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COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Brighton lost to American Fork in last year's Class 5A state semifinals. Herriman fell in the quarterfinals to eventual-state champion Bingham.
Both return several star players, and both have high expectations in 2015, making for a fantastic top-five matchup in the first week of the new high school football season.
"It's going to be a great game" Brighton quarterback Drew Jensen said. "Herriman's a great team.
"They're tough. They're a tough team. They're big; they're strong; they know how to play football. They'll be a challenge for anyone they play."
While Brighton brings loads of talent in the skill positions, such as future Stanford wide receiver Simi Fehoko, Herriman brings the size — and plenty of it — up front on the offensive and defensive lines.
"The team that comes out on top," Herriman senior lineman Stone Sagala said, "will be the team that puts the most effort in and doesn't take any plays off.
"The first game of the season let's you know: either a good trip down humble lane or where you stand."
Friday night's game is especially emotional for Jensen, a BYU commit. He only played in the opener a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury.
"It's been a solid year now," Jensen said. "I've been working my tail off every day to get back. It'll feel good to get back on the field and play a great team like Herriman to open up."
Other key games of the opening weekend include Judge Memorial and Pine View, which pits the two-defending 3A state champion against one of the stronger teams in the 3AA South. The Bulldogs and Panthers could both be in the state title race by season's end.
The two met in last year's season opener, when Judge beat Pine View 18-16 — the lowest scoring output of last year for the high-powered Panther offense.
One of the top teams in 5A will also host one of the best 4A teams when Corner Canyon travels to Pleasant Grove for their opener. The Vikings are picked to win the deep and talented Region 4 in preseason polls, after returning 16 starters and a massive offensive line that averages 300 pounds each.
Corner Canyon hopes to build off last year's state semifinal appearance, but the returning experience is more lacking. The Chargers return just two starters, though one of them is 6-foot-5, 270-pound lineman Keaton Bills and his 20 scholarship offers, along with quarterback Kyle Reaveley.
Woods Cross and Maple Mountain will play in a rematch of last year's first-round 4A state playoff game. The Wildcats won that one by 20 points, but they are in major re-tooling mode from last year's 11-2 squad.
Wildcat running back Braxton Gunther returns, along with quarterback Ian Selin to help shoulder the offensive load. The Eagles will rely on BYU-committed quarterback Jaren Hall, as well as receiver James Wilson, who transferred from Spanish Fork in the summer.
Defending 3AA state champion Dixie opens its season by continuing a tradition at Springville. The two have opened the season for 10-straight years, but the Flyers lost former coach Blaine Monkres, who is not the offensive coordinator at Dixie State.
Springville is picked to win the realigned Region 8 behind 13 returning starters and fifth-year head coach Willy Child.
Contributing: Sean Walker