ST. GEORGE— The football team at Desert Hills High School is learning that success creates high expectations.
The Thunder steamrolled its opponents last year and won the Region 10 title. Quarterback Noah Fuailetolo completed a magnificent junior campaign with over 2,000 passing yards and 25 touchdowns.
With Fuailetolo returning for his senior season along with senior running back Tyden Morris behind him in the backfield, Desert Hills looks to be a formidable force when the Thunder are on offense.
All of that has led to talk about Desert Hills being the favorite to win Region 10 again this year. Just don’t tell that to second-year head coach Rick Berry.
“I never agree with what the media says,” Berry joked at practice Thursday evening at the Thunder football field. “It’s like I told my kids. We were picked fourth last year, we ended up No. 1. Preseason doesn’t mean anything. It’s flattering but you play the games until the end of the season and you see where it all shakes out.
“But I told these guys, it’s nice we have a target on our backs. That means we did some things right last year,” Berry added. “But that just means, too, that we’ve got to be that much better this year. Every single week teams are going to bring their best and we’ve got to prepare that way.”
Last season the Thunder fell in an early 4A playoff exit against Pine View, losing 37-35 on the final play of the game. Desert Hills only lost one other contest, at home against Spanish Fork, in a 9-2 campaign.
Desert Hills will look to its senior leaders to help make up for the departure of Region 10 MVP Awsten Turnbow, who last season seemed to make big plays in every single game on both sides of the football.
“You don’t ever replace a guy like that,” Berry said. “You don’t. Part of that is he has the heart of a giant. Awsten doesn’t want to lose. When you have a person like that he brings everybody on the team up with him.
“People step in, you find out where their strengths are,” he added. “Let’s find where your skill set is and let’s pattern around that and we’ll go from there. Big shoes to fill but I’m very confident in the kids who will step up.”
Seniors Lincoln Holmes and Zach Ford are expected to be playmakers for Desert Hills. Senior Kona Crowell transferred over from Crimson Cliffs to play for the Thunder, and Desert Hills anticipates strong seasons from Ayzen Cummings and Javien Cummings.
All of the Thunder players will follow the lead of their senior quarterback. Fuailetolo embarks on his third season as the Thunder signal caller, and he’s got all the pieces he needs to succeed, the coach said.
“He’s gotten better every single year,” Berry said. “From his sophomore year to his junior year he made a huge increase, and we expect another big jump this year. Our team is very well balanced. We’ve got really good running backs, I think two of the best in the state.
“We have enough weapons on the outside that we’re going to give teams some matchup problems from an offensive standpoint,” Berry said. “Those skill players are going to take a little bit of the pressure off Noah.”
Desert Hills opens the season on the road with a very tough first game against Brighton on Aug. 11. The 5A Bengals are 17-2 over the past two seasons.
“We build our schedule to test us,” Berry said. “This region is so tough, it’s top to bottom every year. If you’re not ready to play every single week you’re going to get beat. Brighton is a great program, they always have a good team. Three 5A teams right out of the gate, so we’re going to see where we’re at in a hurry.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.