WOODS CROSS — In early July, there was one thing and one thing only on Luke Hyde’s horizon.
That was the Aug. 16, 2019, prep football season opener for Woods Cross that takes them to Westlake High.
That approach is a 180-degree turnaround from the end of last football season, which itself had veered 180 degrees from the usual preseason optimism.
Plenty of people in the high school football circle thought WX would qualify for the playoffs. The Wildcats had the talent and experience to do that at the very least.
Then, somewhere up in the clouds, or down below the Earth’s surface, or in some parallel dimension, the high school football injury gods decided to pinpoint their answer to “Which team gets the most freak injuries this season?” at 600 W. 2200 South at the football field perched next to a noisy chokepoint of Interstate 15.
“I hope that last year, with as many injuries as we had, that’s going to even out numbers for the next three to four years,” head coach Andrew Fresques said.
The Wildcats’ prolific senior quarterback, their standout tight end, receivers and pretty much everyone with the word ‘senior’ listed as their class got hurt.
Instead of fighting for a playoff spot, they won two games and stayed home in the postseason. They were 0-5 in region games, albeit two of the losses came by a combined seven points.
Second-string players were good enough to keep the Wildcats competitive, Fresques said, but he thinks he didn’t do a good enough job having them ready to go when their number was called — often phrased as the “next man up” mentality.
“This year it’s not going to surprise anyone. If they’ve got to get in there, they’ll be alright,” Fresques said.
That’s one of the big changes this season: an extra focus on being ready if and when it’s your time to shine, because who knows when that might be?
Those injuries did have a silver lining to them. Many younger players got meaningful varsity starts out of necessity.
“We missed those (seniors) last year, but it definitely helps us this year with kids that know what they’re doing, know what they’ll see from teams in our region," senior Sam Stone said. "We’ve been playing against these kids our whole lives, we know what we’re going to see and I think it helped them get ready for this season."
It’s hard to peg a finite number of bonafide returning starters, but there’s plenty of experience to go around.
The most high-profile name is Josh Larsen, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior who plays offensive tackle and sometimes tight end. Larsen committed to Brigham Young University in April shortly after the Cougars became the first school to extend an offer to him.
Another name to know is Luke Hyde, a sophomore receiver, running back, kick returner, jack-of-all-trades.
“Not a lot of people on our team have an answer for him. He’s by far the hardest kid to guard,” Stone said about Hyde.
Hyde caught 24 passes for 376 yards and five scores last season and figures to be one of the Wildcats’ key playmakers this season.
Another focus: Hyde says once region play came around last year, the team started looking ahead one game and not focusing on the immediate task at hand.
This has also changed, one of numerous changes mentally.
“We cannot be complacent this year. Last year we were very complacent, I think. We gotta keep our heads on right, not let other teams get in our heads,” Hyde said.
Once again, the Wildcats have plenty of solid, talented football players who have been working very hard to make them believe they’re capable of throwing their name in the region title hat.
They believe they’re a very balanced team. Fresques says the offensive line is the best he’s had in three years at WX.
There’s also this gem of coaching wisdom: “Every possession needs to end with a special teams play,” Fresques said.
And if the injury gods decide, ‘You know what? Let’s hammer these guys again,’ then WX plans to be ready for it this time.
The Wildcats have two new assistant coaches who are probably familiar for any longtime football fans in the state. The first is Kitt Rawlings (he was previously a defensive coordinator for WX), who set all sorts of WX rushing records in the late 1980s. The second is Eric Jacobsen, a former standout defensive back for Utah in the late 1980s.
NEW OPENER: 2019 is the first season since 2012 that Woods Cross opens the season against a team other than Maple Mountain.
ANTI-GEOGRAPHY: Despite being in the same county, Woods Cross and Northridge will meet this season for just the third time (the Knights have won both previous meetings).
WOODS CROSS FACTS
2018 SEASON: 2-8, 0-5 Region 5, missed the playoffs. Two of the region losses came by a combined seven points.
2019 OPPOSITION RECORD: 46-60 (.434).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Josh Larsen (OL/TE), Luke Hyde (WR/KR), Sam Stone (DB/WR), Carter Weierman (QB), Cole Wardle (RB), Sam Fisi (RB), Charles Rasband (OL), Michael Mokofisi (DL/OL)
STRENGTHS: Offensive line, plus talent and depth at the skill positions
WEAKNESSES: Discipline (turnovers and penalties)
RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense)
BASE OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Spread/4-3
BY THE NUMBERS
539: Yards that since-graduated quarterback Carston Naegle threw for in last year’s season finale against Northridge. It ranks second in Utah history for single-game passing yards.
578: All-purpose yards gained by Luke Hyde in 2018.
Aug. 16: at Westlake, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23: at Northridge, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30: at Brighton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: Timpanogos, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: Bountiful*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: Farmington*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: at Bonneville*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: Box Elder*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: at Viewmont*, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 16: Green Canyon, 7 p.m.
*Region 5 game