Pretty much all I just want to see is a bond between our team. If we really find that, then everything will find its place. There’s nothing else to it. If you have a family between your team, then the wins will come, everything else will come, the stats. That’s really all that matters, is just to find a bond and connect. —Cottonwood head football coach Malu Hosea
Note: Cottonwood finished with a 5-5 overall record in 2013 and was third in Region 2 with a 3-2 record. It lost to Brighton 42-15 in the first round of the 5A playoffs.
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s kind of hard for Cottonwood’s Malu Hosea to believe he’s about to embark on his senior year. Coming to the school as a freshman to lift weights seems like just yesterday to the running back, and stepping out onto the field now feels the same as the first time he did it.
The Colts’ program has been through its share of turmoil and tough times during Hosea’s prep career, the most notorious of which were two separate incidents that led to upheaval on the coaching staff during Hosea’s sophomore year.
Injuries have hit Cottonwood hard as well, and the team has been mired in mediocrity despite having a good contingent of Division I talent.
Hosea feels that with things more stable now, the focus can be entirely on the team getting better, and not on outside distractions.
“We’re trying, and right now I think we’re at a pretty good level where we used to be at,” he said. “Yeah, there’s still a few things that we’re missing, but I mean, we’re doing our best to get back to where we were and I feel like we’re almost there. Just a few more fixes and we’ll be good.”
Among those fixes, Hosea lists knowing how to work together, always remembering why they play the game, and motivation among the senior players to take the lead in everything the team does.
“Pretty much all I just want to see is a bond between our team,” he said. “If we really find that, then everything will find its place. There’s nothing else to it. If you have a family between your team, then the wins will come, everything else will come, the stats. That’s really all that matters, is just to find a bond and connect.”
Senior quarterback Cole Dipietro feels similarly, saying that keeping composure during hard times is something he wants to see improve from seasons past.
“I think this year our team’s a lot closer,” Dipietro said. “In years past there’s been separations of groups. I think this year we’re all one. I love everybody on this team. I want to have everybody’s back. They’ll have mine.”
In terms of personnel, the Colts will again have some seniors who will look to make noise on the collegiate level once their prep days are over. T.J. Fehoko is already committed to play at Colorado next fall, and will lead Cottonwood on the defensive line and may see some time at linebacker. He’ll play fullback on offense.
“He’s one of the premiere players in the state, if not the country,” said Colts head coach Greg Croshaw. “You hate to give too much expectation, but he’s certainly met everything and been able to handle it so far. If he stays healthy, obviously he should be as good as there is around. He’s a great asset to have, there’s no question about that.”
Then there’s Hosea, who set a school record last season by rushing for 327 yards one night against Granger. He’s being looked at by some Pac-12 and SEC schools and will also play on defense as a sort of hybrid linebacker and defensive back.
Those two, along with junior tight end Fua Pututau, will make life easier for Dipietro, who will step into the starting QB role after last year’s main signal-caller, Tevita Gerber, decided to quit football and turn his attention to baseball. Croshaw will be looking to employ elements of the spread offense, but recognizes that Dipietro is as much a weapon with his feet as he is with his arm — if not more so.
Defense is where the Colts are planning on finding their calling card. In addition to Fehoko and Hosea looking to make plays, Dipietro will be in his fourth season as a starting cornerback and Pututau will be at outside linebacker.
A season ago, Cottonwood gave up a respectable 19 points per game, but Dipietro has higher goals for the unit in 2014.
“I think our defense is gonna be one of the top in the state,” he said.
Though Croshaw feels his team is as good as any one-deep, he has concerns about depth. Injuries have played a key role in some of the Colts’ struggles in seasons past, and that unknown may prove to make or break Cottonwood’s campaign.
"That’s been the key since I’ve been here,” Croshaw said. “When you don’t have the depth, it goes downhill in a hurry. I don’t know how you avoid injuries. It’s part of the game, but that’s what you gotta hope for, is to have some luck there and keep them healthy, and if we’re healthy we can play with anybody.”
Hosea agrees, and his ultimate goal for 2014 is clear: winning the state championship.
“I want to just touch that field,” he said. “It really depends on us and how we work.”
Cottonwood Colts at a glance
Coach: Greg Croshaw will be in his third season at the helm of Cottonwood. He compiled an 8-13 mark in his first two seasons with the Colts.
(7 returning starters; Spread offense)
Croshaw will have some interesting decisions to make on offense. He wants to run a spread offense, but his personnel lends itself to more of a power game with running back Malu Hosea, fullback T.J. Fehoko and tight end Fua Pututau. Even quarterback Cole Dipietro is a better runner than passer. The Colts definitely have talent, but utilizing that talent most effectively will be Croshaw’s biggest challenge.
(7 returning starters)
Due to a lack of depth, many players will play on both sides of the ball for Croshaw, something that hasn’t happened much at Cottonwood in years past. The core of the defense will be very good, led by Fehoko on the defensive line. Hosea will look to make plays all over the field, Pututau will lead the linebackers, and Dipietro will anchor the secondary. Will these players have enough stamina to play well on both sides of the ball?
Coaches preseason Region 2 poll: Fourth
Deseret News Region 2 prediction: Third
Bottom line: The Colts have as much talent at the top as anybody. The question will be depth and whether or not their best players can stay healthy, something that has been a problem at Cottonwood. The stamina of those top players will also be a question that only time will answer. If the players can hold up, the Colts could make some noise.
Cottonwood coaching history
2012-current — Greg Croshaw (8-13)
2010-2011 — Josh Lyman (15-6)
2007-2009 — Cecil Thomas (31-7)
2000-2006 — Tom Jones (34-46)
1998-1999 — Steve Coburn (2-17)
1991-1997 — Mike Reardon (12-51)
1979-1990 — Tom Jones (52-68)
1970-1978 — Unknown (24-57)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2013 — TJ Fehoko, DL
2012 — Inoke Lotulelei, WR
2008 — Steve Romero, QB
2008 — Isi Sofele, RB
2008 — Alo Moli, WR
2008 — John Martinez, OL
2008 — Percy Taumoelau, OL
2007 — Isi Sofele, RB
2007 — John Martinez, OL
2007 — Lynn Katoa, LB
2006 — Braydon Anderson, OL
2005 — Alex Cate, QB
2005 — Stanley Havili, RB
2005 — Nick Mostyn, OL
2005 — Matt Martinez, LB
2004 — Alex Cate, QB
2004 — Stanley Havili, RB
2004 — Tyler Hutchins, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Ryan McDonald is a former intern at LDS Church News. He is studying communication at the University of Utah, where he works as the sports editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org