WEST VALLEY CITY A new day has dawned at Hunter High.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Wolverines have a new head football coach. Wes Wilcken, who led Hunter to a state championship in 2003 and enjoyed tremendous success during his tenure, resigned last winter before winding up at Taylorsville High as an assistant.
For all the success Wilcken enjoyed, the Wolverines went just 9-12 in the last two years of his tenure, and because of that, there's been a real feeling of change ever since 1995 Hunter alum Dustin Pearce took over.
Pearce most recently spent three years as a full-time assistant coach at Southern Utah University, and one of his major objectives since taking over the job has been to attempt to instill more discipline in his players.
"Different coaches have different beliefs, and I'm more of a military-style guy," said Pearce. "I'm a black-and-white guy. There's no shade in between. It's either my way or no way. A lot of people told me I wouldn't be able to do that here, (but) that's the way it was when I was here.
"I don't care if I prove people wrong because I know I will (be able to). These kids want structure ... Not to say there wasn't order when Wes was here Wes did some great things here it's just me doing it my way."
Originally, Pearce came to Hunter High with the intention of serving as an assistant to Wilcken. That all changed when Wilcken opted to resign, however, and Pearce subsequently nabbed the head-coaching job for himself.
Inasmuch as Hunter went 4-8 a season ago and is 9-12 over the past two seasons, Pearce understands he's inheriting one of the top football programs in the state.
And he's loved the challenge of trying to get the best out of his guys.
"Not that there wasn't order here or discipline before, but I haven't lost a single kid," said Pearce. "And the only thing I've done is I've (raised) the demands. I demanded that they came in the summer, and I'll demand some different things in the classroom. They know it.
"It's a privilege to play football and not a right, and that's what I told them," Pearce added. "I don't owe them anything. The school doesn't owe them anything. They're here because they have to be here, and they have to go to school. You have to go to class to play football, and that's one of the things that the administrators asked me to do."
What do his players think of having Pearce as their new coach? Well, so far so good, suggested senior lineman Ryan Mulitalo, who recently committed to BYU."Having a new coach, we get a new start," he said. "We have something to prove with the new coach now. It's been more disciplined. Everyone's been coming out more, been coming together and we're getting faster."
Region 3 projections
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. BINGHAM: The Miners have won all three outright Region 3 championships without losing a single game in the current alignment, and they'll look to make it a clean sweep by adding a fourth consecutive region championship this fall. There are talented players up and down the roster, from guys like L.T. Filiaga (LB/FB), Remington Peck (TE/DE) and Mike Edmunds (WR) to bruising linemen Talai Livai, Vince Giron, Tame Fangupo, Braydn Heap, Brandon Taukeiaho and Tuni Kanuch. Coach Dave Peck says his D-line might be the strongest group he's ever had, and those lineman will certainly lead the way for everyone else. Watch out for a talented group of sophomores, like Harvey Langi and Bridger Peck, to burst on the scene this fall. 2007 RECORD: 11-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the semifinals.
2. RIVERTON: In his fifth year at the helm of Riverton's football program, coach Mike Miller feels like his team has gotten better each season both on the field and off it. With 17 returning starters coming back, expectations have probably never been higher for the Silverwolves, who are looking to win a playoff game for the first time in school history. Much will be expected of three-year starter Matt Aston defensively, as well as fellow returning starters Eric Briggs, Jacob Green, Tone Rich, Ty Johnson and Matthew Maughan. On the other side of the ball, expect skill guys Zach Spencer (RB), Davis Johnson (QB), Dillon Draper (HB), Danny Hoffman (RB) and Tad Carter (WR) to shine. 2007 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round.
3. KEARNS: Third-year coach Bill Cosper has done a wonderful job of turning around Kearns' program since he took over, and there's a real feeling that the Cougars could turn into an outstanding team this fall. Physical senior running back Alamoti Vaenuku rushed for 1,383 yards and 15 TDs last fall, and he'll be joined in the backfield by Toa Afatasi and Sione Angilau. Kearns' entire offensive line, composed of Ryan Tialavea, Jake Vallieres, Inoke Felila, Tasini Lavaka and Oleni Anitoni has prior varsity experience, and Fatu Moala is a real weapon at wide receiver. Defensively, expect many of those guys to shine, in addition to safety Hernan Brown. 2007 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost in first round.
4. HUNTER: First-year coach Dustin Pearce, a former Hunter High player, has taken over his alma mater and hopes the Wolverines will be better on the field in 2008. While many things are changing inside the program, expect Hunter to continue to run its powerful rushing attack. Up front, it will start with talented linemen Ryan Mulitalo, T.J. Aiono and Sini Tauauvea. In the absence of graduated star running back Muka Atiga, expect carries to be divided up between Rusten Tauteoli, Mone Moungaloa and Ekuasi Tavo. Also watch out for guys like Fui Kinikini, Robert Atiga and Vita Bloomfield. 2007 RECORD: 4-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost in first round.
5. WEST JORDAN: Following a disastrous season two years ago, the Jaguars were vastly improved last fall and will look to take more steps forward this fall. To that end, senior captains Tyson Udy (LB/WR) and D.J. Tialavea (DE/TE) will anchor West Jordan on and off the field. Besides those two, Jace Rogers, Cody, Brandt Henslee and Devon Paraso are returning starters at skill positions, and lineman Dustin Christensen, Colton Van Komen, Taylor Galloro, Tyler Wallace and Mike Smith will be back in the trenches. 2007 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Missed the playoffs.
6. COPPER HILLS: For the first time since he arrived at Copper Hills four years ago, coach Art Erickson feels he is legitimately 2-deep at every position, and that should only help a team that started out 3-1 last year before winding up with a disappointing 4-6 final record. DE Clint Jex, who had 12 sacks a year ago, is back, and the Grizzlies will look to use him in a hybrid position this fall. Defensively, he'll be joined by Andrew Duckett, Dakota Bowman and Clint Facer, among others. Going the way, expect Brian Bell, Chance Sprague, Taylor Targos, Chandler Allen and Josh Soter to shine. 2007 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Missed the playoffs.