Alta returns to 5A football prominence
Oct 04, 2017 01:36PM
By Ron Bevan
Alta senior quarterback Will Dana surveys the field looking for an open receiver. Dana leads an explosive Hawk offense that has already produced two 60-plus scoring games. (Ron Bevan/City Journals)
They say there is strength in numbers. That can be said about the Alta High School football team this year.
“We finally have a good number of players to fill all the slots on the field with adequate depth,” Alta coach Alema Te’o said. “It took us a few years to get here though.”
Alta was a powerhouse in 5A football about 10 years ago. The Hawks won two state championships and made it to the semifinals or finals several times. They developed a hot rivalry with Bingham at the time, and the matchups between the two teams were so popular it was moved for a few years to Utah’s Rice Eccles Stadium just to handle the crowds. All for one high school game.
But then Corner Canyon High School opened its doors in Draper in 2013. The new school cut Alta’s attendance nearly in half and took away a good chunk of football talent. Alta dropped down to the 4A ranks, and the once storied football tradition seemed to melt away.
Te’o stepped in as coach in 2015 and began making changes. The resulting changes got the program back to an 11-2 record last season. Even with the impressive record, it was still a struggle for Alta last year. Due to injuries, there were only 27 players suiting up by the time the 4A playoffs rolled around. Alta would make it to the semifinals with two playoff wins before the shrinking numbers caused the Hawks to lose, 42-14, to Springville.
“Our players just ran out of gas,” Te’o said. “We were asking so much of them by the end of the season.”
But the school has rebounded from the loss of Corner Canyon students. This season Alta is back in the 5A ranks along with Corner Canyon. And the team is back to suiting up a full contingent of players, with over 60 student athletes on the team.
“I think where we have come the furthest is on defense,” Te’o said. “We had a very good offense last year but now we have added a strong defense as well.”
Te’o looks to a strong linebacker core to anchor the defense. Seniors Mitch Medina and MJ Tafisi are the main linebackers Te’o sees as making a difference on the defensive side.
“They are big and they are fast,” Te’o said. “They know how to read plays and get where they need to be.
And while it is nice to have a tough-nosed defense, it is the offense that puts people in the seats. This year’s version of Alta football has the offense capable of impressing stalwart fans. The Hawks already have two games with over 60 points and another with 42.
“We have a lot of weapons to turn to,” Te’o said. “We have a good group of running backs and some excellent receivers.”
But the offense always centers around the quarterback. Will Dana handles the helm of the offense. The six-foot, 180-pound senior quarterback has a rifle for an arm, but will also beat you with the run.
“He was our starting quarterback last season and his abilities earned him first team All State honors,” Te’o said of Dana. “He is great at decision making, and takes care of the ball very well.”
Behind him at running back is Zach Engstrom. Built similarly to Dana – but with blond hair instead of brown — Engstrom moved to more of a running back role for his senior season at Alta. Engstrom was used primarily as a receiver the last two seasons.
“He is physically well put together,” Te’o said of Engstrom. “He works hard in the weight room all year long.”
Not only did Alta move up in class size this season, but the Hawks were also placed in what has been called one of the toughest regions. Besides Alta, two other teams have won recent state titles: Timpview and Jordan. Brighton challenged for the state title in 2013.
“It is not going to be easy getting through region play,” Te’o said. “We have to take care business one week at a time. But I think the teams that leave the region and go on to state will go far.”