The North Summit High School football team snuck up on a few teams last year even head coach Devin Smith admits that.
The 2013 Braves turned out to be a very talented squad, as evidenced by their region title during a year in which they also handed 2A champion South Summit its only loss of the season.
This year, though, the Braves won't be sneaking up on anybody they're a marked team.
"Last year, we talked about this as a group, we sneaked up on a lot of teams nobody thought we were going to be any good," Smith said. "Our kids knew we were going to be good, but nobody else thought we'd be any good.
"This year, it's a different angle. South Summit's the team to beat there's no question about that but in a lot of ways, we have a target on our back, too. Everybody thinks we're going to be good this year. Whether we are or not remains to be seen, but we're not going to surprise anybody if we beat them."
Fortunately for the Braves, they'll have plenty of starters returning from last year's 8-3 squad that lost to Grand in the 2A semifinals.
Leading the charge will be quarterback Ryan McMichael, who will be starting for the third year in a row.
Smith said the team is lucky to have McMichael back to keep the offensive unit flowing.
"It's something that I don't think you can weigh how valuable it is," he said.
Joining McMichael at the skill positions will be running back Carson Richins and receivers Cameron Smith, Baltazar Martinez and Cason Deforest.
"Cameron is a great player," Smith said. "Carson will be counted on to carry the bulk of the load from the running back position.
The one question mark will be the offensive line. But, Smith said, he's confident that the Braves will have several guys step up and fill the holes left by the graduation of Austin Simister and a couple other offensive linemen.
"There's a catch-22 there," he said. "We do have some experience there Austin's little brother [Zac Simister] is back. Matt Boyer, who rotated in regularly, is back. Here's the catch-22, though we don't have a lot of experience, but we have the guys. Even without the experience, we're loaded they just haven't played a lot of varsity football yet."
Smith said he's looking forward to the challenge of molding a new unit up front.
"There will be some growing pains there, but big picture, I think it'll end up being a strength for us," he said. "We've got six or seven guys who are athletic, big and strong they just need some experience."
Defensively, the Braves return nearly the entire unit, minus Trevor Hale, Josh Birk and Austin Simister.
"Especially early on, the defense is going to be our strength," Smith said. "We've got eight of the 11 starters back and we have guys who can replace those other three. That's not to discredit what they did they were great for us but we have bodies, which is good. We're not super, super deep, but that's the case with any 2A school. But eight of the 11 starters are back and I feel good about the guys that will come in and play for the other three."
The biggest game on the Braves' schedule is a showdown with South Summit in Coalville on Friday, Oct. 10. Smith said North Summit won't get caught looking past its first seven opponentes, but he admits he's excited for the rematch.
"Obviously, it's the game that everybody in the county wants to talk about," he said. "Hopefully it will be a good game at that point and we'll both stay relatively healthy. It's a great rivalry. I would put that rivalry up against anyone in the state 1A through 5A.
"But we've got a lot of football to play up to that point. We'll be excited for that challenge when it comes. Hopefully we'll both have good records so that it's a good game when it gets here."
As for where he thinks this team can be at the end of the season, Smith said he's not banking on a trip to the state final just yet. But, he added, that's definitely not out of the question for this year's North Summit squad.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of leadership and a lot of mental toughness," he said. "I told our kids this morning, 'embrace the struggle.' You've got to be willing to pay the price.
"I think we have a chance to be as good as anybody. But we've got a lot of work to do before that. For me to say we'll be there, right now, is ridiculous but we have the potential to be there."
North Summit begins its season on Friday, Aug. 22, against Altamont. The game in Coalville is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
North Summit Football Schedule
Friday, Aug. 22 vs. Altamont 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 29 at Duchesne 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 5 at Gunnison 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 12 vs. Summit Academy 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 19 at Millard 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 26 vs. South Sevier 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 3 at American Leadership 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 10 vs. South Summit 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 15 vs. Layton Christian 7 p.m.