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Prep football preview: Kearns Cougars
First Published Aug 05 2014 03:56 pm • Last Updated Aug 19 2014 09:16 am

EDITOR’S NOTE » This is one in a series of previews of Utah’s high school football programs. They will run throughout the summer leading up to the 2014 regular season, which begins Aug. 21.

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Kearns Cougars

Second-year Kearns football coach Matt Rickards thinks that teaching life skills along with gridiron basics is the best way to turn around what has traditionally been a struggling program.

He said providing athletes with lessons on such topics as teamwork, discipline, academics, character and toughness can be a big part of establishing a winning program.

"I made it clear to the administration and the community that my goal was to teach kids to have character, responsibility and empathy for others," said Rickards, whose team plays in perhaps Utah’s toughest 4A region. "We do some study hall things where we get them in the classroom. Our grades are up [3.2 during football a year ago]. Our team goal is a 3.0. We don’t want to be average."

With more than 100 kids out for football, it appears many parents and students are buying into the coach’s philosophy. But, on the field, the Cougars are very young and could be a year away from challenging Region 6 powers East, Highland, Bountiful and Woods Cross.

That doesn’t mean that Rickards isn’t optimistic.

"We’re getting better every day," he said. "We have a younger group of kids. We only have one senior returning as a starter. Some young guys will contribute quite a bit. Hopefully, the juniors will step up and take a leadership role. … Our young classes are really talented."

Kearns runs a power offense out of multiple formations, searching for a 50-50 mix of run and pass. The team will rely heavily on receiver and strong safety Sherwin Lavaka, who has been a starter since he was a sophomore, and junior quarterback Bailey Floyd.

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Last year » 3-7 overall (2-3 in Region 6)

Key returners » Receiver and safety Sherwin Lavaka has been a starter for the Cougars since he was a sophomore.

Player to watch » Quarterback Bailey Floyd is one of many juniors on the team expected to take a leadership role.

Biggest hole » The Cougars lack experience with only one senior starter returning off last year’s team. Coach Matt Rickards is also working on the team’s toughness and teamwork.

Need to know » Despite football struggles, Kearns creates a fun atmosphere. Some fans tailgate before games and recent growth in youth football is keeping star players at home and creating interest.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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