LAYTON — On Friday, Layton Christian Academy’s football team will play on its picturesque home field, perched at the top of a ravine overlooking Hobbs Reservoir with a stunning view of the prominent Wasatch Mountains for the backdrop.
Home games there are normally something to savor. That couldn’t be more evident this year for the road-warrior Eagles, who host North Summit for their first home game of the season and just their second home contest all year.
Two home games. Six road games.
“The positive thing is, next year, we get the six home games and three away, so that’s what’s motivating,” head coach Fotu Katoa said after practice Wednesday.
At the start of the year, the schedule consisted of three home games until Altamont High dropped its football program, leaving LCA with just two home dates: Friday against North Summit and Oct. 18 against Gunnison Valley in the regular-season finale.
There’s a branded Layton Christian Academy charter bus parked between a tree and the school’s weight room on the east side of the parking lot. That’s where the fun before the road games happens.
The travel in 2A football is a double-edged sword, depending on who you ask.
For starters, there are no close road games. The Eagles have already been to Parowan High this year (a 3 1/2 hour drive) and White Pine High in Ely, Nevada (4 hours).
For the Parowan game, the team got home at 2:30 a.m. Saturday. For the White Pine game, the Eagles returned at 4 a.m. after missing a half-day of school to drive to Ely.
Last week’s road game at Judge Memorial was a mere 30-minute drive south.
“That was the closest game I’ve had probably since I’ve been here. In four years, that was the closest game ... it was weird,” quarterback Colter Wheelwright said, noting how much of a luxury it is for bigger schools who don’t have to travel as much as LCA.
Trips to Rich High (1 hour, 45 minutes), Duchesne (2 hours, 15 minutes) and Monticello (5 hours) await later this year.
“The one that always stands out to me is Monticello. That one’s a far drive,” Wheelwright said.
The Rich High game comes Sept. 20 between both of LCA’s bye weeks. Katoa says he plans to use the week of Sept. 13 for some injury recovery and in-season weightlifting.
The Duchesne and Monticello games are back-to-back.
“It’s definitely a tough schedule, it’s not anything easy to be on the road that much, especially the kids missing school like that and coming back early in the morning, 3 or 4 in the morning,” Katoa said. “Yeah, it’s a little tough on the kids. We get right back to it Monday morning.”
On the flip side, there’s ample time on bus rides for the players to bond. That aspect is even more magnified at a school like LCA, where most of the team consists of international students who’ve maybe lived in Utah for a couple years, at most.
“Personally I (like the bus rides), I think they’re fun. It helps build team camaraderie. We definitely get closer together and have a lot of fun on the bus,” Wheelwright said.
The song of choice for the Eagles on the bus is “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus. Plenty of songs by rapper Kendrick Lamar get on the playlist, too. Wheelwright thinks either he or fellow senior Ulric Sutton is the loudest singer on the team.
As Wheelwright was describing which songs were on the playlist — and asking teammates about other songs he may have forgotten — assistant coach Charles Cook chimed in from the sideline about how awful he thinks the playlist is.
While the players hang out, blast music, play games and play pranks on each other, the coaches discuss football schematics amongst themselves, then talk about things outside of football.
The Eagles are 1-2 after their first three games, with a win at White Pine and losses to Parowan and Judge. Katoa likes what he sees so far.
“We are improving on a weekly basis,” he said, hoping the trend continues and the Eagles can peak at the right time of the season.
After practice, Cook and Katoa both stressed to the team how important it was to defend its home field. After all, the Eagles only get two chances to do so this year.
GAME OF THE WEEK: FARMINGTON at LONE PEAK
It’s an out-of-area opponent, but Farmington (3-0) is going to take its high-powered offense and defense on the road for possibly the best test it could get in the entire state: defending 6A champion Lone Peak (3-0). Statistically, everything’s going right for Farmington: quarterback Wyatt Evertsen has 10 touchdown passes against zero interceptions, the run game averages 6.4 yards per rush, the defense allows seven points and forces two turnovers per game.
ROY AT LAYTON
Layton (1-2, 0-1 Region 1) has won eight straight region games against Roy (2-1, 1-0) dating back to 1991. The Royals have three players with more than 20 carries this season: Cade Harris, Jaden Harris and Dillan Thoms.
FREMONT AT NORTHRIDGE
Fremont (0-3, 0-1 Region 1) has played Northridge (1-2, 0-1) every season since it opened in 1994. If there’s good news for the Silverwolves, it’s that they’ve responded with a multi-game winning streak the last three times following a loss to Roy. Opponents are outscoring Northridge 70-20 in the first half and the Knights are outscoring foes 42-21 after halftime.
TOOELE AT BEN LOMOND
Ben Lomond (0-3) hasn’t beaten Tooele since 2011. The Scots’ current losing streak is at 26 games. The Buffaloes tout a BYU commit in running back Nukuluve Helu.
OGDEN AT MOUNTAIN VIEW
Ogden (1-2) takes a trip to Orem to face Mountain View (3-0), which averages 430.3 yards of offense per game, to open Region 10 play. The last time the Tigers met the Bruins was in a 1980 first-round state playoff game.
BONNEVILLE AT MOUNTAIN CREST
Former region opponents meet this Friday, both of whom are trying to get the cobwebs off of some slow starts. Bonneville (1-2) broke through with a win over Bear River last week while Mountain Crest remains winless. Against the Bears, the Lakers forced four turnovers and made five sacks on defense in what was a breakout game for the offense as well (315 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers).
CLEARFIELD AT DAVIS
Perhaps lost in Davis’ start (1-2, 1-0 Region 1) is the fact the Darts have, statistically, the best defense in Region 1, allowing 14.7 points per game with five turnovers forced, 19 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks. Clearfield’s (0-3, 0-1) offense, meanwhile, averages 9.7 points per game, but defenses have to be wary of receiver Gage Dicus (20 catches, 254 yards, one touchdown). Davis leads the all-time series 29-23-1, according to prep football historian George Felt.
BEAR RIVER AT MORGAN
There might never be a year like 2019 in Morgan (3-0) football history in terms of how the first three games have gone. The Trojans have outscored their opponents 146-0 and allowed just 17 yards of total offense. According to Felt, this is the third season Morgan has held its first three foes scoreless and the first time the Trojans have done it since 1947. That said, Bear River (1-2) has won the last three against Morgan and will provide the toughest test so far.
GREEN CANYON AT BOX ELDER
Now that Box Elder (2-1) has its three-game road trip to start the season out of the way, the Bees get to try and stop a Green Canyon (3-0) rushing attack that averages 259 yards per game.
TIMPANOGOS AT WOODS CROSS
Woods Cross’ (3-0) success has come exclusively on the road, so now the Wildcats get Timpanogos (0-3) for their home opener. WX has not beat Timpanogos in three previous tries.
PLEASANT GROVE AT VIEWMONT
Pleasant Grove (3-0) brings a balanced attack that Viewmont (1-2) will have to figure out. Viewmont also has a balanced offensive attack. This is the teams’ first meeting since 1996.
BRIGHTON AT BOUNTIFUL
Bountiful (1-2) is 6-3 against Brighton sine 1970, but the teams haven’t met since 1994. The Braves are seeking some consistency on offense: they’ve scored 30, zero and 14 points in their three games this year.