SYRACUSE — It was odd for everyone to see the Syracuse Titans not in the state football playoffs in 2018.
But if the players and coaches are to be believed, SHS used the time in the offseason wisely.
Practices are at a higher tempo now. Workouts are more structured.
Heck, offseason weightlifting started in October right after players turned in their gear once the regular season ended.
“We’ve totally turned it around I would think. So far, I can see it out on the field and I think it’s working,” quarterback Bridger Hamblin said.
Last year’s downfall (a 2-7 record and just the second non-playoff season in school history) had to do with the sheer number of injuries to starting skill players, such as receiver Ty Burke and running back Corbin Vail, plus what Burke and quarterback Bridger Hamblin called a lack of team unity.
The margins were slim in 2018. The Titans lost 27-24 at Northridge in the region opener and 13-12 to Davis when the Darts blocked a last-second field goal.
Figure six more points and Syracuse is a No. 3 seed in the playoffs with a legitimate shot to win on the road. Instead, some pretty big changes came to the program.
“There’s always something to learn as a head coach, but I learned a ton as far as what I felt we needed to improve on," head coach Mike Knight said. "In the years in the past, we had a lot of success so let’s just keep rolling and doing what we’re doing, but as things transpired last year I started to recognize what was necessary for us as a program moving forward.”
Those changes have to do with how practices and workouts are run and structured. Practices are now like college practices: 24 periods of five minutes each.
Workouts are now for a designated amount of time instead of, ‘Come in, do your work and if you finish early, great!’
Syracuse comes into 2019 with a small handful of returning starters on defense plus several returners on offense, but critically have a new offensive line.
The O-line is obviously the key and one might think bumps and bruises will come because of new faces up front.
Sure, but also consider last year’s Fremont team had a mostly new offensive line and had one of the best offenses around because its quarterback had time to throw and its running backs had gaps to run.
Or if you’re Knight, a former offensive lineman himself, you’re optimistic for more spiritual reasons.
“The year we played for the state championship in 2012, every one of those guys was new at the start of the year. Five brand-new guys,” he said, lightly pounding his fist on a table to accentuate the final four words. “I’m hoping that’s an omen.”
One of the focuses for the team is developing depth — in case the injury gods spin their wheel of pain and it lands on Syracuse again — and chemistry, goals that aren’t unique to one team.
Knight said offseason team-bonding activities were pretty well-received, but that’s because a lot of the players are already friends with each other.
“I feel like we’re pretty well-rounded, I think we’ll be really good, definitely better than last year," Burke said. "Some of our strengths are, every team says this, but I think we have a lot of camaraderie.”
Burke missed most of the season after a run-in with Compartment Syndrome in his left leg following a freak play against Northridge.
Even though he returned a few games later, he was operating at around “50 percent,” and acting more as a decoy than a dynamic playmaker.
Burke finally got back to 100 percent in track and field season and here’s what that looks like: an 11.12-second time in the 100-meter dash at the state track and field championships, good for third place in a race featuring a Utah State-bound sprinter.
For starters, the Titans are somewhat under the radar when it comes to the region title race, which is unusual given their success the past 12 seasons.
The only other big change, apart from changes to practices and workouts, is Braden Hamblin, previously the quarterbacks coach, moves to offensive coordinator.
OH, BROTHER: Bridger Hamblin, the expected starting quarterback, and Braden Hamblin, the offensive coordinator, are brothers. Braden quarterbacked the Titans when the school first opened 12 years ago.
UNSAVORY BOOKEND: The 2018 campaign was the worst season for the Titans since their inaugural 2007 season when they went 0-10. They followed that with a 10-3 mark and a playoff semifinal appearance.
2018 SEASON: 2-7, 2-4 Region 1, missed the playoffs. Syracuse had a late field goal against Davis blocked, which would’ve put the Titans, Darts and Northridge level at 3-3 and created an interesting tiebreaker process.
2019 OPPOSITION RECORD: 44-50 (.468).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Bridger Hamblin (QB), Ty Burke (WR/S), Kobe Rusch (S), Corbin Vail (CB/RB), Mikey Metcalfe (LB), Sam Adams (WR/CB)
STRENGTHS: Syracuse has experience at the skill positions with its top five rushers returning along with two of the top three receivers.
WEAKNESSES: Inexperience on offensive and defensive lines.
RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense)
BASE OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Spread/4-2 nickel
BY THE NUMBERS
10-10: Syracuse’s all-time record in 10 playoff appearances.
1,402: Total yards of offense gained by quarterback Bridger Hamblin in 2018.
113 million: Combined cost in dollars to construct both Syracuse ($38 million) and Farmington ($75 million) high schools. The two schools play each other for the first time Aug. 23.
Aug. 16: at Granger, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23: Farmington, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30: Layton*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5: at Weber*, 7 p.m. (KJZZ)
Sept. 13: at Roy*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: Fremont*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: at Davis*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: Northridge*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: at Clearfield*, 7 p.m.
*Region 1 game