KEARNS Expectations are very high inside Kearns High's football program, and the fact that the Cougars are planning on accomplishing some big things this fall speaks volumes about the job coach Bill Cosper has done since taking over the program two years ago.
Entering Year 3 of Cosper's tenure, Kearns hopes to take some more huge steps forward in 2008.
The Cougars went a respectable 5-6 a season ago and qualified for the 5A playoffs. and with a plethora of talented guys back on both sides of the ball, there's no reason to think they can't continue their upward progression this fall.
"We've improved every year, which is what you wanna do," said Cosper. "We've had some close games. We actually could've won more games in each of those two years. We would've made the playoffs the first year if it hadn't been our region's time to opt out and only have three (playoff spots), and then fortunately we get in last year and draw the state champ . . . Hopefully we can learn from those things."
Transitioning from losing close games to winning them can often define a program, and Cosper and Co. believe they have the right stuff to get around that corner in 2008. Cosper pointed out that Kearns led several of the close games it lost a season ago, and if the Cougars figure out how to win those games this time around, they could make big waves in Region 3 and throughout the state.
"When I got here, the biggest thing I had to change was attitude and getting the kids to believe in themselves instead of, 'Oh, here something bad's gonna happen' and dwelling on it," said Cosper. "The point we have to get to is when we're ahead in those close games is we have to finish those games and don't let them be close. That's the thing I'm gonna push on them this year."
On paper for whatever that's worth the potential is clearly there. Cosper started nine sophomores during his first year, and those battle-tested guys are now returning for their senior seasons.
"We have a lot of potential in this group," said senior running back Alamoti Vaenuku, one of the three-year starters who rushed for 1,383 yards and 15 TDs last year.
Guys like Toa Afatasi, Sione Angilau, Fatu Moala and a number of others should also contribute heavily, but there's no question that much is expected from Vaenuku, who has drawn recruiting interest from some smaller in-state schools and dreams of attending the University of Utah.
According to Cosper, Vaenuku didn't realize his full potential offensively until midway through last year."In the past, even at the beginning of last year, when he'd break free, he'd try to find somebody to run over," said Cosper. "Well, I said, 'You don't have to.' He finally figured it out. I said, 'You're fast enough to run away from people,' and he did. He'd turn the corner, and he'd take it."
COACH: Bill Cosper (3rd year)
KEY PLAYERS: With eight returning starters on offense and a number of other returning starters on defense, Kearns seems as loaded with talent as it's been in some time. It all starts with star running back Alamoti Vaenuku (1,383 yards and 15 TDs last year) and talented fullback Sione Angilau. Ryan Tialavea, Jake Vallieres, Inoke Felila and Tasini Lavaka are returning starters along the offensive line offensive line, and Fatu Moala is stellar weapon at wide receiver. Toa Afatasi will likely be employed as a key utility man on offense. Defensively, several of those players will go both ways, and look out for safety Hernan Brown.
QUESTION MARK: Can Kearns High take that all-important next step up and go from being a pretty good team to a great one? As Cosper pointed out, the Cougars were a handful of plays away from winning three or four more games last year, but his players need to learn from the mistakes they made in those games to significantly alter their win-loss record for the better in 2008.
PREDICTED REGION 3 FINISH: Third.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Kearns qualified for the playoffs lost year but faced the unenviable task of playing eventual champ Alta in the opening round. If Kearns can stay healthy throughout this year and get a decent matchup once the playoffs roll around, the Cougars could be poised to surprise a lot of people.