Note: East finished with a 5-8 overall record in 2012 and was fourth in Region 6 with a 2-3 record. It lost 32-14 to Timpview in the 4A semifinals.
SALT LAKE CITY — The controversy that engulfed East's football team at the end of the 2012 season belonged on a daytime soap opera.
It went something like this:
The Leopards had an 8-0 record, then an ineligible player participated after failing to submit the proper paperwork, followed by the resignation of the athletic director and the forfeiture of seven games, including four region contests. Suddenly, the top-ranked 4A program was eliminated from postseason contention.
In cliffhanger fashion, the UHSAA reassessed the school with a $6,000 fine, suspended coach Brandon Matich for three games, stripped the team of a region title and put it on probation for three years. But the UHSAA allowed the program to enter the playoffs as the fourth seed from Region 6. The Leopards battled through a 4A play-in game before ultimately falling to eventual champion Timpview in the semifinals.
"Days of Our Lives" anyone?
East's heartache subsided during the ensuing months. Heading into the 2013 season Matich explained that “an element of it will always stick with us,” but if the program isn’t able to ameliorate the situation, it’ll never be successful again.
“If we continue to harbor those emotions we won’t be very good,” he said. “I think the biggest thing that we try and take from it is: We’re learning that there were mistakes made, and we have to deal with adversity. What we went through — the emotion and the pain — my whole program, families and everything, you can’t duplicate that.”
Within the locker room the Leopards have put the controversy behind them. However, many spectators and opposing teams still carry animosity toward the program — as evidenced by four coaches leaving East off voting ballets in the preseason.
“Our kids feel that. Look, people are cruel. People for whatever reason in sports will find a way to hate you and take things out on the wrong people,” Matich said. “First and foremost we didn’t cheat — people can say what they want — we didn’t cheat. It was not an intentional thing that was done, but people want to grasp on to something and make us into the Oakland Raiders of the state of Utah high school football, which is fine. People can hate us all they want, but that’s their problem — we’re moving on.”
When asked whether being the Raiders made him John Madden, Matich quipped, “Man, I don’t want to be Madden. You couldn’t think of a more fit coach?”
Many things have changed as the calendar pages have continued to turn, yet one thing remained constant. East, which has won 16 state championships, has not ordered rings since 1996. The Leopards want nothing more than to change that.
“In high school football, as in any level of the sport, but especially in high school — there’s a lot of things that got to take place,” Matich said when asked what needs to be accomplished to fulfill the lofty goal. “You got to stay healthy; you got to get lucky; you got to get a good draw in the playoffs; (and) we got to come together as a team.
“I feel like this team reminds me of my team two years ago in terms of cohesiveness. They’re really, really close and enjoy being around each other. I think that could grow into something huge in terms of football.”
East Leopards at a glance