Brandon Matich has turned around East football in a hurry, losing just five games in his two seasons with the Leopards.
But even as the coach rapidly builds a perennial contender, he still can't let go of something: Last year's loss in the 4A finals to undefeated Logan, a 18-11 decision that ended with a Grizzlies' go-ahead touchdown with 36 seconds left.
"It'll motivate me for the rest of my life," Matich said. "There's no doubt about it. I still wake up every morning and think of that game. I think our kids do too."
East lost just two games last year, both to Logan, and returns 15 starters. It has four college commitments already - wide receivers Zach Swenson and John Fakahafua to Utah State, defensive lineman Meti Taliauli and linebacker Patrick Paliau to BYU - with more players still mulling offers.
Eight starters come back on defense, which should be the Leopards' calling card as they try and make their way back to the title game.
"We're gonna hang our hat on our defense," Matich said. "I sure hope they show up. ... I just hope we don't pin our ears back and get too aggressive and make overaggressive mistakes."
The coaching staff is also trying to quash any sense of complacency. East may be on the cusp of becoming a football power, but a region championship doesn't cement your status the way a state title would.
"Hopefully, they're hungry enough that they realize they got a long way to go to get back to where that team was" Matich said. "I told them this morning, that [region title] trophy's not theirs. It was last year's trophy."
LAST YEAR: 12-2, lost in the finals to Logan.KEY RETURNER: Sione Leaaetoa, senior, defensive lineman. East's defense as a whole should be frightening, but Leaaetoa is a devastating rusher off the edge who made first team All-State as a junior.PLAYER TO WATCH: Isaac Valles, senior, quarterback. Last year's starter Jason Cook was a converted running back who became an All-State quarterback. Valles is more of a pure passer. "That's what he was born and raised to do," Matich said.BIGGEST HOLE: Hard to find on a team this stacked, but the Leopards lose two starters from the offensive line and another at tight end.NEED TO KNOW: A 12-win team returns 15 starters and what may be the state's best defense. Look no further for your 4A title favorite.SEASON OPENER: Hosts Pine View. Aug. 17 @ 7 p.m.
Previous postsJuly 25: Introduction/Riverton
July 26: Hunter/Park City
July 27: Kearns/Copper Hills
July 28: Davis/Juan DiegoJuly 30: Olympus/Judge Memorial
July 31: Alta/Grantsville
Aug. 1: Westlake/West Jordan
Aug. 2: Layton/Hillcrest
Aug. 3: Jordan/Lone Peak
Aug. 4: Viewmont/Stansbury
Aug. 6: Lehi/Cyprus
Aug. 7: Woods Cross/Syracuse
Aug. 8: Cottonwood/American Fork
Aug. 9: Granger/Tooele
Aug. 10: Murray/Bountiful
Aug. 11: Skyline/Highland
Aug. 13: West/Pleasant Grove
Aug. 14: Bingham/Brighton
Aug. 15: Clearfield
- Jack Wangjwang@sltrib.comTwitter: @thejackwang