High school football: East Leopards 2013 preview

Published: Monday, Aug. 12 2013 1:40 a.m. MDT

Deseret News: East 2013 football preview

Coach: Brandon Matich enters his fourth season donning the headset on the East sideline. After reinvigorating a moribund program he’s complied a 25-13 record. In eight previous seasons he’s garnished a 64-31 record. He is a graduate of Brighton High and the University of Utah.

Offense

(7 returning starters; triple option)

High-scoring, explosive teams are commonly associated with up-tempo, five-wide, air-raid offensive schemes. East is an exception to the stereotype. The Leopards averaged nearly 38 points per game last year operating out of the triple-option attack.

With seven returning starters the likelihood of production increasing this season is extremely high.

Quarterback Isaac Valles returns for his second year voicing the huddle. “Last year he was a little unsure. He really came out of the shoe struggling,” Matich said. “He obviously grew a lot of confidence and got really good toward the end of the year. This year he’s coming in and just knows he’s the guy. He’s taking the team by the reins. ... I think the sky is the limit for him.”

Valles has several weapons at his disposal, including Wisconsin commit Ula Tolutau, who added 15 pounds to his frame in the offseason.

“Ula knows that people are gunning for him,” Matich explained. “He’s ready for that. Ula is talented, and he’ll get his.”

Matich explained that teams can’t solely place Tolutau in their crosshairs with the threat of Valles; Malakai Solovi, who ran for 132 yards and one touchdown against Fremont while Tolutau served a one-game suspension; and Preston Curtis.

“We call him joystick,” Matich said of Curtis. “I mean quite honestly he might be the best athlete I’ve ever coached. He’s a Division I talent in not your prototypical Division I body. Hopefully someone will throw him a bone in terms of getting a scholarship because he’s so talented.”

The Leopards once again are massive up front with Dwayne Finau, Tennessee Suesue, Sione Mafua, Sione Tuikolovatu and the only one with an easily pronounced name, left tackle Mike Key.

The offense will remain slanted heavily toward the ground game, but East will open the passing playbook with Utah commit Joe Tukuafu, David Huntsman and Tua Laupata as available targets.

Defense

(6 returning starters)

East is swarmed with next-level talent on defense this season with Arizona State commit Korey Rush, Stanford commit Christian Folau and Tukuafu all strapping up.

The unit isn’t limited to the three headliners, however. Matich tabbed Hausia Sekona as a potential playmaker on the opposite end of Rush up front.

Two additional starters from last season return in corner Preston Burnett, who Matich referred to as the “fastest kid on the team,” and Jake Baptiste, who is returning from a lisfranc fracture he suffered three-quarters into last year.

The secondary experienced a huge gut punch with the loss of Zach Swenson and Niel Robins to graduation. Matt Webb and Lorenzo Manu are expected to fill the void.

“This is the first time he’s played free, which is a little frightening because that’s a big-time position to play,” Matich said of Manu. “He’s picking up on the schemes fast, but he’s athletic enough to make up for his mental deficiencies early on with the scheme. He’s going to be great.”

Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: First

Deseret News Region 6 prediction: First

Bottom line: Leaving East off postseason ballets doesn’t change anything. The Leopards are clearly one of the two best teams in the 4A classification this season. Nonetheless, with Alta, Kahuku (Hawaii), Jordan and Mountain Crest in addition to a brutal Region 6 slate, East doesn’t have any room for error. It certainly has the personnel to win every game on its schedule, and contend for the state championship.

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