MILLVILLE — With more than half their starters back on both sides of the ball, the Riverhawks are favorites in a coaches poll to win Region 11.
Second-year head coach Travis Cox feels he has a good football team that will open the 2021 season this Friday at Bonneville. However, he is not about to declare Ridgeline league champs just yet.
“Sky View is the team to beat because they haven’t lost,” Cox said. “Until you beat them, I think you need to point to them. ... I don’t anticipate an easy region game. It will be tough again.”
The Riverhawks went 9-2 last season with their only two blemishes coming against region foe Sky View. A last-second field goal was the difference in the regular season contest. In the semifinals of the 4A state playoffs, Ridgeline was without some starters due to COVID protocols and lost starting quarterback Kaden Cox to an injury in the first half. The Bobcats rolled to a 28-0 win.
It’s a new year, and the Riverhawks are excited to make some noise.
“We’ve had a great summer and are ready for a game,” coach Cox said.
Entering year two at the helm, the head coach feels more comfortable. There is no need to install an offense or defense. There will be some minor adjustments with new personnel, but that is par for the course in high school football.
“I had to figure out how to coach last year,” Cox said. “This year there is a little more structure. ... We had to install a defense on the fly last year. We are much further ahead on defense this year. I think the kids know what to expect.”
While the Riverhawks return some experience on both offense and defense, there are some big losses to graduation in Jaden Harris, Jovesa Damuni, Charlie Nielsen, Evan Webb, Nate Nixon and one of the best kickers around in Carter Murdock.
“We lost two corners and a couple of linebackers on defense,” said Cox, who runs the defense on top of his head coaching duties. “I really like where we are at, but the concern is seeing them in a live game on Friday nights and seeing if they can handle that. Every indication says they can and are ready to go. But we won’t know until it is live.
“And then on offense we need to replace two offensive linemen. We lost some skill guys too, but I feel good with who we have. I feel more comfortable with our skill positions. It’s the spots with physicality that I’m anxious to see.”
Kaden Cox does return to guide the offense. The senior is one of the top quarterbacks in the state. He completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 2,756 yards and 30 touchdowns, and had just six interceptions. Cox also rushed for eight scores, which led the Riverhawks. He threw for more than 300 yards in two games and more than 250 in another six, plus tossed four TDs in three games and five in another.
“We’re excited about Kaden, and he has a ton of experience,” coach Cox said. “He is loving that he will be playing in the same offense for the first time in his four years of high school. The biggest thing for him and the other guys that have played a lot is not taking it for granted. They still need to work hard and improve.”
The Riverhawks leading rusher is back in senior Noah White. He had 905 yards on 148 carries (6.1 per rush) and scored six TDs. White also caught 29 passes with two scores.
“Noah is as healthy as he has been in four years and looks really, really good,” Cox said. “He has gotten faster and stronger.”
Senior Landen Kimball has had to play behind some great athletes, but drew heavy praise from the coach. He will also get carries out of the backfield this season.
Senior wide receiver Strat Simmons is back. He tied for the team lead with 44 receptions last season, including a team-high eight TDs. Also in the receiving corps are juniors Jackson Olsen, Braylon Majors and Mason Criddle. Jackson has played quarterback in the past, while Majors moved to Cache Valley from Box Elder. Senior Peyton Knowles has moved from defensive end to tight end.
Three starters are back on the offensive line in seniors Alex Lundahl and Daimien Boehme, and junior Jake Alles. Alles and Boehme are both big and physical. Junior Easton Dahlke is at center. Senior Dallin Fullmer can play anywhere along the line. Adding depth are seniors Houston Hunsaker and Brandon Lindberg, and sophomore Levi Painter.
In the 3-4 defensive alignment the Riverhawks run, senior noseguard Kurtis Morgan is back and has “put on good weight.” The end position starters will be senior Bridger Hammond and junior Tanner Paskett. Ridgeline will rotate other players in along the trenches, including juniors Luke Sorenson and Austin May, sophomores Caysen Dana, Fred Malouf and Trey Purser. Some offensive lineman may also be called on to help, namely Alles.
Seniors Will Booth and Jaxen Hollingsworth are back at linebacker spots, having made 45 and 49 tackles, respectively, in 2020. Senior Cameron Craney and junior Owen Munk will start at the other two linebacker positions. Junior Will Rippstein was credited with having a great summer working out.
“Will Booth is an unreal player with a high motor,” Cox said. “He has played since he was a sophomore and will move around and lead us.”
Simmons and senior Luke Jacobsen, who moved in from Woods Cross, will start at the safeties. Simmons, who started last year and led the team with three interceptions, may be the only Riverhawk that will start on both sides of the ball.
At the corners are junior Ashton Macfarlane and senior Dillon May, who has seen a lot of action in the past and picked off two passes last season. Senior Indiana Judd will also see lots of playing time.
Soccer player Aaron Young, a freshman, will handle the kicking duties. That is all he will do and “has been working hard all summer,” Cox said.
Kaden Cox will most likely punt the ball. Returning kicks will be Majors, Kimball, Jacobsen and Simmons.
“We are excited to get going, can’t wait,” Cox said.