They’re not scared of anybody. They’re not going to bow down to anybody — kind of like a honey badger. They’ve used that all offseason and used it as their theme to get after it. —Kearns coach Matt Rickards

Note: Kearns finished with a 3-7 overall record in 2013 and was fifth in Region 6 with a 2-4 record. It did not qualify for the 4A playoffs.

KEARNS — Honey badgers are known for their strength and toughness.

They are ferocious, attack when cornered, and fight tirelessly in combat, often wearing out and taking down opponents, even when outmatched.

With those characteristics in mind, the players on the Kearns football team have adopted the mindset of the honey badger, especially in top-heavy Region 6.

“We might not be as big as we’ve been in the past, but our kids, they’ll compete against anybody,” Kearns coach Matt Rickards said in anticipation of the 2014 football season.

He added that the Cougars are using that outlook to accomplish the team's two main goals: improve on last year’s record in region play and earn a berth in the 4A playoffs.

“They’re not scared of anybody. They’re not going to bow down to anybody — kind of like a honey badger,” Rickards said. “They’ve used that all offseason and used it as their theme to get after it.”

It is a theme that has spread quickly through an expanding team. While the size of the kids may be on the smaller end this year, the size of the team is bigger than ever.

Because of the introduction of freshmen in the high school, which is new to the Granite School District, as well as a small amount of buzz around the school due to new equipment and facilities, the Cougars are growing and improving each season. They've attracted the attention of more and more athletic kids, leading to Rickards' roster ballooning over the summer.

“We have more numbers right now than we’ve ever had,” he said, adding that there are currently about 100 kids working out compared to a typical starting number of around 70.

“We have about 50 freshmen and sophomores that are a great talent. I’m really excited to work with these kids,” Rickards said, adding that many of them will compete for starting spots and contribute significantly this season. “Their youth league coaches did a great job with them. We’ve just got to finish their development.”

The Cougars will be powered this season by a handful of talented seniors and a strong group of juniors, many of whom already have seasons of experience under their belts.

“We have some kids who have started as sophomores on varsity football, they’ve started as sophomores on varsity baseball,” Rickards said, “so they have some experience and they’re young, which is good and exciting.”

The goal now is to take the increased numbers and the varied experience levels and create a complete buy-in to the honey badger, no-fear mindset.

“We really focus on the characteristics we want our kids to present on and off the field,” Rickards said. “We talk about honor, we talk about effort, attitude, discipline, toughness, competition, and we develop that mindset of competing everyday and trying to make this day count the best we can.”

By doing that, Rickards continued, “improvement happens every day.”

Kearns Cougars at a glance

Coach: Matt Rickards is entering his second season as the head coach at Kearns, where he has accumulated a career record of 3-7. Rickards is a graduate of Hunter High and Weber State University.

Offense

(2 returning starters; Multiple formations)

Among a wealth of young players on the offensive side of the ball, the Cougars do return a key constant: junior quarterback Bailey Floyd. Although he struggled to start his sophomore season, Floyd grew into the position and ultimately broke the school record for touchdown passes with 14. With a year of experience to work with, Rickards expects great things from his QB.

“We believe in him, we believe in a lot of things he’s capable of doing,” he said. “We’re gearing our offense towards his abilities.”

Working with Floyd will be senior Sherwin Lavaka, who is new to the offensive side of things, and junior tailback Sione Finau.

“He’s going to be all over the field,” Rickards said. “He’s a kid that we’re going to have to find ways to get him rest.”

Defense

(4 returning starters)

As the Cougars’ four defensive returning starters know firsthand, the biggest challenge for Kearns is in defending the option. With two teams in Region 6 running it, last year was an eye-opener for the squad.

“We hadn’t played an option team for a while, so it was an introduction,” Rickards said. “We didn’t do very well against the option, but we’re looking to improve a lot on that this year.”

The key players for the Cougars’ defense are defensive backs Sione Finua, a junior who has started since his freshman year; Lavaka, who has started since his sophomore year; and junior Shay Reid. Linebacker Graden Luckart also returns after starting as a sophomore last season.

Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: Fifth

Deseret News Region 6 predictions: Fifth

Bottom Line: For Kearns to take strides toward achieving its two primary goals — improving its region record and qualifying for the 4A playoffs — the Cougars first must believe they can. Understanding the need for a no-fear attitude and actually putting it into action in the heat of battle are two different things. However, they are on the right track and being able to live the honey badger mentality will push Kearns in the right direction.

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Kearns coaching history

2013-current — Matt Rickards (3-7)

2006-2012 — Bill Cosper (34-42)

2002-2005 — Doug Bills (9-31)

1997-2001 — Marvin Magalei (9-39)

1990-1996 — Mike Sorich (18-50)

1983-1989 — Tom Larsen (29-39)

1980-1982 — Bruce Takeno (5-20)

1978-1979 — Gil Cordova (2-16)

1966-1977 — Frank Klekas (47-69)

.....

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

2012 — James Felila, 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.