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.
Since taking over the East football program, Brandon Matich has coached the Leopards to the point where they are all but expected to compete for region and state titles. Last year was a perfect example. The team’s only loss came in the state 4A title game against Timpview.
"Our expectation is that success is part of the program," Matich said as he prepared for the coming football season.
That said, the coach readily admits that the team is not as close as it was last year to being a state title threat. But it could be good.
"We’ve got a talented young squad, but we have guys who have to earn varsity time," said Matich. "We’ve got a lot of good young talent and some returning starters. But last year we were returning just about everybody."
The coach savors the pressure of being expected to be in the state title mix, saying it’s much more fun to face that kind of pressure than it is trying to rebuild a program.
East might also be helped by playing in Region 6, which Matich regards as the toughest league from top to bottom in Utah.
"Look at the success Highland, Bountiful and Woods Cross are having now," he said. "There is a new guy from Idaho at Cyprus, and Andre Dyson is in the mix at Clearfield. I don’t know what to expect there. But the first four teams the last four years have been physical, no-nonsense teams that run the option with a downhill running team and beat the hell out of each other."
Last year » 13-1 overall (6-0 in Region 6; lost to Timpview in state title game)
Key returners » Lorenzo Manu, a first-team all-stater at free safety, will also be the starting quarterback. University of Nevada commit Hausia Sekona returns at defensive tackle. Sione Mafua, who Matich said is the best offensive lineman he’s coached at East, returns at center. Middle linebacker Christian Folau has committed to play football at Stanford, and tight end Loa Kafusi has offers from Utah, BYU and Utah State.
Player to watch » Soni Fonua, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound wide receiver, could be a major find.
Biggest hole » East’s safeties graduated last year, so Matich needs to find replacements to a key element in the 4-2-5 defense the Leopards run. And the run-oriented team needs to replace its running backs from a year ago.
Need to know » The players who are seniors at East are used to playing on the turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where they have either played in the semifinals or finals during their careers.
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