COLOSSUS of the CLIFFS…Parker Andrus | Crimson Cliffs – St. George, UT
ESPN 97.7 is counting down to kickoff by featuring a player a day until August 11th!
We are featuring star players, underrated players, newcomers, linemen and special teamers.
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BY KERIC SEEGMILLER, ESPN 97.7
Everybody loves a good team player. Whether it’s in sports or business, team leaders are always looking for that one person they can count on to do whatever is asked, no matter the circumstances. For Crimson Cliffs football, that person is senior defensive lineman Parker Andrus.
After starting on the offensive line for the Mustangs as a freshman and sophomore, Andrus answered a call to move to the other side of the ball for his junior year. It wasn’t easy. For two years his focus was to create space for the ground game, and provide his quarterbacks the time needed to deliver the ball. Now, he was being asked to do just the opposite. Some people might complain and want to stick with what’s familiar and comfortable. I know that’s how I’d feel. But not for Andrus, who accepted his new role with no questions asked. And he didn’t just accept a role. He took his new responsibility and ran with it. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you know what kind of numbers Andrus put up in 2022. For those who don’t know, let’s review.In his first varsity season on defense, Andrus earned first team All-Region and All-State honors, tallying 86 tackles, including 29 solo stops, 9.0 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble and recovered two others. Andrus was a major disruptor all season, racking up seven or more tackles in seven different games and never finished with less than five tackles. Andrus put a bow on his formidable 2022 campaign with a season-best 10 tackles against Desert Hills in the state title game. These numbers clearly speak for themselves and shouldn’t need any sort of qualifier, but here’s one anyway.
Andrus accomplished all of this from his spot at nose guard on the defensive line. Some might ask why that matters. It matters because defensive linemen usually only get half the chances a linebacker or defensive back might get to record a tackle. If the defensive front can’t manage a sack on a pass play, those stops are going to a defender further down the field. And yet, Andrus still nearly eclipsed the century mark in total stops. His 86 tackles were the most of any defensive lineman in Region 10 (Region 9 going forward), and the fourth-most in all of 4A. The bottom line? Parker Andrus is a brick wall on the defensive line for the Mustangs. There’s a reason he has offers from Utah Tech and SUU. But he’s not satisfied with just a good junior season. That’s old news now. He’s aiming for more as a senior. Will he get to that 100 mark in total tackles in 2023? Only time will tell. But for now, he’s doing his part to make sure his team gets another crack at winning a state championship, including looking like a superhero in the weight room.
Good luck to opposing offenses trying to keep Parker Andrus out of the backfield. You’re going to need it.
“Parker is the heart and soul of our defense, and probably our team. This young man is incredible. When you meet his parents and family, you can see why. He’s been raised right. The Andrus family is a great sports family and it all starts in that home with those parents.
Parker has started for us since he was a freshman. He started on the offensive line his freshmen and sophomore seasons. When we lost Marley Sagapolu to Utah Tech, we needed someone to anchor our defense and the nose guard position. Parker was a no brainer choice for us on the defensive side, but it was a huge loss for our offense. We are lucky to be able to use him when needed on that side of the ball still.
Parker is a "football player". He outworks in the weightroom, on the field, and in the classroom. He is a high character young man. He has always led by example, but it's been fun to see him take a new role going into his senior year. He’s becoming more vocal and he has beyond EARNED the trust of his peers. We are blessed to be a part of Parker's journey!”
-Crimson Cliffs Head Coach Wayne Alofipo
If you missed our previous spotlight players, here they are!
Coach KJ Boyer::
"Quincy is one of the hardest working players I've been around. He is always where he needs to be. A player and person that you can always count on."
Coach Todd Shaw:
"No one works harder!! First to arrive, last to leave. He is going to have a huge year. What sets him apart is how he is off the field. He is all about respect, honor, and hard work. He is the epitome of our culture!!"
OVERVIEW:It was only weeks ago we were discussing Makaio Swensen and the Snow Canyon Warriors efforts on the baseball diamond. Now, with football primed to kick off August 11th, Makaio’s attention and ours has shifted to the gridiron. Swensen adds to the previously discussed list of fantastic defenders, and more so, linebackers that make up Region 9. Snow Canyon is coming off a year where they only gave up 17.3 points a game, 2nd best in all of Utah 4A. When region play came around not only did the Warriors finish 5-1, they beefed up defensively by holding opponents to 15 points a game. Swensen was a major aspect of the Warriors dominant defense and as Snow Canyon looks forward to another year, his role and impact is only going to become more apparent. The dynamic dual sport athlete is coming off a junior season that saw him finish as a top three warrior defender in terms of tackles. Swensen would record 50 tackles per MaxPreps, half of which were entirely solo. Swensen demonstrated the ability time and time again to not only be in the right place, but the ability to finish the job by any means necessary making some impressive stops and providing some electric hits, even forcing a fumble. Makaio was also incredibly effective in pass coverage from his linebacker spot. According to MaxPreps season statistics, Swensen deflected 7 passes. This mark would put him 4th on the team for the season, and number one for players who were not members of the Snow Canyon secondary. To top it all off, Swensen also hauled in one interception against Arbor View, Nevada, and although the stats don’t show it officially our records indicate he pulled one off vs Dixie as well.
Swensen was consistent throughout the year, but his most dominant performance came in a massive 42-20 win over Desert Hills. Makaio was all over the field with 9 tackles and a tackle for loss. 7 of Swensen’s 9 take downs were solo tying him for most solo tackles between both teams that night. He would also defense two passes during some key coverage moments in the win. The biggest moment is highlighted in the clip below as Swensen sheds a Thunder blocker and rips the ball out on the ensuing tackle. The awareness to target the ball resulted in a momentum altering, game shattering, Warrior return for a touchdown that halted Desert Hill’s comeback attempt. Swensen’s consistency was on full display for Snow Canyon in Weeks 5-9 and the first round of the playoffs where he would record at least 5 total tackles in every game except one in which he played limited minutes due to a blowout victory over Dixie.
As shown above, Swensen finished the year playing some of his best football and should head into next year with plenty of momentum. Swensen is one of the few returning pieces to a top-notch defensive unit and linebacking core who lost multiple athletes via graduation. If he can continue to hone his skills and elevate those around him to play at the pace he showed last year, region 9 offenses will fail to get comfortable. The soon to be senior is primed for an excellent year at SCHS.
“Makaio is a great all-around athlete. In addition to football, he is a great baseball player as well. Football wise he has been a multi-faceted talent at LB. He has the size & toughness to play well in the box. Filling gaps & making tackles. He has good football sense to be in the right place at the right time. He also has the ability to drop into coverage & the speed to run with receivers in man coverage at LB or DB. We look forward this year to looking at his talent on the offensive side of the ball. He has solid height and can jump. He has good ball skills when the ball is in the air. We are excited to watch he & our whole Snow Canyon Warrior Football Teams potential turn into reality. Very excited to prepare & play football this season.”
-Michael Esplin, Snow Canyon Head Coach
LOOK AHEAD: Snow Canyon starts the season on the road as they travel up to Stansbury to battle the Stallions on Friday, August 11th.
Stay Tuned every day for a new featured Region 9 athlete as we draw nearer to kick off!
By KERIC SEEMILLER, ESPN 97.7 JAXON BARBEN | DIXIE | SENIOR | WR
Donning the royal-blue Dixie Flyers jersey is not something to be taken lightly. There’s over 100 years of triumph and tradition. There’s more All-State and All-Region players than you can count. And state championships? Just check out the trophy case outside The Hangar. There can be an added pressure that comes with upholding one of the most storied programs in the state. Plus, there’s even more eyes on the results now as the Flyers are the lone school in the state bearing the “Dixie” moniker. For some, there’s also family tradition to toss into the mix. Players like senior receiver Jaxon Barben. He’s watched his older brothers light up the Walt Brooks Stadium scoreboard and lead the Flyers to the promised land. He’s waited patiently for his turn as the name “Barben” has become almost synonymous with Dixie Flyers football. But you know who doesn’t let any of that pressure get to him that us media folks like to write about? Jaxon Barben. When his turn came, he wasted no time showing he was just as talented as those who came before him.
After snagging a pair of touchdown passes as a sophomore, Barben exploded onto the scene in the second contest of the 2022 campaign, hauling in four Jalen Schultz tosses for 105 yards, including a 40-yard pitch-and-catch for a touchdown to lead the Flyers to a 24-14 at Palm Desert in California. Barben picked up right where he left off in game three, tallying 97 yards through the air in Dixie’s 51-13 victory over Pine View. Two weeks later, he logged a season-high six catches and made a SportsCenter Top-10-worthy catch to help the Flyers to a 25-24 road win at Cedar. With the Flyers trailing by eight points with one minute to play in the fourth quarter, Barben made an improbable, over-the-shoulder catch between two Cedar defenders as he fell to the ground in the end zone to set up the game-winning two-point conversion.
WATCH THE CATCH BELOW IT'S THE FIRST PLAY THAT'S SHOWN:
Barben missed the following week’s contest vs. Snow Canyon due to injury, and his absence was glaring, as the Warriors rolled to a 56-12 victory. The Flyers needed a spark, and they got it a week later when Barben returned to help push the Flyers past the No. 1-ranked Crimson Cliffs Mustangs. Barben snagged four passes for 56 yards, including a touchdown grab to rival his fourth-down miracle catch in Cedar. After the Mustangs scored to take a 13-7 lead just before halftime, the Flyers marched to the Crimson 24-yard line in less than a minute. Dixie scored on the next play when Barben made a diving catch in the left corner of the end zone with a defender dragging him to the ground. The catch propelled the Flyers to a halftime lead they would not relinquish. Barben added a final touchdown grab in a win over Hurricane to finish his junior campaign with 561 yards receiving and four touchdowns on 28 catches to earn an All-Region Honorable Mention nod. Of course, the truly scary part for opposing defenses is that Barben is far from a one-dimensional player. Along with the damage done through the air, Barben notched 141 yards rushing in 2022. He also missed tallying a pair of scores on the ground by just inches after being ruled out of bounds on one potential touchdown run and having another called back on a holding penalty in the win at Palm Desert.
The bottom line? Jaxon Barben can flat out play. He’s a highlight reel just waiting to happen. And as a senior, he’s poised for more playing time and more targets, which equals more touchdowns and spectacular catches. Get your tickets now, folks. You’re not going to want to miss out on the breakout season Jaxon Barben is primed for in 2023.
“Jaxon is one of those players that coaches love to coach. Not only is he a great player, but he’s an even better person. He has great hands and runs outstanding routes. He works hard and is a leader on our team.” -Head Coach Blaine Monkres
The Flyers open the 2023 campaign on Friday, Aug. 11, at Springville in their annual season-debut vs. Red Devils. ____________________________________________
FROM YESTERDAY... Countdown to Kickoff Spotlight Player | Day 2
Polu will enter his junior season with career totals of 81 solo tackles, 111 total tackles, 3 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and two fumble recoveries per MaxPreps. Polu’s sophomore campaign was just a taste of things to come, as he is primed for a big year on a stout Desert Hills defense who only allowed 18 points a game last season as State Champions. Cyrus only had two games all of last season in which he had less than 5 solo tackles and he once recorded 11 tackles total in a clutch 31-28 comeback win over Cedar Valley in week two. In the state championship victory over Crimson Cliffs, Polu would rip down the ball carrier 8 total times, 7 of which were unassisted. Polu would wrap his championship season leading all Thunder players in total tackles at 86, while sitting 2nd in sacks with three, and tied 2nd in interceptions at three as well. Polu was as dominant a force as anyone at D-Hills could have asked for, yet it appears we have yet to see the best of him at the high school level. His versatility will create even more unique looks for the Thunder defense this upcoming season regardless of where he lines up.
Polu’s intensity and hustle on the defensive side translates efficiently elsewhere as well. Just as Polu remains a key cog in the defensive unit, he can be a pivotal piece in both the offense and special teams. No play was as evident as this as his game breaking 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the biggest stage at Utah Tech University during the 4A title game. When it came to kick returns, Cyrus had 11 of them last year for 430 yards, AKA 39.1 yards a return, often setting up his offense with ideal field position. Cyrus can be found in goal line sets as the Tight End, looking to use that combination of speed and size to shake free for a touchdown strike or a hard earned first down. Polu would capitalize twice last season with two receiving touchdowns on 10 receptions and 92 yards. Not a bad catch to touchdown ratio whatsoever. In even rarer instances, Polu can be seen in the fullback or tailback spot trying to punch through the oppositions defensive front. Cyrus would only carry five times this year, but made good on it, with 32 yards for 6.4 a carry and a touchdown.
Polu helps the team in any and every way he can. The title of Defense, offense, special teams seem to mean little to him, as his position is simply “football player” and a dang good one at that. Take for example Polu sending away 31 punts last year for an average of 38.8 yards with a long of 54. Linebacker, Tight End, Punter. Whatever you put him in, he seems primed for success. His ability to not only do it all, but to do it all well makes Cyrus Polu a must watch athlete this year, just like the previous year, and I’ll go ahead and say next year too. That being said, let’s not kid ourselves, this is an elite linebacker through and through, and you’re going to want to make sure you’re watching when he’s leading that Thunder defensive unit.
“His performance on and off the field is consistently at a higher level than others. With his ability, motivation, and attitude the sky is the limit.”
-Waylon Nunley, Desert Hills LB Coach
Cyrus Polu has time to mull things over with his football career, but that doesn’t mean offers haven’t been coming in at a high clip. Per 247 Sports, Polu currently has 9 D1 offers, four of which are in state. Those offers consist of:
Utah, BYU, Utah State, Utah Tech, Arizona, Arizona State, UNLV, Oregon State, Washington State.
Desert Hills clashes with Brighton at DHHS in an epic week 1 showdown on Friday, August 11th.
STEWART TAUFA | Desert Hills, Jr. (OL/DL)
Stew Taufa has been a manchild in the trenches since his 9th grade year.
Here he is at the "All About U Camp" from this summer:
Taufa has incredible hands and feet when pass blocking and is a road grader in the run game. He's been the anchor of a very talented Thunder offensive line since for the last two years.
Coach Brett Bingham, offensive line coach at Desert Hills, on Taufa:
"Stewart is an incredible young man and a complete joy to coach. He's exactly what you want to have as a leader. He works hard, motivates those around him and is always looking for ways to improve himself and his teammates. He sets the tone for our entire team."
Taufa has played left tackle and center. I think his position at the next level might be center so that's where he got a lot of his reps last year and I'm anticipating the same this year.
Desert Hills has been blessed with star linemen for a long time, and Stewart Taufa continues that tradition for the Thunder.
Desert Hills opens their season on Friday August 11th at home against Brighton.
Stay tuned everyday for a new featured Region 9 player!