High school football: Brighton Bengals 2012 preview

Published: Sunday, July 29 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

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Note: Brighton finished with a 5-4 overall record and was tied for second in Region 3 with a 3-2 record in 2011. It lost to Fremont, 43-15, in the first round of the 5A playoffs.

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — There’s a saying in football: If you have a good offensive line you’ll have a good football team. That bodes well for the Brighton Bengals in 2012.

Injuries decimated the Bengals' offensive line a season ago, but they plugged those holes throughout the year and still finished in a second-place tie in Region 3. Of the five lineman who started in Brighton’s playoff loss to Fremont, all five are back this year.

“We have our whole offensive line coming back. We’re excited about that. That will definitely be the strength of our team,” said coach Ryan Bullett.

The five lineman who are projected to start at Davis in the first game on Aug. 17 are JayJay Mahe, Nick Giles, Ethan Finlinson, Jackson Barton and Josh Menna. Tyson Aldridge also returns with some experience filling in last year.

Barton was the only player to start all 10 games last year, and the junior is a beast at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds. He’s already verbally committed to the University of Utah.

The experienced line has made a big difference for Brighton during summer workouts.

“Right now just by chalk talk, we’re so far ahead of where we were a year ago at the same time with the linemen 'cause they’ve all played. They’ve all run the offense for a year,” said Bullett.

As important as returning experience is, so is leadership, and that’s the biggest void on this Brighton team now.

“We lost a great senior class last year — the best leadership we’ve had here in a long time. I’m looking for some of these kids who were in the mix last year and played quite a bit to step up and fill some of those leadership roles,” said Bullett.

In his time at Brighton as an assistant and head coach, Bullett said leadership is very underrated. Some of his most talented teams didn’t make the playoffs, whereas lesser-talented teams with great leadership often went much deeper in the playoffs.

“Some of it is toughness in kids not being afraid to get after their teammates,” said Bullett.

That toughness often translates onto the field, and Bullett said last year’s team was as tough as anybody.

One player in particular the coaching staff is counting on to emerge as a leader this year is Uaea Masina. A star on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the senior is being recruited as a linebacker by numerous colleges. He’ll start at safety for the Bengals though.

“We need to rely on him heavily (at running back too). We can’t afford for him to get nicked up. We’re not going to let linemen hit on him. We’ll keep him out in space and let him use his athletic ability to run stuff down. He’s pretty good in the open field,” said Bullett.

That athleticism will help offensively as well.

With the quarterback position up in the air — and a freshman in the mix to win the job — Brighton will need to rely on Masina’s running ability even more early on. A year ago he carried the ball 100 times for 511 yards and six TDs.

He should easily eclipse that total with the experience in front of him.

“We have a lot of big returning linemen, offensively and defensively. They’re going to be our foundation for everything,” said Masina.