High school football: Plenty of change going on in Region 2

Published: Sunday, Aug. 12 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Tani Lehauli Granger (All) Tani Lehauli Granger (All)

If there is one word that sums up Region 2 it is change.

With four of the six programs hiring new coaches in the off-season, adaptability may be the most valuable trait for a squad.

Kearns has the longest-tenured coach of the group with Bill Cosper leading the Cougars for the past seven years. But even his team has struggled with turmoil as seven players, including four starters, transferred to two different schools.

"Instead of looking at it negatively, we're just looking at it like this: I'd rather be on the field than on the sideline," said senior Lehigh Afatasi, a defensive lineman who has been learning to play offensive tackle. "The techniques are different and new, but it's fun. Now I know the secrets of an offensive lineman."

Hyrum Purcell Hunter (All) Hyrum Purcell Hunter (All)

Cosper believes Kearns will compete in the region title race, but staying healthy will be critical.

"Where it hurts us the most is in the depth of our offensive line," said Cosper, as four of the transfers were offensive linemen. "Our defense is really good. I think we can do really well. But we have to stay healthy."

The region's top-ranked team in preseason polls is Viewmont, and the Vikings know a little something about trying to stay healthy in a very physical region.

"We're going to be young," said head coach Brad Lloyd. "We graduated a lot of kids who were two- and in some cases - three-year starters. So we're looking for guys to step up. We definitely have some kids who are filling those roles."

The four programs with new coaches are not just trying to institute their own systems and styles.

Mitch Dalley Viewmont (All) Mitch Dalley Viewmont (All)

Hunter and West coaches hope to return tradition to once very successful programs.

"I'm trying to restore some of the pride of West High," said Panthers head coach Keith Lopati. "It's slowly diminished over the last few years, and we've lost a little piece of what this community was about. We want to bring that back."

Scott Henderson has the dubious honor of being Hunter's fourth coach in three years, but he's confident he can restore the Wolverine pride that once permeated the program and community.

"I'm Hunter blue," he said. "I know the tradition here at Hunter. ... We have great athletes, great kids; they just need direction. This is a great program. ...We've just got to get it back on track."

Tristinn Martinez Taylorsville (All) Tristinn Martinez Taylorsville (All)

Granger and Taylorsville coaches hope to create a new culture of success in schools that have struggled to compete. Interestingly, Rod Wells, Taylorsville's new head coach, and Cecil Thomas, Granger's new head coach, were college teammates at the University of Utah.

Both men said their rosters are full of talented athletes. Their challenge will be convincing the players that they can compete with any other team in the state.

"We do have the kids who can compete," Wells said. "There is enough talent in this school, enough kids coming out that we can platoon our defense and our offense and not miss a beat. I really feel like we can compete. We have the talent and these kids are working hard."

The Granger players said they've always had the desire to succeed, they just didn't have the leader.

Alex Espinosa West (All) Alex Espinosa West (All)

"Granger has always had the talent," said senior linebacker Vino Leha'uli. "We just didn't have the coaches to take us there. We wanted to win; we just didn't know how to do it. These coaches are getting us there."

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(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. Viewmont: The Vikings are one of the more stable programs in the region, but they lost a lot of experience to graduation. The key will be how quickly and cohesively the new starters can become a cooperative unit. They're one of the smaller teams in a region full of big, physical players, so they'll have to rely on athleticism and quickness, as well as grit, if the want to do well. 2011 record: 8-4. Playoffs: Lost to Jordan 43-7 in the 5A quarterfinals.

James Felila Kearns (All) James Felila Kearns (All)

2. Hunter: The Wolverines have had the toughest luck when it's come to coaches. With four coaches in three years (one lasted just a few weeks), the players are understandably guarded. But Henderson knows the players, the program and the community and that should help me gain their trust and respect. Hunter has great athletes who just need guidance and discipline. 2011 record: 3-7. Playoffs: Lost to Lone Peak 51-6 in the first round.

3. West: The Panthers could be a very dangerous team this year. They have size, experience, depth, and now they have a coach who seems to connect with his players in a very significant way. The team camped out during two-a-days to bridge some of the social gaps that exist on the diverse team. They said they feel more bonded, and more hungry for success, than ever. 2011 record: 6-6. Playoffs: Lost 10-0 in the 5A quarterfinals.

4. Kearns: The Cougars will struggle after losing four starters to transfers. But the players said the challenges have not only bonded them, but forced them to work harder in the off-season. Better prepared and playing with something to prove, this team could be special. 2011 record: 4-7. Playoffs: Lost to Bingham 38-0 in the first round of the playoffs.

5. Granger: The Lancers got off to their best start in more than a decade last year, but then the coach who led them to that 4-0 start took a job with a college program. But Cecil Thomas left a college program to take the helm of the Lancers program and promises to continue the upward direction of the program. 2011 record: 6-4. Playoffs: Didn't make the playoffs.

6. Taylorsville: The Warriors have a new coaching staff and a very different approach. They also have a new quarterback in Tristinn Martinez, but an experienced offensive line and fullback in senior Tage Taylor. The Warriors are looking to do more than participate this season as they want to compete for a chance at the playoffs. 2011 record: 1-9. Playoffs: Didn't make the playoffs.

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