ROY — Back in December when the Utah High School Activities Association finalized the latest realignment, those involved in Weber County high school sports started buzzing.
Roy High got placed back in Region 1 with Fremont and Weber. The rivalries are being renewed.
Though the Royals graduated several key players from last year’s state semifinal and Region 5 co-championship team, they figure to be in the mix for the Region 1 crown if everything goes their way.
Bryant Eteuati, Justin Kirkland and transfers Cannon Panfiloff and Taufui Fonua anchor a defensive line that figures to be one of the team’s strengths this year.
“I believe we can be (better) because we have a lot of talent, especially on our (defensive) line," Eteuati said. "If we have all the same mindset and think as a family — so far we’re getting better and better at playing like a family and less for ourselves — then yeah, we’ll be pretty awesome.”
If the Eteuati name sounds familiar for football fans in the area, it should be.
His older cousin, also named Bryant Eteuati, played at Weber State in the mid-to-late 2000s and is WSU’s all-time leader in punt return yards and ranks in the top three in several other categories.
Apart from the obvious of having two-year starting quarterback Jaxson Dart returning, head coach Fred Fernandes said the defensive line being a strong point was slightly unexpected. The Royals were exceptionally strong and deep at D-line last year, but most of those players graduated.
Overall, depth will be an issue this season even with a handful of new transfers from other schools.
But Fernandes thinks the Royals can navigate the lack of depth, and maybe be even better than last season, based on who they have returning from last year’s state semifinal team.
“We’ve got center and quarterback and tailback, (a) couple of receivers and all of a sudden you’re thinking, ‘Wow, OK, there's some big-time playmaking spots there.’ And then on defense you got mike (linebacker), which is kind of the quarterback,” he said.
Dart has started for two years now and Fernandes says he's poised for a big year. Running back Cade Harris, last year’s leading receiver and second-leading rusher, is back and figures to be a central playmaker on offense.
Roy split the Region 5 title last year three ways with Box Elder and Viewmont, but the Royals won’t get a chance to defend the Region 5 title. That doesn’t mean Region 1 is going to take Roy lightly.
If anything, there's a whole lot of tension underscoring many region matchups for the Royals, including the two obvious rivalry games with Fremont (who they haven't played the past two seasons) and Weber.
“It’s kind of like we won Region 1 too because we beat Weber and I definitely think Fremont’s going to come after us hard. Weber is too," senior center Cormac Boyer said. "I definitely think that there’s a target on our back.”
Roy has steadfastly held on to its natural-grass field even as other schools in the district and county have switched to artificial turf.
But there are some changes coming to the Royals on offense and defense. The overall schemes are the same but, on defense, depending on who else comes into the fold at defensive line, Roy has the ability to play with either three or four down linemen.
On offense, they’ve implemented run-pass option plays (abbreviated RPO, now a common buzzword among television commentators) in an effort, Fernandes says, to make sure an inexperienced offensive line doesn’t have to pass protect for several seconds, keep Roy’s defense off the field and keep opposing defenses from quickly figuring out Roy’s offense.
In summer play, Roy had a couple plays that were “unstoppable,” which has thrown some optimism into the equation.
If Roy ends up being better than it was last season, it might contend for one of the five first-round byes in the 6A state playoffs as the UHSAA makes a shift to a Rating Percentage Index formula for seeding playoff teams in an all-comers format.
A top-5 seed would be an incredible feat, given 6A’s projected top seven teams of Corner Canyon, Bingham, Skyridge, Lone Peak, American Fork, Pleasant Grove and East in some order.
Eteuati takes it one step further. He says the team’s mentality needs to be towards winning the state championship.
The Royals have two new coaches. Roy alumnus Luke Hobbs comes back after a brief stint coaching and teaching in Texas. Ben Hunsaker is also a new coach. Hunsaker teaches marketing at RHS. Roy is also a new member of Region 1.
DOWN IN DIXIE: Fernandes and Dixie High coach Blaine Monkres, the longtime former Fremont High head coach, have coached together at many schools including at Roy as assistants in the mid-1980’s under then-Roy head coach Fred Thompson. Roy faces Dixie on Aug. 23 in St. George.
REMEMBER 2014? Hobbs may have coached the past three years in Texas, but the last time he was at Roy helping out with quarterbacks was when a guy named Tyler Skidmore was under center. Good things happened then.
2018 SEASON: 9-3, 4-1 Region 5, split the Region 5 title three ways with Viewmont and Box Elder. Roy beat Maple Mountain and Timpview in the playoffs before getting bounced 42-15 by Skyridge in the semifinals.
2019 OPPOSITION RECORD: 48-45 (.516). The Dixie game may be the most intriguing, both from a competitive and analytical standpoint. If the UHSAA decides to penalize teams for playing opponents more than one classification lower (Dixie is 4A) then that could negatively affect Roy’s strength of schedule even when Dixie likely finishes 8-1 or 7-2.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jaxson Dart (QB), Cade Harris (RB), Jaden Harris (RB/LB), Bryant Eteuati (LB), McQuade Andrade (S), Cormac Boyer (OL)
STRENGTHS: Defensive line and quarterback.
WEAKNESSES: Depth and secondary.
RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
BASE OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Spread and RPO/4-3
BY THE NUMBERS
66.7: Percentage of last year’s rushing yards gained by returning players.
97: Average high temperature (Fahrenheit) in St. George, according to Weather Spark, on Aug. 23, the day Roy faces Dixie.
3,557: Jaxson Dart’s career passing yardage in two seasons as the Royals’ starting quarterback.
Aug. 16: West Jordan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23: at Dixie, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30: Fremont*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: at Layton*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: Syracuse*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: Davis*, 7 p.m. (KMYU)
Sept. 27: at Northridge*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Clearfield*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: Weber*, 7 p.m.
*Region 1 game