all these dudes.’”
No. 2: the coaches don’t have to worry about starting a program from scratch. They’re on level footing with other teams in that they’ve spent the school year with the players, and everybody knows each other and the playbook a whole lot better now.
In some cases, the players know the playbook better than Coats.
“Those guys have serious heart because they fought hard (last year) without truly knowing what I wanted out of them, so they were confused by what I was telling them," Coats said. "And then to go against the defenses and stuff we went against last year was tough. But this year they have it down.
"And the funny thing now is they’re correcting me on some stuff, ‘By the way coach, you put that this way.’ It was a zone play to the left and I was like, ‘Well we leave this guy back here,’ they’re like, ‘Actually we leave the guy over on the front side, not the back side,’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, that is the way it goes.’”
No. 3: Agree or disagree with the decision, but the UHSAA Board of Trustees’ choice to keep Farmington in the 5A classification means the Phoenix will be as much as 600 students larger than some schools in its region. That translates to depth that nobody else in Region 5 really has.
“Obviously our goal is to win the state championship and I think we’re making great strides for it," senior Nick Shirley said. "Everyone’s gotten way stronger over the offseason, our practices are more strategic and more scheduled, more strict, and I think that helps. With everyone having their experience it really should be state championship or bust for us, if I’m being honest.”
The other impact of realignment is it bumped three of last year’s four 5A semifinalists up to 6A, so there are some who are pegging Farmington for a decent playoff run given the sheer amount of depth, talent, etc. that comes back.
Projecting a team to be good before the season starts is always a tricky and an imperfect science, at best.
“We know we’re experienced, we know we’re big, strong, fast, we know we’re athletic, we’re just a really talented team, but I think the biggest thing for us is staying strong up here,” Toone said, pointing to his head.
GOOD ODDS: Recent history points in Farmington’s favor regarding how second-year programs typically perform. In 2008, Syracuse went 10-3 and made a state semifinal appearance after an 0-10 debut year in 2007. Fremont went 9-4 in 1995, losing the state title game by one point after finishing 5-5 in its first season, 1994. In 1993, second-year Northridge went 7-3 after an 0-9 debut season in 1992.
NOVELTY: Farmington's first four opponents are Timpanogos (opened in 1996), Syracuse (2007), Ridgeline (2016) and Lone Peak (1997).
2018 SEASON: 2-9, 2-3 in Region 5, lost to Skyridge 56-7 in the first round of the playoffs. Of the nine losses, eight were by 20-plus points.
2019 OPPOSITION RECORD: 47-47 (.500), including a meeting with defending 6A champion Lone Peak.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Wyatt Evertsen (QB), Hayden Toone (RB), Takeo Kano (OL/DL), Ryo Kano (OL/DL), Jeremy Wilcox (RB/LB), Nick Shirley (S/WR), Hayden Wilcox (WR/S), Brayden Wilson (DE), Jude Cantrell (TE), Andrew Quinton (S/WR).
STRENGTHS: Experience and versatility.
WEAKNESSES: The second-string players are mostly inexperienced.
RETURNING STARTERS: 21. Yes, 21: 10 on offense and all 11 on defense.
BASE OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Spread/4-3.
BY THE NUMBERS
38.8: points allowed per game by Farmington last year, the 12th-highest in the state.
2-4: home record last year compared to an 0-5 mark on the road.
20.1: Yards per catch by returning junior receiver/tight end Jude Cantrell.
Aug. 16: Timpanogos, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23: at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30: Ridgeline, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: at Lone Peak, 7 p.m.
Sept 13: at Box Elder*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: at Woods Cross*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: Viewmont*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Bonneville*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: Bountiful*, 7 p.m.
*Region 5 game