Prep football: Matich builds powerhouse at East (with video)
Cramped inside the thin and steaming locker room, players await activation. Some sit on the skinny benches inside the cherry-red room, while others can't keep still. The rap music that was blaring a few minutes earlier suddenly is shut off.
Every East Leopard piles in as silence permeates.
East football coach Brandon Matich, who is in his fourth season at the helm, introduces his offensive starters. One by one: Name, position, synopsis. Claps from coaches and fellow Leopards follow.
Defense comes next. Matich tosses out nicknames, the kind only those fully ingrained in a program would understand and enjoy.
Following a passionate pre-game speech before the Leopards' first Region 6 game of 2013, the activation is complete.
They're ready, they play, they win.
It's as simple as that. Coaching football, teaching football and coercing the best out of high school athletes as more than just football players is, as Matich explains, his calling.
It's how he's rebuilt and re-constructed the program he grew up cheering for into one of the state's elite in three seasons.
"I feel like I'm good at this and helping kids in doing this job," he said. "This is what I want to do forever, and nothing is going to derail me from that."
A man with a plan
Dr. Paul Sagers nearly missed out on Brandon Matich. In fact, Matich, who established Park City as a Class 3A power, interviewed for the East job in 2009.
He didn't get it.
The Leopards won one game that season.
Sagers, the principal at East, said he recalls a conversation he and Matich had not long after. He told Sagers that his gut feeling told him they'd cross paths again.
Matich was hired the next season as East's coach, just like grandfather Grant Martin, who led the Leopards to three state championships in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
"I know he could have gone a lot of places because he had a lot of offers, but this is the place he wanted to go," Sagers said. "As a principal, if you can get someone that wants to be here that bad and is committed ... it's just the perfect hire."
The first order of business for the program was knocking on doors. Matich knew what kind of talent was in the area. He needed to get the community to buy into East again, to get it to believe in what he was building.
"I knew that they needed somebody in here who was really going to work hard for that Glendale community and those Polynesian kids and get them into college and get them something to hope for, not just high school football," he said.
He'd drive down from Park City every day during spring 2010, open the weight room for his players then he'd visit with players and their families.
"I didn't really know him when he first came in," said senior quarterback Isaac Valles, "but from what I heard from everyone else, he was going to change things around and do a good job."
East won eight games in 2010. It won 12 and lost by a touchdown in the 4A state championship game against Logan in 2011.
"Yeah, we expected a quick turnaround," Matich said, "but to the success and level of what we've achieved? I don't know if you could imagine that. We have high expectations here."
Korey Rush knows what he's getting every day on the field. The Arizona State commit and East defensive end grew up knowing Matich one day would be the man he called coach. Rush lived in the Park City area when the Miners were dominating 3A opponents under Matich's patented option schemes.
Rush said East's meteoric rise has to do with the strengthened core of the program, but it starts with his coach.
"He's hard on us, he expects a lot out of us, but at the same time, he reinforces that kindness and truly shows he cares about us more as people than football players," Rush said. "He works hard at it. He really takes the time to get to know us all as people."
Running back Preston Curtis was more succinct, saying, "We've always had a lot of talent [Matich] just knows what to do with it."
The man under the black bowl hat at practice or the Leopard visor on Friday nights rules his own way. His yell is irreplaceable. He engages at every turn. In a practice last week, he attempted a 40-yard field goal that landed about 8 yards too short. The special teams guys got a kick out of it.
He chases after Valles in practice drills, simulating speed rushes on different sides of the line of scrimmage.
Matich couldn't turn down an opportunity to coach if he wanted to. He's created math tutoring twice a week for players as well as a two-hour study hall session once a week for math and sciences.
"They want a guy they can trust, a guy they know is going to go to bat for them every time, who is always going to be there for them; to have their back in school, socially and in football," Matich said. "I try to make myself and that available to them every time."
Colt Nichter said that's what created the winning culture in Park City. Nichter went from a 3A player in a ski town to a starting defensive tackle in the SEC at Vanderbilt under Matich's guidance.
"He took a bunch of Park City kids with not the best talent and got us to win games," Nichter said. "He puts so much more time and effort in the game no one else does."
Forward, not back
Grant Martin only got to see his grandson coach one season at Park City. He died of congestive heart failure soon after. The East High legend watched Matich in the stands and would congratulate his coaching heir no matter the outcome.
Now that he's calling plays in the same spot where his grandfather stood for decades, Matich says he'll ask for guidance when times get tough.
"We'll have a private conversation, he and I," Matich said.
There were those following last year's tumultuous season. East had to forfeit six games after playing ineligible players. School administrators said the reason proper paperwork wasn't submitted was due to a misunderstood rule by the school's athletic director.
Matich, the coaching staff and players maintain it's not something they use as a motivating tool to get back to Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"We've put it away mostly," East tight end and Utah commit Joe Tukuafu said.
It starts with themselves. Leaders such as Valles, Curtis and Rush said the only thing that can stop East this year is East. And as Matich wants, it's an attitude he wants his players to embrace on and off the field.
"Everything in our lives will translate to the football field," Rush said. "If we're not going class, if we're not doing our work, if we're not staying humble outside of football, it will translate."
Matich at East
Brandon Matich is in his fourth season as East's coach.
* forfeited six wins because of ineligible players