Even though Alta High football coach Kevin Hammer returns eight starters on offense and eight on defense for the 2003 season, he's approaching Friday night's season and home opener with Wall Lake-View-Auburn (WLVA) cautiously.
"On paper, it looks like we have a lot of experience coming back," Hammer said Tuesday night. "But we have some inexperienced kids at some key positions and even though we know they have talent, those are concerns."
Friday night's opener is a non-district game for Class 1A Alta, but that doesn't mean it's not important for the team, Hammer said.
"We want to start the way we did last season, which was win our first two non-district games," he said. "We want to get off on the right foot and set the tone for a successful season."
Alta won easily over WLVA last season, but Hammer says that team is much-improved over 2002.
Meanwhile, Hammer's biggest concern is his offensive line, where most of the inexperience is.
"We've always been a running team - we'll come right at you," he said. "And you have to control the line of scrimmage to run effectively."
Traditionally, Hammer said, Alta teams have passed just four or five times per game. But with three-year starter Jamie Hammer at quarterback and a bevy of talented receivers at end, tight end and and in the backfield, that could change in 2003.
"We'll probably put the ball up a little more," coach Hammer said. "We're planning on throwing 10 to 15 times per game. We've got a good passer at quarterback and some kids who can really catch the ball."
One thing Alta will have this season is good size, particularly in the defensive line. That group includes 6-foot-3, 320 pound defensive tackle Wyatt Svendsen and 6- 3, 235 Blake Lytle at the other defensive tackle spot. Lytle is also a starter in the offensive line, Hammer said.
Alta's defense will be bolstered by what Hammer considers one of the best linebacking corps he's had in a few years. He says it's got both size and mobility.
That crew is led by 6-3, 200-pounder Jon Francis in the middle and Jarrod and Kole Peterson at the other linebacker positions.
"It's a very athletic group of kids," Hammer said.
So is Alta's defensive secondary, which teams may have trouble passing on. It returns three starters, including Jamie Hammer.
Meanwhile, Coach Hammer said his team's goal is to finish atop the district standings and make the state playoffs. There are nine districts in Class 1A and each district champ makes state as well as seven at large teams. That means even if Alta takes second in it's district, it isn't assured of a state playoff berth.
"Making state is a possibility for us and that's what our kids are hoping for," coach Hammer said. "But it takes a few breaks and a lot of hard work by the kids."
For Alta, that all starts at home Friday night.