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March 6, 2012

Utah out to show it can compete out of state

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Utah high school football is looking to grab a piece of the national high school football spotlight. Now.

The state, which has only 98 teams playing 11-man football, has been considered a state on the rise the past five years. This fall, when it plays host to six major games featuring out-of-state opponents, that perception will be put to the test.

The keystone to the six games is The Beehive Classic, a tripleheader being played at South Jordan (Utah) Bingham on Sept. 1, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.

The day will start with Salt Lake City (Utah) East taking on Gardena (Calif.) Serra, it will be followed by Sandy (Utah) Jordan playing Long Beach (Calif.) Poly and headlined with South Jordan (Utah) Bingham hosting Highland (Colo.) Valor Christian.

A trio of games in the two weeks that follow the tripleheader will add to the bottom line in the evaluation of Utah football.

Regional power Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline will make the 800-plus mile trip to play Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood on Sept. 7. The following week, national power Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco will travel to take on Sandy (Utah) Alta, and Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco will face Jordan in a doubleheader.

Tony Fa, the event coordinator of The Beehive Classic, knows what is at risk with these six games.

"Our state is getting better," he said. "But we don't have many teams with a resume that can be carried out of the state.

"Our teams also haven't fared well in out-of-state games recently, but we think that it is because we are always the ones on the road and playing in hostile environments."

Fa represents Intel Athletics, which is making its debut in high school sporting events with The Beehive Classic. He said the time is now for Utah.

"This has to happen," he said. "You can not prove you are relevant in this current landscape of high school football without an out-of-state game when you are coming from a state like ours.

"Analysts keep saying we are improving and play is elevated, well this is the time to show it."

It is not just analysts that perceive the level of play in Utah to be gaining ground.

College coaches have taken notice.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham estimates the improvement to be nearly five-fold in his decade of observance.

"I can tell you when I got here in '94 you might have had six or eight DI players in Utah," he said. "Now, some years it's upwards of 40. It was not quite that high this year, but there is an upward trend.

"And I believe the (high school) coaching in the state of Utah has improved dramatically over the last 10 years."

Utah's strongest team came in 2010,when South Jordan (Utah) Bingham - led by Rivals250 player Harvey Langi - finished No. 10 in the final RivalsHigh100 after going 13-0. The school, however, did not play an out-of-state team.

The highlight of the last decade came in 2007, when the state represented itself very well in out-of-state games as Cottonwood, Bingham, and Alta (twice) all won contests against regionally relevant teams. That same season Jordan lost a close decision to all-time wins leader Valdosta (Ga.) High and Highland (Utah) Lone Peak fell to San Diego (Calif.) Helix by one score.

The lowlight was last season when Provo (Utah) Timpview and Bingham lost to Bakersfield (Calif.) High and Orange (Calif.) Lutheran by a combined 80-20 score.

"Bingham has not done well in its last two games," Fa said. "But Coach (Dave) Peck sort of expected it and thinks that this year will be different."

Bingham has been beaten soundly in its last two attempts to play out-of-state. Last season when it traveled to Mission Viejo, California to play Orange Lutheran and in 2009 when it went to the Herbstreit Classic in Texas losing to Euless (Texas) Trinity, 42-21.

The game with Valor Christian is one of the bigger measuring sticks for the state as it battling with Colorado for Mountain State relevance.

"We are not going to have the depth like they do in the PAC5 and California, or in other big states, but we should be able to be discussed in the same breath as Washington and Colorado," Fa said.

"We really think that playing the majority of those games on the road was tough and wanted to get these boys some games near home."

There will be plenty of high profile Utah prospects involved in the six games as well.

Four-star quarterback Cooper Bateman from Cottonwood will be the highest-rated player from the state in action. As the No. 129 player in the Rivals250 he has offers from Alabama to Washington State.

Rivals250 member Lowell Lotulelei will be anchoring the defensive line at Bingham. Ranked No. 244 in the nation the 6-foot-2, 290-pounder has offers from all three in-state schools as well as UCLA and Oregon State.

The star of the series, though, may be rising sophomore from Jordan.

Austin Kafentzis lead Jordan to the Class 5A title game as a freshman throwing for 3,188 yards and 23 scores while rushing for 1,377 and 22 more scores.

It will be years before Rivals.com releases ratings for the Class of 2015, but Kafentzis - who already has a Utah offer - looks like a candidate to be ranked when the time comes.

And while Kafentzis will have years to prove his talent, the state of Utah's big chance comes this fall.

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