What type of group will Brandon Matich have this year?
"It's an angry group of kids," the East High School football coach said.
The sting is still there. And everyone still wants to talk about it. The 2012 season, the revolving drama surrounding a talented football team and a season lost, a season in which an 11-2 football team saw seven of its victories vanish after ineligible players saw the field.
Matich said he can't go anywhere without its resurrection. Family reunions, gatherings of parents, anywhere.
"It hasn't been buried," he said. "These kids are more resilient than adults are. As an adult, it still affects me daily. That whole process brought me to my knees."
As hard as it may be to move on, East must try and do so with copious amounts of returning talents and a borderline back-breaking non-region schedule that features home games against Alta and Kahuku High School (Hawaii) and road games at Class 5A powerhouse Jordan and 4A state finalist Mountain Crest.
"Our schedule is insane, and there could be some bumps in the road, but our team is excited," Matich said. "A lot has to happen for our kids to be successful, and luck has to be on our side most of the time."
Luckily for the Leopards, they have loads of skill.
Returning is senior quarterback Isaac Valles, the maestro of the East triple-option attack, along with Wisconsin-bound running back Ula Tolutau. Throw in the likes of tight end Joe Tukuafu and wideout David Huntsman, and the offense that can bring a defense to its knees seems poised to assert itself as one of Utah's most potent.
"We're not going to change who we are," Matich said. "Primarily, we know teams are going to focus on Ula, but we've [been working on] some other things passing wise."
Defensively, East boasts Arizona State commit Korey Rush, a defensive end who had 14.5 sacks in 2012 as well as junior linebacker Christian Folau, who holds an offer from Stanford. Linebacker Jake Baptiste is coming back from an injury-plagued 2012 season.
The road is riddled with tests and extremely tough games, but Matich said this group has what it takes to make a run toward a crown.
The first test is against Alta on Aug. 23.
"I like to define this group and say they practice angry, they lift angry and they can't focus on anything else right now but Alta," Matich said.
ASSIGNMENT • Region 6
LAST YEAR • 11-2 overall but forfeited seven games
KEY RETURNER • Isaac Valles, sr., QB: East coach Brandon Matich said Valles is the first quarterback he's ever had that will be a two-year starter while at East. Valles once again will be the head of an efficient option attack, and Matich said he's added muscle and weight in the offseason.
PLAYER TO WATCH • Tua Laupata, sr., RB/WR/S: Playing on a team that is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, Laupata is a phenomenal skill player in space. Matich said: "He's a collision player. He has to play football in order to hit someone."
BIGGEST HOLE • Linebacker. While the Leopards return Christian Folau and Jake Baptitste, the Leopards always have struggled with depth at the linebacker position. Patrick Palau graduated and is at BYU, but Matich said the numbers always have been low in the position, thus relying on the health and talent of Folau and Baptiste among others.
NEED TO KNOW • East will not play rival West this season in this the 100th year celebration of East High School. Matich said he was caught off guard when he heard the game was off, so he scrambled to fill a spot and was able to fill the void with storied Kahuku High School on Aug. 31 at East.