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Note: East finished with a 12-2 overall record and a 5-0 record in Region 6 in 2011. It lost, 18-11, to Logan in the 4A state championship.
SALT LAKE CITY — Two years removed from a dreadful one-win season in 2009, East is quickly sculpting itself into one of the elite programs in the state.
When Brandon Matich took the head-coaching job, 65 kids showed up for practice. The next offseason it blossomed to 80. Now? A small army showed up wanting to wear the red and white — 135 kids to be exact.
“Our goal is to be a top program — to get to where Bingham is, where Alta is, those type of schools,” Matich explained. “I think success breeds excitement. They want to come out to the program and be a part of it. It’s exciting to see where the program is heading; hopefully we’ll stay in that direction.”
In 2010 — Matich’s first season — the Leopards started a perfect 6-0 before finishing 8-3. It was the largest turnaround in the state.
As an encore, East announced its return to supremacy in 2011 — one-upping its performance from the previous year with a 9-0 start en route to finishing 12-2 (losing to Logan twice). However, after letting the championship trophy virtually slip through their fingers in the waning moments against Logan, East is looking to finish what it started this season.
“Obviously, it’s sat in their heads for a year. Where we were last year, we had to play some tough games,” Matich, whose team was 36 seconds away from capturing the 4A title for the first time since 1996, said. “We had to battle with Skyline and it was a goal-line stand that got us in the semis. Then, we got down 10-nothin’ to a real good Timpview team that returns a lot of guys.
“You’d like to be able to reset and go back right where you were but you can’t. It makes us hungry. We’ve got to stay humble though, stay focused,” Matich continued. “Because we’ve got a tough road — got to stay healthy and be lucky. There are a lot of things that got to go your way to get back. When you’ve had that success it’s twice as hard to get there again.”
East certainly has the talent for a repeat trip the big show. The Leopards boast 15 returning starters, nine of which are gaining considerable interest as Division-1 prospects. Four have already committed.
It’s the first time, however, that East has endured preseason hype and chatter. Last season, despite 18 returning starters, the Leopards were predicted to finish third in Region 6 by surrounding coaches. Matich and Co. are relishing in the pressure as another challenge of Friday nights awaits them.
“I expect to be first. That’s our goal. I wouldn’t expect anything less (or) you’re selling your program short,” Matich said. “Unless we finish first I don’t think we’re going to remember that we were picked to finish first in the preseason poll.
“Is there pressure on us? Sure, there’s pressure on us. But I think we’re built for it. I know it’s cliché, but all we’re worried about is Pine View and I know they want to rebound from the accolades they had last year and failures that followed.”
East Leopards at a glance
Coach: Brandon Matich has accumulated a 20-5 record in two seasons at East. He has a career record of 59-23 and is a graduate of Brighton High.
(7 returning starters; Flexbone offense)
Strap on riot gear. Build a barricade. Or set up booby traps. It doesn’t matter. Not many things will be enough to stop East this season on offense.