The first player that I thought of when considering the most underrated linebackers. The kid can flat-out play. His mental is second to none; he will not be outworked. He perfectly encapsulates what Box Elder football is all about. Jeppsen had more tackles than any other player in the 5A classification yet has been overlooked by many “sharps” in the Utah football landscape, including myself. He is only a junior and will only improve from what he did last season. Jeppsen WILL be playing college ball in some capacity after he graduates.
Rockwell is a natural candidate for this list. He does not get the praise that some of his peers receive yet he was a commodity on the field. Jones has excellent film, and showed out in the stat sheet. Not to mention he is well-respected by his teammates and opponents. The Warriors were not far off from being one of the best teams in 4A last season, and Jones contributed to that dramatically. Unfortunately, last season was his last, but he left it all on the field and nobody could question his love of the game.
The Skyridge defense was a cheat code last year. They were star-studded in every position on the field. One underrated aspect of their defense was their depth. Every linebacker that started is now committed to playing ball at the next level, including Westover. Because he shared the field with phenoms Tausili Akana and Smith Snowden, his efforts may be less known. This makes him a perfect candidate for this list. Westover can fly around the field and does some of the dirty work that can go unnoticed and unrecognized. He will continue playing football for Southern Utah University.
Gates was another player that immediately popped into my head when considering the most underrated linebackers in Utah. He is also yet another Pleasant Grove Viking on this list. They are the only school that has appeared on these lists in every position but one thus far. Gates was an animal and not a player you’d want to meet head-to-head in the hole. Gates can be overshadowed because he plays in the most talented region in the state by leaps and bounds, region four. But I believe this is why he should be rewarded for his play. He was that impactful on the field, while lining up against the best players in the state. Gates concluded the season with 145 tackles and is only a junior.
Sweat led the 3A classification in tackles and was a terrific all-around athlete. He could hang with the big boys at the line of scrimmage or drop into coverage at a high level. He was a Swiss Army knife for the Manti defense. If there was a big play being made, Sweat was likely a part of it. Much like many players on this list, Sweat is only a junior. With hard work in the off-season, Sweat’s ceiling is incalculable.
The linebacker core at Fremont high last year was unbelievable. The combination of Koford and Blanch was second to none. One of the reasons you don’t see Koford on many lists is due to the excellence of his counterpart Blanch. This should not take away from Koford’s excellence. As a sophomore he could wreck a game completely. He is an athlete that will be the at top of his position by next season’s end. Scouts better be keeping their eye on Koford, letting him slip away would be a terrible mistake.
I imagine most Utah high school football fans have never heard the name, Chanse Pendergrass. That may be because he plays in a small town that has not seen a lot of success on the football field in recent years. But Pendergrass seemed to shine through even through a rough season for Carbon. There were many tremendous linebackers in his classification who received their flowers. But not Pendergrass. He dialed up over 100 tackles in his senior season and also sprinkled in two sacks. Chanse is certainly deserving to be on this list.
The 2022 season was supposed to be the year of Magnum Nielson for the San Juan Broncos. He had a great year the season before and was looking to amplify that performance in 2022. But, he fell to injury and was out for the season. Someone had to step up and fill his place; Bennett stepped up his game and filled the void of his fallen teammate. Bennett was a ball hawk and was the defensive most valuable player for a San Juan team that boat raced everyone they faced to be crowned back-to-back state champions.
Sargent is one of the most exciting athletes in the 1A classification. He is electric on both sides of the ball and could be North Summit’s greatest asset. As a sophomore last year, he tallied over 100 tackles and was the focal point in the Brave’s defense. By his senior season, he will most likely be the most outstanding defensive player among his peers.
Avina is one of my favorite players on this list because he is so under the radar. Being someone who covers football more than casually, I hadn’t heard the name, Luke Avina. But, after watching some of his film, I saw that Avina was the truth last year. Tooele, as a whole, had a rough year, but Avina was a ray of light. Unfortunately, he will graduate in the spring, but his 100 tackles and 6 sacks have earned him a spot on this list. ￼
It was between Skyridge and Corner Canyon in the battle between who had the best linebacking core in Utah in 2022. Both cores were the best we have seen in recent memory. Tank Mitchell may have been slightly overshadowed by BYU commits Owen Borg and David Brinton, so some forget he was a monster last year. His pass-rushing abilities were phenomenal, and he could fill holes in the running game. Mitchell recently committed to Snow College, and I imagine he will be completely overwhelming for the junior college tackles he will face.
Much like Avina, Cooper played for a struggling team, but found a way to stand out. I’d be lying if I said I watched a lot of Hillcrest football last season, so I looked to the tape. Cooper is quick and can move really well east to west. He packs a punch and he would be the last person a ball carrier would want to see. He is the perfect candidate for coaches that are looking for hard working backers to fill their rosters.
Last but not least, Khai Matagi. Matagi is the epitome of an underrated player. He was the lifeblood of the Summit Academy Defense last season. In his junior year, he showed exceptional leadership attributes and added 85 tackles as well. He also contributed to the rushing attack mid-season and turned some heads on the offensive side of the ball. There is no doubt that Matagi is athletic and continues the legacy of talented Summit Academy linebackers.