There has been a lot of change in the Stansbury High football program since the 2018 season ended with a Class 4A quarterfinal loss to Pine View — right down to the helmets, which now feature a metallic blue-and-silver stripe down the center, a Stallion logo on one side and each player’s number on the other.
For the first time since the school opened 10 years ago, the Stallions won’t be running the traditional triple option offense they used to post a 74-40 record under now-retired coach Clint Christiansen. Former Ben Lomond coach Eric Alder has brought the spread offense to Stansbury as he enters his first year in charge of the Stallions, and along with it will be a number of players in new positions.
“We’ve got a lot of good football players,” Alder said. “Our depth is good. I feel good about how many guys we have that can play up front, both offensively and defensively. We’re pretty deep and we’re competitive.
“It’s a new system; it’s a new pace, a new tempo. They’ve embraced it and we’re executing it at a high level. Given that this is their first year in the system, they’re probably a lot further ahead than I envisioned.”
Dual-threat Kru Huxford, who served as the Stallions’ backup quarterback last season, has earned the starting job to open his junior year. He’ll have a lot of weapons at his disposal, including running backs Payton Didericksen and Tommy Christopherson, slot receivers Pae Tia, Jordan Snow, Cayden Clark and Gabe Harris and wide receivers Lawson Wihongi, Jake Nunley and Jaden Jenkins.
“The most exciting part of it is our team’s good,” Huxford said. “We’re excited to get out on the field and excited to play. I’m definitely nervous, especially for the first game, but I think once we get out there and rolling, it will all just come natural and we’ll just play our game and have some fun.”
Christopherson is the quicker of Stansbury’s two running backs, while Didericksen is bigger and more of a power runner. Alder hopes to use them both equally, and while the Stallions will throw the ball more often than in years past, the goal remains to establish a strong running game behind a line that includes center Dillon Carpenter, tackles Dax Brown and Hayden Birch and guards Andrew Hanson and Jacob Rich.
“We’ve got something special this season and we’re ready to get out there,” Christopherson said. “I know that me and Payton (Didericksen) can get the job done.”
Alder said while Stansbury is changing offenses this year, that doesn’t mean the Stallions will be throwing the ball on every play. They’ll use a more balanced approach, hoping to keep the defense guessing.
“I think when people hear ‘spread,’ their minds immediately go to an Air Raid-type thing,” Alder said. “That’s just not the case. I think every coach wants to establish the run and wants to be able to physically impose their will on the defense. We spread it out, we look at what the defense gives us and that will determine where the ball goes. It’s similar in nature to the triple-O, where you make the defense cover the whole field and the quarterback is going to have an option on essentially every run play.”
They’ve been coached to play football here very, very well for 10 years, and to play football the right way. Their fundamentals — blocking, tackling — are where they need to be. That’s what it comes down to.”
Tia was a contributor on both sides of the ball as a sophomore in 2018, ranking fourth on the team in tackles and returning a fumble for a touchdown in addition to spot duty in the offensive backfield. Now as an upperclassman, Tia is looking forward to an increased role.
“Now I’ve got to step up and be a leader,” Tia said. “I know all the younger guys look up to me, and I’ve just got to be that guy to motivate them and lead them by example.”
Defensively, the Stallions will look to improve on a defense that allowed 25.5 points per game last year (13th in 4A). They will employ a 3-4 alignment with six returning starters — Tia and Didericksen at inside linebacker, Snow on the outside, and Huxford, Harris and Christopherson in the secondary.
Didericksen, who had 92 tackles and three sacks last season to help the Stallions earn a share of the Region 11 championship, is excited to get this season started.
“I think we’re pretty underrated and I want to show what we can actually do,” Didericksen said. “I’m excited to see our defense. Our line might look pretty small, but they are mean up front. Other teams are going to be lucky if they get any yards running.”
The defensive line includes Kyler Kolb, Bryce Gordon, Brown and Carpenter as key contributors. Hanson and Mason Stewart will line up at linebacker, while Clark will play safety. “We’ve got more than just 11 (players) that can play at any given time,” Alder said. “We’ve got 15, 16 kids that can play on either side of the ball, so hopefully that will keep us fresh. In the fourth quarter, we’ll go with those guys that we feel give us the win.”
Stansbury will be tested early in the season, beginning with Friday’s season opener against Sky View. They’ll face two other Cache Valley schools — Logan and Green Canyon — on the road Aug. 23 and Aug. 30 before opening Region 10 play Sept. 6 against first-year school Cedar Valley. The early region schedule also includes the annual rivalry game against Tooele (Sept. 13) and a road game against 2018 state semifinalist Park City (Sept. 20).
However, Alder refused to look that far ahead. Instead, he’d rather focus on what his team has immediately in front of it.
“We take it one game at a time and one practice at a time,” Alder said. “I really let everyone else talk about where we should finish and who we should beat and who we shouldn’t beat. We’re focused on the next game, and right now, Sky View’s coming to town and that’s who we’re focused on.”