Scroll to bottom of story to see East Felt's Facts
Note: East finished with a 12-2 overall record and a 5-0 record in Region 6 in 2011. It lost, 18-11, to Logan in the 4A state championship.
SALT LAKE CITY — Two years removed from a dreadful one-win season in 2009, East is quickly sculpting itself into one of the elite programs in the state.
When Brandon Matich took the head-coaching job, 65 kids showed up for practice. The next offseason it blossomed to 80. Now? A small army showed up wanting to wear the red and white — 135 kids to be exact.
“Our goal is to be a top program — to get to where Bingham is, where Alta is, those type of schools,” Matich explained. “I think success breeds excitement. They want to come out to the program and be a part of it. It’s exciting to see where the program is heading; hopefully we’ll stay in that direction.”
In 2010 — Matich’s first season — the Leopards started a perfect 6-0 before finishing 8-3. It was the largest turnaround in the state.
As an encore, East announced its return to supremacy in 2011 — one-upping its performance from the previous year with a 9-0 start en route to finishing 12-2 (losing to Logan twice). However, after letting the championship trophy virtually slip through their fingers in the waning moments against Logan, East is looking to finish what it started this season.
“Obviously, it’s sat in their heads for a year. Where we were last year, we had to play some tough games,” Matich, whose team was 36 seconds away from capturing the 4A title for the first time since 1996, said. “We had to battle with Skyline and it was a goal-line stand that got us in the semis. Then, we got down 10-nothin’ to a real good Timpview team that returns a lot of guys.
“You’d like to be able to reset and go back right where you were but you can’t. It makes us hungry. We’ve got to stay humble though, stay focused,” Matich continued. “Because we’ve got a tough road — got to stay healthy and be lucky. There are a lot of things that got to go your way to get back. When you’ve had that success it’s twice as hard to get there again.”
East certainly has the talent for a repeat trip the big show. The Leopards boast 15 returning starters, nine of which are gaining considerable interest as Division-1 prospects. Four have already committed.
It’s the first time, however, that East has endured preseason hype and chatter. Last season, despite 18 returning starters, the Leopards were predicted to finish third in Region 6 by surrounding coaches. Matich and Co. are relishing in the pressure as another challenge of Friday nights awaits them.
“I expect to be first. That’s our goal. I wouldn’t expect anything less (or) you’re selling your program short,” Matich said. “Unless we finish first I don’t think we’re going to remember that we were picked to finish first in the preseason poll.
“Is there pressure on us? Sure, there’s pressure on us. But I think we’re built for it. I know it’s cliché, but all we’re worried about is Pine View and I know they want to rebound from the accolades they had last year and failures that followed.”
East Leopards at a glance
Coach: Brandon Matich has accumulated a 20-5 record in two seasons at East. He has a career record of 59-23 and is a graduate of Brighton High.
(7 returning starters; Flexbone offense)
Strap on riot gear. Build a barricade. Or set up booby traps. It doesn’t matter. Not many things will be enough to stop East this season on offense.
A lapse in production naturally seemed logical after losing stars Jason Cook and Lit Molisi, who combined for 3,752 total yards and 31 touchdowns. But, a decrease in numbers should be non-existent with the potential to be even higher than last year.
Junior quarterback Isaac Valles is slated to replace Cook under center. As a sophomore he challenged for the starting position in the offseason but ultimately lost out to Cook’s leadership abilities.
“What we need to get that Jason Cook brought to this team is leadership,” Matich said. “He was unflappable. In fact, he was so tough that every quarterback that I coach will wear his No. 8. We’re honoring him in that way.”
Valles has all the physical tools to excel at the position.
“He throws the ball as well or better than anybody I’ve ever coached, so we’re going to have to throw the football a little bit more. That’s a nice luxury to have especially if you’re a running team,” Matich said. “He’s coming into his own as a leader and I’m waiting for that moment to come where we’re like, 'Wow, that’s a true leader.’ I think he shows glimpses of that every day. He’s going to be a special one.”
As Valles continues to acclimate to the speed of the varsity game, he’ll have enormous help from his supporting cast.
Zach Swenson and John Fakahafua, both Utah State-signees, control the hashes while one of the best offensive lines paves holes for Ula Tolutau.
Tolutau, a 6-foot-1, 227-pounder whose been clocked at 4.65 in the 40-yard dash, is expected to primarily handle the ball-carrying duties. Jewka Patetefa will complement his power with quickness for a lethal combination.
(8 returning starters; Base 4-2-5 defense)
East is loaded on defense. BYU commits Merrill “Meti” Taliauli and Patrick Paliau headline the interior while Sione Leaaetoa — whose gained interest from Nebraska —is one of the premier end-rushers in the state.
Neil Robbins finished with 78 tackles and a team-high six interceptions returns with Patetefa in the secondary. Last year, East broke a school record for interceptions in a season.
Expect a defense that was already towards the top in the 4A classification to improve this year.
Coaches Region 6 straw poll: First
Deseret News Region 6 prediction: First
Bottom line: Not only is East the best team in Region 6 by a large margin — every indication points to this team returning to the state championship. The only shadow casting over the Leopards at this point in time is the schedule. Preseason games against Fremont and Serra, Calif. will be a solid barometer before finishing the season on a three-game road trip to Bountiful, Highland and Logan. But for all intents and purposes this team is the real deal.
Aug. 17 — PINE VIEW, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 — at West, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — Serra, Calif. (at Bingham HS), 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 — FREMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — at Woods Cross, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — CLEARFIELD, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — CYPRUS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at Bountiful, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — at Highland, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 — at Logan, 7 p.m.
Felts Facts for East High School
All-time record: 518-334-31 (98 years)
Region championships: 32 (1917, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923 co, 1925 co, 1926, 1929 co, 1934, 1935, 1936 co, 1937 co, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1973, 1996, 2006 co, 2007 co, 2011)
Playoff appearances: 39
All-time playoff record: 46-24-2
State championships: 15 (1917, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, 1943, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1964, 1974, 1996)
State championship record: 12-3-1
Most played rivalry: 111 meetings with West dating back to 1914. East leads 60-44-7. Meet on Aug. 24.
Felt’s Factoid(s): East has the most consecutive non-losing seasons with 37, from 1932-1968. ... East also has the most state championships, 15, since state playoffs began in 1919. ... East is tied for the state record (with Skyline) for winning consecutive championship games, five (1919-23).
East coaching history
2010-Current — Brandon Matich (20-5)
2009 — Sean Knox (1-8)
2008 — Larry Eldracher (8-3)
2003-2007 — Aaron Whitehead (39-21)
2001-2002 — Jim Hamblin (6-13)
1993-2000 — Chris "Keeko" Georgelas (48-33)
1992 — John Holladay (2-6)
1989-1991 — Mike Kernodle (4-24)
1986-1988 — David Jenson (4-25)
1985 — Jerry Haslam (1-8)
1981-1984 — Jay Vesterfelt (7-30)
1978-1980 — Dale Simons (13-21)
1956-1977 — Grant Martin (140-63)
1950-1955 — Floyd C. "Tally" Stevens (47-8)
1926-1949 — McKinley "Mickey" Oswald (104-47)
1922-1925 — Leroy E. Warthman (27-3)
1918-1921 — G. Ottinger Romney (31-1)
1914-1917 — Tommy Fitzpatrick (21-11)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2011 — Jason Cook, QB
2011 — Liti Molisi, RB
2011 — Tevita Hafoka, OL
2011 — Vaha Vainuku
2011 — Sione Lea'aetoa
2011 — Sione Makoni, DB
2010 — Tanner Curtis, QB
2010 — Vahu Vainuku, OL
2010 — Ofa Hautau, DL
2007 — Sam Fulton, DL
2006 — Jake Cook, RB
2006 — John Tauteoli, LB
2006 — Sean Swenson, DB
2005 — Jake Cook, RB
2004 — Sefo Mailua, DL
2003 — Asi Tuakoi, RB
2003 — Malele iva, OL
2003 — Inoke Hafoka, LB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.