The Stansbury football program is synonymous with winning, and even a coaching change didn’t change that a year ago.
Fresh off an 8-4 record in coach Eric Alder’s first season in charge, the Stallions appear primed to make even more noise in 2020. With eight returning offensive starters from one of Class 4A’s most potent attacks — including the entire offensive line, Stansbury could be a lot to handle for opposing defenses this season as they look to contend for the Region 10 title.
“We’ve got an experienced group in a lot of positions, namely the offensive line and quarterback,” Alder said. “With that comes an expectation that we’re going to execute at a higher level, at least earlier than we did last year. Last year, it was a brand-new scheme and a brand-new way to practice. In the second year, having key players back and players that we know we can count on who played a lot of JV minutes, my expectation would be that we’re a lot further ahead offensively and defensively than where we started the season last year.”
Alder said his team is entering the season with a lot of confidence, as well as a renewed appreciation for just being back on the field.
“I think this is a group that puts high expectations on themselves,” he said. “I think it’s a group that has good leadership and has worked hard, and expects a lot from each other. I think COVID has a lot to do with it — the ability just to play and not taking any minute for granted and just trying to soak it all in and enjoy the opportunity that these kids have to play high school football — they kind of found out what they missed when things were taken from them and the idea of maybe not having a season was very real.”
The starting offensive line, which includes tackles Daxton Brown and Hayden Birch, guards Zack Hamilton and Bryce Gordon and center Jacob Rich, should give second-year starting quarterback Kru Huxford plenty of time to make big plays with his arm and his legs. Last season, Huxford completed 60.5% of his pass attempts for 2,222 yards and 20 touchdowns, and he finished second on the team with 688 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 158 carries.
He’ll have a host of weapons at his disposal — most notably, slot receiver Cayden Clark, who had 17 catches for 263 yards and seven touchdowns, including the game-winner as time expired in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs against Mountain Crest. Returning starter Pae Tia will give Huxford another reliable weapon in the passing and rushing game, while Brandon Funk and Koy McGee be key targets through the air. Nathan Bushnell will line up at running back for the Stallions this season.
“Hopefully we can spread the ball around,” Alder said. “Brandon Funk has shown in the last few months that he has great hands, great ball skills, runs great routes and is good after the catch. Pae Tia is another offensive weapon that we have back … a big, strong athlete. We’re going to have to be a balanced attack and attack defenses in multiple, different ways.”
The defensive end duo of Brown and Matt Ingersoll will look to wreak havoc for Stansbury on that side of the ball, though the Stallions would like to improve on last year’s average of 24.3 points allowed per game. Tia and Clark will look to fill the void left by First Team All-State linebacker Andrew Hanson, who graduated this spring after a dominant senior season, while Huxford and Bushnell are among those who will patrol the secondary.
“These are kids that nobody knew about last year, but they’re going to be seeing their names a lot in the next couple weeks,” Alder said. “They’re ready for their opportunity. Dax Brown and Matt Ingersoll are two big, strong kids — long and athletic. They’re some of the biggest and strongest that I’ve had a chance to coach in a long time. Bryce Gordon and Bobby Nicholas are kids that, on the defensive side of the ball, will be able to use their quickness and athletic ability to get to the ball and hopefully get to the quarterback times two.”
Stansbury will have to be firing on all cylinders as quickly as possible, with a difficult six-game stretch to open the season. The Stallions will start the 2020 campaign on the road against top-ranked Sky View on Aug. 14, followed by home games against Logan and Green Canyon that could go a long way in determining Stansbury’s place in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings that determine seeding for the state playoffs.
“We start off the season with a really good team, one of the favorites in the state,” Alder said. “(Sky View, Logan and Green Canyon) are three talented football teams, none moreso than Sky View. We’re giving ourselves a chance to get a good RPI score coming out of that, I guess, but we’ll be tested right away by having to face the top team in the state. We’ll go up there, play football and see where we’re at, but we need to be right out of the gate. It can’t be a slow start, or we’ll be trying to play catch-up the rest of the year from an RPI standpoint.”
The Stallions open the Region 10 season with back-to-back road games against up-and-coming Cedar Valley and county rival Tooele, with a home game against defending Region 10 champion and Class 4A state runner-up Park City.
“Park City’s not going anywhere just because they lost a lot of people,” Alder said. “They’ll be good. Mountain View and Cedar Valley — there’s a lot of good football to go around, so we can’t let our guard down. That’s the way we want it. We want to go out and be challenged every Friday night. Heck, nothing’s given to us just because we’ve got returning starters here and returning starters there. We’ve got to go out and do it all again. It just means we’ve got the potential to be good, but we’ve got to put it all together.”