By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography) & Kurt Johnson
They say that defense wins championships, and with as offensively talented as Bingham and Timpview have been, most recent Class 4A and 5A history in Utah high school football would tend to prove the truthfulness of that statement. The Miners and Thunderbirds have become the dominant programs in the state because whatever else they might do, they bring it on defense.
Also, when you look at facts, the state sent a number of top players from the 2015 class to major programs outside the state to play college football and most of those will play defense. That group was headlined by current USC Trojans Osa Masina (Brighton) and Porter Gustin (Salem Hills).
As we look ahead to the 2015 season, there are a ton of outstanding defenders all across the state. There are a few, however that I am really looking forward to watching, so while this group does not include all of the top performers, it is representative of the kind of talent we see everywhere.
Here are some of the defenders to watch in 2015. Let me know which defensive players you are keeping your eyes on.
Parker Workman, linebacker, Bingham
The defensive players in the current junior class at Bingham are getting a lot of attention from college recruiters. Brigham Tuatagaloa, Jay Tufele and Langi Tuifua are outstanding players and big reasons why the Miners are going to be good again.
The guy that seems to be flying under the radar is senior outside linebacker Parker Workman, and that is hard to understand. This is a guy who just makes plays. He made them last year and he will make them this season.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound backer hits as hard as anyone, and he is coming over a junior campaign in which he delivered 81 tackles and 13.5 sacks. When you’re at a Bingham game, follow the ball and you will find Workman. He always seems to find it.
Simeon Page, linebacker, Riverton
Talk about a guy who is always around the ball. Riverton senior Simeon Page is a 6-1, 215-pound tackling machine. He led the state in tackles a year ago, with 169 (more than 14 per game) and he had nine quarterback sacks.
Page built that stat line while playing in one of the deepest leagues in Class 5A against opposition that included American Fork, Herriman, Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove. His season high was 23 tackles, in that Herriman contest. He topped 20 tackles twice and had 17 in the state semifinal matchup against Bingham.
The linebacker is back this season looking to show off his immense athletic ability as the Silverwolves look to stay among the elite teams in Class 5A.
Maxs Tupai, defensive end, Murray
We haven’t generally looked at the Spartans recently as a football powerhouse, but there is no denying the game-changing skill set Tupai brings to the table. At 6-3, 250, he is able to get to the quarterback from his position on the interior defensive line.
Tupai had 11.5 sacks in 2014 and is poised for another season of big defensive numbers in 2015 as he leads Murray in its pursuit of a second straight postseason berth. The Spartans reached the playoffs in 2014 for the first time since 2006.
Sione Heimuli-Lund, linebacker, Brighton
A year ago, the Brighton High linebacking corps included the since departed Osa Masina and Kahi Neves, in addition to sophomore superstar, Sione Heimuli-Lund. Heimuli-Lund also shared duties as the team’s primary running back with Masina.
Now, it’s time to see if this outstanding 6-2, 225-pound junior can still go both ways at full speed after the departure of his talented sidekick. The results, and the national recruiting interest, would certainly indicate that he can.
Heimuli-Lund was the leading tackler for last year’s Bengals, with 105 tackles and he also delivered 7.5 sacks. Of course, Masina got a lot of attention from opposing blockers that will now turn to Heimuli-Lund, but I’m guessing he’s ready for that and will come up big once again.
Keaton Bills, defensive end, Corner Canyon
Talk about national recruiting attention. Keaton Bills, the 6-5, 250-pound Corner Canyon senior defensive end is certainly getting it. He has the body type and the skills to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, and he should have a big year for the Chargers.
In just its third year of existence, Corner Canyon has catapulted into the upper echelon of Class 4A football. Now, sharing the new look Region 7 with Timpview, the test gets even more difficult for Bills and his Charger teammates.
Keenan Pili, linebacker, Timpview
It’s Keenan Pili’s time to shine at Timpview in 2015. It’s not like the 6-2, 200-pound senior hasn’t shown what he can do before. He has provided enough of a peek into his abilities to have committed to play collegiately at BYU.
The Thunderbirds of recent vintage have seen the defensive headlines directed at players like Isaiah Nacua and Gabe Reid, but with those two have graduated over the past two years, it’s reloading time for Cary Whittingham, and Pili is a big part of that.
Playing some defensive back and some linebacker, he had 73 tackles last season, but he will be in the middle of everything for Timpview in 2015.
Jake Pitcher, defensive end, Sky View
The move to 5A couldn’t have come at a less comfortable time for Sky View. The Bobcats were in position to challenge for the 4A state title this season if they had remained, but now they will have to go through teams like Bingham and Brighton to get to that level. Can they do it?
The offensive firepower at Sky View is well known, but for this team to compete in 5A football, it will need to also deliver on defense, and the 6-3, 220-pound senior defensive end will have a lot to say about whether or not that happens.
A year ago, Pitcher had 87 tackles and 12.5 sacks. It will be fun to watch how he does at matching or beating those numbers this time out.
So many other names I could have mentioned, but I have to stop somewhere. Let me know which defensive players you’re watching so I know who I should be looking out for as the season progresses.