Tom Smart, Deseret News
Since the day Brandon Matich took over head coaching duties on the East High campus in 2010, the Leopards have drawn a lot of attention.
They have won 73 percent of their games. They have ended two seasons in the 4A championship game. They have included a Mr. Football on their roster.
In spite of not winning a state championship — or, perhaps in some cases, because they haven't won — Matich and the Leopards have turned a lot of heads. In terms of physicality and football talent, they have set a high bar for what it means to be a Region 6 champion.
Entering the 2014 season, that standard remains a target at which even the most talented teams are shooting, including those competing in the same league.
“Last year, playing East, we proved we could play with them in the first quarter, honestly, because we had the lead,” said Cyprus coach Scott Wooldridge, whose team scored the first two touchdowns before giving up 76 points.
“What it did for our kids was it proved that they can play,” he said, noting that many of the Cyprus players never leave the field during a game. “They can play with those teams.”
In addition to East, which is once again picked to finish at the top of the Region 6 standings, the league is stocked with talent from Highland, Woods Cross, Bountiful, Kearns, Cyprus and Clearfield.
“You’ve got East and you’ve got Woods Cross, and they’re in the top two or three in preseason polls,” Wooldridge said. “And then you’ve got Highland, who’s just as tough, and Bountiful, and then you add Kearns into the mix now with Clearfield and us. Those four teams on top are formidable.”
In 2013, every team beat the teams it was supposed to and lost to those it was predicted to lose to. The Leopards (6-0) were perfect while Woods Cross (5-1), Highland (4-2), and Bountiful (3-3) battled. This season, however, the teams that finished in the bottom of the standings in 2013 are looking to cause some upheaval.
“There’s teams that can play some football in our region. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re good,” said Kearns coach Matt Rickards. “The kids made a goal and they want to improve their record from last year. That would put us in the playoffs. We want to compete for a region championship, we want to be in that mix of those powerhouses that we have in our region.”
The Cougars return junior starting quarterback Bailey Floyd, as well as a multitude of young and fearless players on both sides of the ball.
In distinct contrast, the Pirates are looking to move up from sixth in the league standings with a great deal of experience. Senior tight end Dallas Garreaud will highlight an offense that contains seven returning starters and a defense that returns eight.
After graduating many key parts of the talent-heavy East team of last year, including Mr. Football Ula Tolutau, the Leopards are still expecting another long season.
“Our expectations as a team and as a program will always stay the same. Our kids know that,” said Matich. “And our expectations are to finish up there (at Rice-Eccles Stadium) despite who is playing.”
This year, however, there will be a little more youth on the field than in seasons past.
“The exciting thing about this team is there is so much youth that’s going to have an opportunity to step up and play,” Matich said. “The junior class is not very big numbers-wise, so the younger kids are going to have to step up.”
Meanwhile, the Rams and Wildcats are both heavier with defensive returners as the former retains six and the later retains nine.