Note: Taylorsville finished with a 4-6 overall record in 2017 and was fifth in Region 3 with a 1-4 record. It did not qualify for the 6A playoffs.
TAYLORSVILLE — It isn’t the raw athletic ability or natural instincts of his players that has Taylorsville head coach Pala Vaitu’u excited about the 2018 football season.
It isn’t even the fact that he has one of the most prolific quarterbacks in state history.
“The biggest thing with this team is exact obedience,” Vaitu’u said. “They do things that they’re told. They keep their word. They work hard. We have no knuckle heads.
This is a special group.”
Vaitu’u could be nervous, and in fact, he said he had some anxiety about what this year’s team would have to replace before the offseason workouts began.
“We had a lot graduate,” he said. “At first our biggest weak spot was our line…I was worried. With what we do, we don’t have the (numbers of) kids to move No. 2 to No. 1 and keep going. When we replace, it’s different. …We’re not as talented as last year, but we’ll do just as good or even better because these kids listen. And they do everything with exactness.”
So while they’re replacing most of the offense, the way the incoming players have approached their roles combined with the leadership of senior quarterback Dane Leituala has Vaitu’u downright giddy about their possibilities. The scheme is easy, especially when you have a returning quarterback like Dane,” the coach said. “He makes it easier for everyone. So even though we’re getting three new starting wide receivers, four new starting offensive linemen, he basically makes it easy. He knows where everyone is supposed to go. …And these kids have worked hard and done everything we’ve asked.”
He said they may not have one standout or star at wide receiver, but they have something better.
“We have four really good wide receivers that understand how to run routes, where to be, how to block, and so that’s the type of kids we have,” Vaitu’u said.
Add to that kind of discipline, enhanced leadership by one of the best players in the state, and Taylorsville coaches have a lot to be excited about. Vaitu’u said Leituala is a unique combination of size, strength and quickness, and the teen does look more like a middle linebacker than a traditional quarterback.
Leituala isn’t just a four-year starter, who has become more comfortable with a vocal leadership role, he is one of the best prep quarterbacks Utah has seen.
“We have to thank (Corner Canyon) coach (Eric) Kjar for the scheme,” said Vaitu’u, who coached under Kjar at Jordan High when current BYU defensive back Austin Kafentzis was breaking state and national records as a quarterback. “That’s who we learned from, and we’re grateful that we have that scheme.”
In three years, he’s amassed 6,883 yards passing and 63 touchdowns, and an astounding 4,485 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns. He’s 15th on the state's career passing yard list, and he’s No. 4 in total offense in a prep career with his senior season still to play.
“Dane was a leader on the field, but he wasn’t very vocal,” Vaitu’u said. “This year, he’s taken on the role of being an overall leader. That’ s off the field, in the weight room, in conditioning workouts, any service projects we’re doing, he’s the vocal leader instead of just on the field.”
Vaitu’u has a simple answer when asked what it will take for his team to be successful this season.
“Minimize mistakes and penalties,” he said. “That’s it. These are good kids, and they do everything we ask. I told them, ‘Unless you get false starts or you drop easy passes, you’ll be able to drive. Dane will get the ball to the open guy.”
Taylorsville Warriors at a glance
Coach: Pala Vaitu’u enters his third year as Taylorsville’s head coach. The graduate of Salt Lake Community College owns a 9-13 record as the Warriors leader.
Taylorsville Offensive Snapshot
Offensive coordinator: Ulualo “Junior” Vaitu’u
2017 offensive production: 34 ppg (6th in 6A)
- 4 returning starters
Key offensive returning starters:
Offensive newcomers to watch:
- David Sterzer, Sr, WR
- Taime Magalogo, Sr, WR
- Chris Kerr, Sr, WR
- Keanu Spencer, Sr, WR
- Steele Hess, Jr, WR
Vaitu’u on quarterback Dane Leituala:
“He’s a man-child. He can throw the ball; he can read defenses; he understands concepts; he understands what the defense is trying to do to him. Then on the physical side, he’s not only physical, but he’s strong, he is powerful, he is quick and he is smart. He’s not afraid of contact. …It’s really like having another coach.”
Vaitu’u on wide receiver David Sterzer:
“He’s going to play both ways this year, and it will be good to have his speed on the field as a receiver. He’s going to stretch some defenses.”
Vaitu’u on Inoke Taufalele and Marshallfaulk Vaitu’u:
“Inoke will be playing slot and some running back. He’s just a great athlete. Marshallfaulk, right now he’s injured, but he’ll be back and he’ll take some of the pounding off of Dane. He’s smart, and he understands how to block.”
Key’s for offensive success in 2018: Just like last season, moving the ball and scoring points will be a given when it comes to Taylorsville. Leituala is a unique blend of linebacker/quarterback, both physically and mentally, and he’s developed into an effective leader. If the new linemen can help him out even a little, this offense will be tough to slow.
Warrior Defensive Snapshot
Defensive coordinator: Pala Vaitu’u
2017 Defensive production:37.7 ppg (19thin 6A)
- Five returning starters
Key Returning defensive starters:
- Dane Leituala, Sr, LB
- Marshallfaulk Vaitu’u, Sr, LB
- David Sterzer, Sr, LB
- Inoke Taufalele, Sr, S
- Tavita Taufalele, Jr, DE
Defensive newcomers to watch:
Vaitu’u on the team’s defensive mindset:
“What’s good about this group is that they have that work mentality. They knew from the beginning, ‘Hey, we might be playing both ways.’ So they’ve just been working and working. We’re doing something a little different on defense this year, but it’s more attacking.”
Vaitu’u on defensive end Tavita Taufalele:
“He went in early as a sophomore because we had an injury. That was a gift for him because he got a lot more experience. So we expect to grow him a little bit more this year, but he’s understanding the game more and coming along really well.”
Keys for defensive success in 2018: The Warriors have tweaked their defense, and it will be interesting to see if that is more effective in holding opponents to fewer points. The same standouts on offense will lead the team’s defense, so remaining healthy will be critical as the Warriors don’t have a lot of depth. If they want to make those stats meaningful with more wins, the defense has to get more stops.
Coaches preseason Region 3 straw poll: 4
Deseret News Region 3 prediction: 5
Key Region Game: vs. Copper Hills, Oct. 12
Bottom line: The face of Taylorsville football — Dane Leituala — is the same as its been the last three years, but almost everything around him has changed. His leadership skills will be tested, and if he can remain healthy, it’s likely we see him rocket to No. 2 on the list of overall offensive production for prep quarterbacks. He’s a special talent, and he’s proven that by succeeded year after year with different supporting casts.
- Aug. 17 — at Snow Canyon, 7 p.m.
- Aug. 24 — at Lehi, 7 p.m.
- Aug. 31 — at Stansbury, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 7 — JORDAN, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 14 — EAST, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 21 — WEST JORDAN, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 28 — at Riverton, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 5 — HERRIMAN, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 12 — at Copper Hills, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 17 — at Westlake, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Taylorsville
All-time record: 121-242 (37 years)
Region championships: 2 (1999 co, 2013 co)
Playoff appearances: 14
Current playoff appearance streak: 1 (2016)
All-time playoff record: 4-13
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-1
Most played rivalry: 30 meetings with Kearns dating back to 1981. Taylorsville leads 17-13.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Warrior Isaiah Tafua (1998) is one of just eight players to return a fumble 99 yards. … Ryan Filipe holds the record for longest kickoff return - 99 yards - in a championship game (1999).
- 2017 — 4-6 (1-4 in Region 3 - Missed playoffs)
- 2016 — 5-7 (3-3 in Region 3 – 5A Quarterfinals)
- 2015 — 3-7 (2-4 in Region 3 -- Missed playoffs)
- 2014 — 7-4 (3-2 in Region 2 – 5A First round)
- 2013 — 6-4 (4-1 in Region 2 – 5A First round)
Taylorsville coaching history1 comment on this story
- 2016-current — Pala Vaitu’u (9-13)
- 2012-2016 — Rod Wells (22-31)
- 2009-2011 — Jonny Matich (2-28)
- 2004-2008 — Scott Henderson (6-43)
- 1998-2003 — Brad Molen (32-31)
- 1996-1997 — Mark Clinton (12-8)
- 1988-1995 — Randy Tuft (17-55)
- 1981-1987 — Doug Bills (26-40)
Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years
- 2017 — Dane Leituala, ATH
- 2013 — Mori Savini, DL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.