High school football: East Leopards 2014 preview

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 11:30 p.m. MDT

East LB Christian Folau

Note: East finished with an 11-1 overall record in 2013 and was first in Region 6 with a 6-0 record. It lost to Timpview in the 4A championship.

SALT LAKE CITY — The heartbreak still haunts Christian Folau.

Johnny Fredrick uses the pain to motivate himself.

And while head coach Brandon Matich said he’ll likely never really “get over” the sting of losing last year’s 4A state championship game, he hopes both players and coaches have learned from the loss as the entire East High program is ready to embrace the possibilities of a new season.

“I don’t know if it’s a factor for these guys,” Matich said, pointing out that many of last year’s key players graduated. “That’s a hard question to answer because we don’t discuss it because it’s such a sore subject. … It was a hard ending. But if you don’t learn from it, you’re not doing your job. I’ve watched that game a million times.”

Folau, a senior linebacker who committed to Stanford, said that while last year’s disappointment still hurts, he’s fully focused on the future.

“I’m probably still not over it right now,” the two-year captain said with a slight smile. “But we have the same goals this year. It seems like our senior class has only experienced Rice-Eccles Stadium. We know the preparation and work our team needs to do to get back up there.”

Fredrick said many of the players found working toward new goals helped ease the pain of last year’s loss.

“It obviously hurts, losing a state championship after all of that hard work,” Fredrick said. “But it’s something we needed to get over. It is almost more motivation. We can get there, we know what we need to do. Hopefully this is our year.”

East’s consistent success is one of the reasons both coaches and the Deseret News staff ranked the Leopards No. 1 in preseason polls. But building a winning prep program is especially challenging because coaches can’t recruit to fill out their rosters. Instead, they work with the student-athletes who show up for camps and tryouts and try to find ways to carry on a tradition of success.

That’s one of the reasons Matich said the expectation for this year’s team remains the same, even in the face of losing some key leaders and critical talent.

“Our expectations as a team and as a program will always stay the same,” Matich said. “Our kids know that. And our expectations are to finish up there (Rice-Eccles Stadium). … We’re trying to build a program with consistency, not just have a good team here and there. We want to be a great program.”

He points to what Dave Peck has built at Bingham and what Mike Favero has built at Logan as examples of high school programs that are successful every year.

Expectations weren’t always as high at East as they are these days. And it isn’t just the players who expect to compete for region and state titles.

“I think those expectations are probably school and communitywide, too,” Matich said. “I hope they don’t get too complacent about it. But it’s hard not to do.”

He said they make adjustments to the program here and there to keep it moving in a positive direction and to accommodate the talent on the roster.

This year’s team is led by one of the state’s best linebackers in Folau, who will sign with Stanford this winter. Folau, along with safety/quarterback Lorenzo Manu, defensive end Hausia Sekona and center Sione Mafua were all elected captains by their teammates.

But both players and coaches said one of the most exciting aspects of the upcoming season is the potential of the team’s youngest players.