Cache Valley high school football preview: Ridgeline Riverhawks

<em>This is the first of four  in a series of previews of Cache Valley’s UHSAA football teams.</em>

MILLVILLE – It is a busy time for Robert Henke. The principal at Ridgeline High – the brand new high school in Millville – said it is “crunch time” getting things ready for the new school year.

A lot is left to be done in the final weeks before school starts, and that includes getting the football program going. Henke hired Chris Howell several months ago as head coach.

Henke said he already knows that Howell is a likeable guy and a hard worker who loves kids. He learned that from working with him at Sky View High almost 15 years ago. He feels good about his new hire.

“Nothing like starting a program with someone who is coming off a state championship,” Henke said.

Howell spent the last eight years coaching Star Valley High School football in Wyoming. Before that he was a defensive coordinator at Sky View.

Howell’s hire was made for more reasons than just the chance he gives the team to win. Henke wants to have – and believes he will have – successful athletic programs from the start, but more importantly he wants the athletes to represent Ridgeline High well.

“That doesn’t always mean winning,” he said. “It means the way you behave and act and treat others.”

Part of that is achieved, according to Henke, by hiring coaches like Howell.

“We’ve hired coaches that I think are good coaches in the different sports,” he said. “They’re competitive but they also understand what we’re trying to teach kids, which is character.”

Ridgeline’s season begins soon. The team will travel to Lehi to take on Skyridge August 18th and later will compete in the 3AA North Region along with Park City, Judge, Tooele, Ben Lomond, Bear River, Stansbury and Cache Valley rival Logan High.

With a new football program comes shiny new helmets, weight rooms and a football field, which can be challenging for the coaching staff, but Howell said he realizes everything about it isn’t entirely new.

“It is from scratch, but it isn’t,” Howell said. “We have so many kids that played a vital role in Mountain Crest’s success last year.”

Those Mountain Crest transplants that helped the 2015 Mustangs to a 9-3 record in the 5A division include strong safety and quarterback Payton Thomas, free safety and running back Cody Olsen, linebacker Kody Pope, nose guard Mason Fiefia and Oliver Taylor at tackle. The most recognizable name is probably Levani Damuni, who as a junior linebacker was named to the 5A all-state first team and the Region 1 Defensive MVP. According to Howell, Damuni may miss some playing time to start the year.

“I’m not sure where he’ll be by the time we get to our first game,” he said. “He broke his leg early in the summer. He had to have plates and screws put in it so we may not have him back the first couple of games.”

It isn’t just the players that came from Mountain Crest, several coaches also made the transition. Howell said those coaches have helped him become familiar with his team as well as run the offseason programs while he was finishing his year teaching at Star Valley.

Howell said the offense will be spread-based.

“We’ll have a lot of different guys we can get the ball to, but we’ll also run some multiple sets because we have some really good running backs as well,” he said. “So we’ve got to find a way to get those guys the ball.”

Howell is looking forward to the depth he will have at the linebacker and defensive back positions.

“They were a 3-3-5-based team (at Mountain Crest) last year, we’ll be a 3-4 based team this year,” Howell said. “There are six kids that started at one time or another for Mountain Crest on defense last year that we have. We feel like that’s definitely going to be a strength.”

Ridgeline’s first game against Skyridge will be the first of many that makes up what Howell calls a difficult schedule.

“I don’t know that there is one team that is going to be a ton better than anyone else, I think each week is going to be a challenge,” he said. “I think Stansbury is kind of the team that returns the most guys.”

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