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Danny Tuai

Plenty of high school football teams can face turnover in coaches and players from one season to the next. East is no exception.

The Leopards lost all but a handful of starters from 2007. Then, only a few weeks before the season, head coach Aaron Whitehead left the team to accept a job at BYU.

But East has also dealt with a different set of unusual challenges during the offseason. The Leopards spent nearly the whole summer training and conditioning while production of High School Musical 3 went on around them.

It is a badge of honor to have such a popular Disney movie series call East High its home. But the situation has also caused more than a few headaches.

"We couldn't even park at our own stadium," senior Danny Tuai said. "We had to walk from our school all the way up to the stadium (for) practice, because they took up our parking lot."

Now that a new season is on the doorstep, the only production East is concerned with is producing another successful year while incorporating a cast of mostly new faces.

The Leopards must plug new players into 19 of the 22 positions on offense and defense. Even some familiar faces are in unfamiliar places. Tuai, for example, will become the quarterback after starting at free safety for East in 2007. For the most part, the offense is brand new and it is still a work in progress.

It isn't exactly a bleak situation though. Tuai brings loads of athleticism to his position. Sunia Tauteoli, already a solid linebacker, should be a force at fullback in taking over for Parker Cracroft. And Tuai will have capable receivers in Jon Webb and Jacob Morrison.

"It is going to be a challenge, but it's not like we're going back to square one," said interim head coach Larry Eldracher.

Any challenges should be muted by Eldracher's presence. He made his mark as a capable defensive coordinator over the past two decades at Skyline and then East. It hasn't taken long for the Leopard players to embrace his schemes and direction.

"He's a good coach," Tuai said. "He knows his stuff."

With so many holes to fill, East has the look of an underdog in a region with the likes of Cottonwood and Highland. But the Leopards feel like they will be in the mix for a region title just as much as those two teams.

"We may not have the big names like them, but we've got the team," Morrison said.

East Leopards 2008 prep football preview

COACH: Larry Eldracher will have his first head coaching job since a stint at Woods Cross more than two decades ago. Eldracher was the architect behind some strong defenses at Skyline and East and should flourish in charge of his own program.

KEY PLAYERS: The offense has a whole new look with Danny Tuai (QB/FS) and Sunia Tauteoli (LB/FB) expected to fill major roles. Steve Tuikolovatu (OL/DL) returns to anchor both lines with Tevita Masiva (OL/DL). Jon Webb (WR/DB) and Jacob Morrison (TE/LB) should offer good targets for Tuai.

QUESTION MARKS: With so many new faces in place, can East find chemistry and mesh players well enough to be as competitive as they were in Whitehead's tenure?

LAST YEAR: 8-3, lost in 4A first round.

PREDICTED REGION 6 FINISH: Third.

POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: It's not a good year to be filling so many holes with Highland and Cottonwood. But with plenty of talented players to plug in as starters, East should finish in the top three in the region and can probably count on making it to a quarterfinal game.

2008 SCHEDULE

Aug 22 — SNOW CANYON, 7 p.m.

Aug 29 — at Skyline, 7 p.m.

Sept 5 — AMERICAN FORK, 7 p.m.

Sept 12 — HIGHLAND, 6:30 p.m.

Sept 19 — at Murray, 7 p.m.

Sept 26 — at Granger, 7 p.m.

Oct 3 — OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.

Oct 10 — at Cottonwood, 6:30 p.m.

Oct 15 — CYPRUS, 7 p.m.

Oct 23 — at West, 7 p.m.


E-mail: jcoon@desnews.com