Note: Herriman finished with an 8-3 overall record in 2012 and tied for first in Region 7 with a 4-1 record. It lost to East 27-16 in the 4A first round.
HERRIMAN — The Herriman High football team closed out last season amid some unrequested controversy. Back-and-forth decisions regarding ineligible players in the 4A classification somehow backfired on the unsuspecting Herriman squad.
In the aftermath, the Mustangs welcomed a new coach, a new quarterback, a new classification, and quickly moved on.
“We don’t even talk about it,” said Dustin Pearce, who is entering his first season as the team’s head coach. “We’re focused on what we can control.”
That, he said, includes concentrating on improving every time the team hits the turf. It is a commitment that has turned into the Mustangs’ season motto — 213 degrees — which references pushing past the limit, past the boiling point.
“Our mindset is, everything we do we’ve got to up the level, up the degree,” said Pearce, “to push ourselves to the limit; to keep pushing and get better every day, every rep.”
Aiding the team in that push is the consistency it has seen in its just four years of existence.
“(Former head coach) Larry (Wilson) and those guys worked so hard over the last few years building, building, getting kids caught up to speed,” Pearce said. “Now we don’t have that problem. We have guys that are ready to go in all three classes.”
The program’s first freshmen have now become seniors, a group that has had the benefit of playing for just one offensive coordinator in Jeff Wilson. Pearce, who was previously a head coach at Hunter, is new to the position at Herriman but worked as an assistant at the school last season.
“Kids understand the expectations, the routine,” the head coach said. “A lot of ownership has been put on them this summer.”
The Mustangs enter 5A after holding their own in 4A for their first three years of existence.
“It’s big-boy football now,” Pearce said. “Every week it’s going to be a challenge.”
He added that while the change does not affect how the Mustangs coach and play, it does impact what they prepare for.
“It’s the bigger schools; we don’t have any small schools on our schedule anymore,” Pearce said. “We just know it’s the top teams week in and week out.”
The biggest unknown so far this preseason is who will earn the role as starting quarterback now that three-year standout Tueni Lupeamanu has moved on.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how this competition unfolds with the guys that are competing for the job,” Pearce said, adding that there are two juniors and a senior currently in contention.
“It’s a leadership thing. Your quarterback has got to be a leader,” Pearce said, “and Tueni was as good a leader as a high school young man as I’ve been around. They have some big shoes to fill.”
And, if nothing else, a solid leader is exactly what Pearce said the team needs to be successful this season and continue its climb up the prep football ladder.
“We’ve got to have good leadership,” he said. “We don’t have a bunch of al-stars, but if the kids figure it out and they play as a team, and they buy into one another, we’ll have a good season."
Herriman Mustangs at a glance
Coach: Dustin Pearce is entering his first season as Herriman’s head coach. In five years as a head coach, he has accumulated a 27-19 overall record. Pearce is a graduate of Hunter High.
(5 returning starters; Multiple-base offense)
The Mustangs lost the only quarterback they had ever known in Tueni Lupeamanu at the end of last season, leading to a three-player competition — it is between two juniors and a senior — for the right to fill the position. After leading 4A in scoring with more than 40 points per game, head coach Dustin Pearce said whoever becomes the signal-caller will have big shoes to fill in terms of leadership as well as the more than 2,000 total yards and 20 touchdowns the QB contributed last season.
Senior running back Brandon Farmer will ease the transition. Pearce said the returning starter is a “quiet, humble kid who deals with difficulty very well.” He contributed more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns last season, which led to his No. 12 spot on the Deseret News top 20 players list. Conner Johnson is returning after a knee surgery and serving as the Mustangs’ leading receiver with more than 500 yards and four scores a year ago.
Senior Nick Williams and junior Andre James are back to anchor the offensive line. Both bring experience to the squad as Williams has been with the team since the school opened and James started as a sophomore. “If Nick goes on the offensive line, we’ll go,” Pearce said. “The sky is the limit for him.”
(5 returning starters)
Herriman was fifth in scoring defense in 4A a year ago, allowing just 15 points per contest, and with senior Ben Richard returning, Pearce expects more of the same. “Ben is our backbone on defense,” the coach said. “Since this school has been open, he has been a part of the program. There’s a lot of experience there. Ben is a kid that should be one of the higher-recruited linebackers in the state.”
Junior Kody Jarvis is a returning defensive back and running back who Pearce described as “the smartest football player I’ve seen in a long time.” Kalisi Moli, a junior defensive lineman, and Braxton Thompson, a senior tight end and linebacker, both return with experience on both sides of the ball to lead the Mustangs as they take on their new 5A opponents.
Coaches preseason Region 4 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 4 predictions: Third
Bottom line: While Herriman, which is in just its fourth year of existence, has so far benefitted from consistency in coaches and systems, the team is hitting a point where change is all around. The Mustangs are moving up to 5A this season while also looking to their first new coach and their first new quarterback. Pearce said that for the Mustangs to find success this year amid the difficult schedule, a strong on-field leader needs to emerge.
Felts Facts for Herriman High School
All-time record: 20-14 (3 years)
Region championships: 0
Playoff appearances: 3
All-time playoff record: 1-3
State championships: 0
State championship record:0-0
Most played rivalry: 3 meetings with Riverton since 2010, posting a 1-2 record. Meets Riverton on Oct. 11
Felt’s Factoid(s): Herriman became just the 10th school to qualify for the playoffs in its first year of football (2010). ... Herriman is one of only 11 schools to have a perfect home playoff record (1-0).
Herriman coaching history
2013-present — Dustin Pearce (0-0)
2010-12 — Larry Wilson (20-14)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Tueni Lupeamanu, Specialist
2011 — Francis Bernard, RB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.