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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.
Eventually though, Brighton’s run-first mentality will need balance from the passing game. For starters, it might be the only way it can keep up with the juggernaut offenses in Region 3. But secondly, Masina isn’t going to have much success running with nine guys in the box either.
“At some point we’re going to have to throw the ball a little bit,” said Bullett.
With a new quarterback and new receivers, that won’t be an easy task.
Brighton Bengals at a glance
Coach: Ryan Bullett is entering his seven year as head coach at Brighton. He’s amassed a 25-36 record during that stretch. He’s a graduate of Hillcrest High School.
(3 returning starters; I-backs offense)
Brighton doesn’t return many players who started early last season, but all five offensive linemen who started in the playoffs are back. That’s a great foundation to build on. The experience will help immensely with inexperience at just about every other position but running back. Isaiah Kaufusi will start at receiver, a player the coaching staff is hoping has a solid season in his first year at receiver. At the end of the day, the questions with this team are all about how the offense will do.
(2 returning starters)
Brighton was a pretty good defensive team last year, but 2012 will definitely be a transition year with an entirely new collection of linebackers. The secondary will be very good with Uaea Masina and Kaufusi back starting in the secondary, as well the emergence of Alec McArdle at corner. Just a junior, he was outstanding at the Ute Shoot even though teams continued to throw his way. Coach Bullett really likes his hip turn and foot work. JayJay Mahe will help anchor down the defensive line.
Coaches preseason Region 3 straw poll: Fourth
Deseret News Region 3 prediction: Fourth
Bottom line: Brighton was right in the thick of the Region 3 race last year finishing in a three-way tie for second. In the playoffs though, the offense wasn’t nearly good enough to keep up with Fremont, and question marks at quarterback make that a concern again this year. Realistically though, the offensive line is one of the most experienced groups in 5A and that should help Brighton be a factor in a very tough region.
Aug. 17 — at Davis, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 — FREMONT, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 — at Sky View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — at American Fork, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — PLEASANT GROVE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — at Alta, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — COTTONWOOD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — WEST JORDAN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — at Jordan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 — at Copper Hills, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Brighton High School
All-time record: 295-164-2 (43 years)
Region championships: 16 (1977 co, 1978, 1979, 1981 co, 1982, 1986, 1988 co, 1992, 1995 co, 1996 co, 1997, 2000 co, 2001, 2002 co, 2004, 2005 co)
Playoff appearances: 32
All-time playoff record: 35-31
State championships: 1 (1982)
State championship record: 1-3
Most played rivalry: 42 meetings with Bingham dating back to 1969. Brighton leads 28-12-1. Last met in 2004.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Brighton didn’t have a losing season for 29 straight years — from 1977-2005 — the second longest such streak in state history and longest since 1970. The Bengals enjoyed five undefeated regular seasons during the streak.
Brighton coaching history
2006-Current — Ryan Bullett (25-36)
1999-2005 — Tom Cushing (69-17)
1988-1998 — Lynn Freestone (90-33)
1978-1987 — Steve Dangerfield (70-32)
1974-1977 — Unknown (21-19)
1970-1973 — Rex Wright (19-19)
1969 — Dean Stringham (1-8)
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Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years
2005 — Mike Hague, RB
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2009 — Ricky Heimuli, OL
2005 — Visesio Salt, OL
2005 — Jesse Taylor, LB
2005 — Coleman Petersen, K
2004 — Randon Carter, RB
2004 — Blake Taylor, OL
2003 — Blake Taylor, DL
2003 — Zac Marold, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Contributing: Jessica Wilde, Conner Johnson, Steve Mundee and prep football historian George Felt.