UNGUARDABLE…Jaxon Barben | Dixie Flyers – St. George, UT
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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.
Countdown to Kickoff Spotlight Player | Day 2
CYRUS POLU | DESERT HILLS | JUNIOR | LB, TE, P, KR |
OVERVIEW:There is little doubt that Region 9 has produced some of the best linebackers in the state. Big names have come and gone, and some of the biggest are gearing up for this upcoming 2023 football season. With all those big names one could focus on, few are as impactful and impressive as Cyrus Polu. Polu is the type of player that will have people for the 2nd straight year saying: “wait, he’s not a senior?” Few navigate the field as well as Polu who remains a guy that refuses to take plays off. With his sophomore year in the books, fans can’t help but be excited for what the next two years hold.
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!