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Orem High 5A favorites in hunt for 5th consecutive title

Orem celebrates their 60-13 win over Dixie in the 4A football state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.

Orem celebrates their 60-13 win over Dixie in the 4A football state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

OREM — As the winner of four straight championships (2017-2020), it's no surprise Orem has once again been picked as the 5A favorites going into the first week of high school football season.

In the last four seasons, the Tigers have been completely dominant in region play and in the state tournaments. They hold a 16-1 record against region opponents and an overall record of 42-10 during their championship streak. The only losses the Tigers have suffered outside of region play have come against 6A powerhouses Corner Canyon, Bingham, Skyridge, Lone Peak and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).

The 2021 football season may present more of a challenge to Orem after they lost key contributors from last year's 5A state title team.

The Tigers suffer a major loss of Kingsley Suamatai'a, who recently graduated. During the past four seasons, Suamatai'a started at offensive tackle and was highly successful at it. He was named the 5A MVP and was Utah's No. 1 recruit from a year ago, according to 247Sports, and committed to play at the University of Oregon. He didn't allow a single sack during his last season and finished with 70 pancake blocks.

The Tigers also lost a majority of their top receiving options in Devon Sa-Chisolm, Noah Erickson and Joe Smith. Together, these three combined for 66 receptions and 868 receiving yards. Smith was also a versatile option for Orem as a standout two-way player; he tallied 59 tackles and led the team with 607 rushing yards.

Defensively, Orem will have holes to fill left by linebackers Jayden Ahyou and Paxton Skipps. Both Ahyou and Skipps were named to an All-State team, and deservingly so. The duo led the Tigers' championship defense with 12.4 and 7.8 tackles per game and 21.5 and 18 sacks, respectively.

Although Orem was led by a senior-heavy class last season, they have developed a new set of seniors who have the opportunity to take on the responsibilities to pursue the Tigers' fifth straight championship. It's is a milestone that only three teams have been able to attain in Utah history, the most recent being Skyline from 1995-99.

Leading the defensive charge and a notable player to watch is senior defensive lineman Zion Saleapaga. He returns to the upcoming season as a primed four-year varsity player and accumulated for 49 tackles and three sacks a season ago. Assisting Saleapaga on defense will be senior defensive back Kenny James, who also saw significant minutes last year where he tallied 51 tackles.

On the offensive side of the ball, Orem welcomes new senior quarterback and Utah State commit Chase Tuatagaloa to the program. He will be learning and leading the Tigers' offense, but sophomore Lance Reynolds could make a push for some minutes after seeing action on the field last season.

Senior Kolton Brown will be an offensive threat and a versatile option for the Tigers. Although he converted just two touchdowns a season ago, he compiled 243 receiving yards and 145 rushing yards. Brown could be a unique playmaker this season after the experience gained from last year and with new quarterback Tuatagaloa.

Orem scheduled a strong preseason for the 2021 year, which includes games against the top teams in Utah. The Tigers kickoff their season at East on Friday at 6 p.m. MT.

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