2013 high school football preview: Union Cougars will face opponents their own size this season

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6 2013 7:50 p.m. MDT

Note: Union finished with a 5-6 overall record in 2012 and was fourth in Region 10 with a 2-3 record. It lost to Stansbury 60-26 in the 3A first round.

2012 Union statistical recap

ROOSEVELT — In his first season as head coach at his alma mater last year, Union coach Matt Labrum unfortunately didn’t have the participation numbers he was hoping for, which made competing with the upper-echelon teams in 3A difficult.

The Cougars did fine against programs like Tooele, Ben Lomond and Uintah, but when the big boys like Stansbury and Juan Diego popped up on the schedule, they simply couldn’t compete.

A year later, things are looking up.

Not only will Union be competing in the smaller 3A this season, but the participation numbers are way up. Last season Union had about 50 to 60 kids in the program, whereas right now that number is closer to 85.

“I think kids are excited, saw some positive things happen last year, and they want to be part of a the building process and making something happen out here in Roosevelt,” said Labrum.

Union hasn’t had a winning record since 2007, when it went 9-4 and advanced to the 3A semifinals.

With roughly five returning starters on each side of the ball and a more balanced region, having a winning record and perhaps competing for a region championship aren’t unrealistic goals.

“The biggest thing for us is competing week in and week out. No matter what happens or who we’re playing, we’ve got to step up and play hard and start to set a tone and we’ve got to be known for something. I think we’ve got to be tough-nosed, and we’re heading in that direction,” said Labrum.

The year before Labrum took over as Union head coach, the program finished with an 0-10 record. Posting a 5-6 record last year is a clear indicator he’s got the program headed in the right direction.

To take that next step, Union needs to get better offensively. Union ranked 21st in scoring offense in 3A last year, averaging 17 points. Only Uintah, Canyon View, Tooele, Carbon and Ben Lomond were worse, and those teams combined for a 4-44 record.

Labrum’s switching to a run-and-shoot offense to facilitate improvement, but realistically experience alone should make the Cougars better.

Gavin Nielsen is back at running back after rushing for more than 900 yards last season, while Nic Smith is also back after leading the team with seven rushing TDs.

Only one offensive lineman is back this year, but Labrum said he has a strong group of juniors who will fill in the trenches nicely.

Offensively, one of the primarily things Labrum is focused on heading into the 2013 season is the passing game. Union ran the ball 80 percent of the time last year, but Labrum said it’s imperative that the team display more balance to keep teams from loading up the box.

That puts a little extra pressure on junior QB Tye Winterton, who knows what he’s getting into after starting the final four games last year because of injury.

“Tye Winterton had to step into a tough situation last year when our senior QB went down and broke his hand,” said Labrum. “He did a good job and gained some confidence and got some playing time and we expect him to take the next step.”

If everyone else takes that next step too, Union could challenge near the top of the 3A North region.

Union Cougars at a glance

Coach: Matt Labrum is entering his second year as head coach at Union and seventh overall. He previously coached at Parowan from 2007 to 2011. His overall record as head coach is 27-47. He’s a graduate of Union High.