High school football: Snow Canyon Warriors 2020 preview

Here’s an in-depth look at the Snow Canyon Warriors football team heading into the 2020 season.

Note: Snow Canyon finished with a 6-5 overall record in 2019 and was fourth in Region 9 with a 4-3 record. It was RPI seed No. 9 in the 4A playoffs, and was eliminated by Park City 14-10 in quarterfinals.

ST. GEORGE — It’s been at least a decade since both the internal and external expectations for Snow Canyon’s football team have been this high.

The Warriors were pegged to finish barely ahead of perennial region favorite Dixie in the Region 9 coaches preseason rankings, and the reasons why are obvious.

Snow Canyon returns eight starters on both sides of the ball from a team that last year went 4-3 in region play and reached the quarterfinals.

“Anytime you can return key positions, some of them three-year starters and others two-year starters, that helps with the leadership even in the atmosphere we’re in right now cause they’ve already been leading before the rules changed,” said Snow Canyon coach Mike Esplin.

Returning experience alone isn’t the biggest reason for Snow Canyon’s high expectations, it’s the physicality of those players. Four starters back on the offensive and defensive line, and Esplin said those players are very strong and should win the battle in the trenches most nights.

With a young secondary there are some obvious question marks that still need to be answered, but opposing quarterbacks likely will be under duress more often than not.

Landon Frei is a returning three-starter at quarterback, and he’s surrounded by some quality offensive weapons in Braxton Hickman, Bretton Stone and Brenton Childs.

Snow Canyon Warriors at a glance

Coach Esplin’s thoughts on how his players dealt with the COVID-19 adversity in the spring and summer:

“When you’re coaching high school kids it’s always amazing how resilient the kids are, probably quite a bit more than the adults in quite a lot of cases. They adjust quicker. The hard part is when you’re trying to build team unity and have all that bonding that comes with spring workouts, the weight room is probably the No. 1 team builder in my opinion, as far as relationships and bonds.”

Snow Canyon Offensive Snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Tim Nowatzke

2019 offense: 31.0 ppg (8th in 4A)

2019 offensive statistics
  • 8 returning starters
  • Multiples offense
Returning offensive starters
  • Landon Frei (QB)
  • Isaac Lees (OL)
  • Jacorey McKeever (OL)
  • Jaden Erickson (OL)
  • Hayden Frei (OL)
  • Braxton Hickman (WR/RB)
  • Bretton Stone (RB)
  • Brenton Childs (RB)
Offensive newcomers to watch
  • Fructuoso Alejos (OL)
Coach Esplin’s keys for offensive success in 2020:

“Physically we feel like we should be well-above average, in most the games that we play physically we should be in better shape and stronger than the teams we play. With the physicality and with the many returning starters on the O-line, we feel like we should be able to run the ball and feel like that should open up our passing game and make our RPO really, really dangerous because people are going to have to fill the box if they want to stop the run and stop first downs. We feel like that puts us in a good situation. And we feel like we have a quarterback who’s been learning all those reads for three years who can make the correct decisions.”

Snow Canyon Defensive Snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Alshondre Smith

2019 defense: 23.4 ppg (7th in 4A)

2019 defensive statistics
  • 8 returning starters
  • Multiple defenses
Returning defensive starters
  • Hayden Frei (DL)
  • Issac Lees (DL)
  • Jacorey Mckeever (DL)
  • Carson Hansen (DL)
  • Braxton Hickman (DL/LB)
  • Wesley Tauanuu (LB)
  • Brenton Childs (LB)
  • Logan Mendenhall (DB)
Defensive newcomers to watch
  • Preston Frei (DB)
  • Tiden Morris (DB)
  • Brooks Esplin (DB)
Coach Esplin’s keys for defensive success in 2020:

“I think it’s going to be key that we have balance. We’ll have the most new people in the secondary so they’re going to need to be able to understand all the coverages and stop the pass, but you have to stop the run first. The (newcomers) are going to have to be physical enough to come up and stop a varsity running back and a varsity receiver on a quick throw. That’s key for us and something we’re focused on defensively is making sure we get kids in the right spots.”

Deseret News outlook for 2020

The last time Snow Canyon won an outright region championship was 2000, and the last time it earned a share of the title was 2003. Will 2020 be the year the program finally ends that drought? Coach Esplin is very confident in his team’s ability to get the job done, but they’ve got to prove it. Snow Canyon has lost three region games each of the past three seasons because winning games in Region 9 is very hard. Experience and physicality alone doesn’t win games, it takes a winning mentality that teams like Dixie seem to always possess. Snow Canyon needs to demonstrate that mentality with a big Region 9 win early this season.

Felt’s Facts for Snow Canyon

  • All-time record: 156-115 (26 years)

  • Region championships: 5 (1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2003 co)

  • Playoff appearances: 17
  • All-time playoff record: 23-15

  • State championships: 2 (1996, 1999)

  • State championship record: 2-2

  • Most played rivalry: 29 meetings with Dixie dating back to 1994. Dixie leads 15-14.

Last 5 Seasons

  • 2019 — 6-5 (4-3 in Region 9 – 4A Quarterfinals)
  • 2018 — 4-6 (3-3 in Region 9 - 4A First round)
  • 2017 — 6-3 (3-3 in Region 9 - Missed playoffs)
  • 2016 — 3-7 (1-4 in 3AA South - 3AA First round)
  • 2015 — 6-6 (1-4 in 3AA South - 3AA Semifinals)

Snow Canyon coaching history

  • 2016-current — Mike Esplin (19-21)
  • 2013-2015 — Marcus Matua (17-17)

  • 2009-2012 — Jay Graft (14-23)

  • 2007-2008 — Rick Secrist (10-17)

  • 2005-2006 — Bill Jacobsen (14-9)

  • 2002-2004 — Jay Graft (19-13)

  • 2000-2001 — Wane Kittrell (13-8)

  • 1994-1999 — Bill Jacobsen (53-13) *2 State Titles

Snow Canyon All-State at-a-glance

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
  • 2016 — Kolton Barber, P
  • 2015 — Joe Servati, DL
  • 2015 — Teagan Mendenhall, LB
  • 2013 — Zachary Kennedy, Specialist