If East High’s football team wanted a bigger challenge this season, it certainly seems like it got its wish.
The Leopards, who are ranked No. 25 in the High School Football America Top 100 preseason poll, not only make the jump to class 6A – Utah’s largest classification – but they do so with a schedule that matches them up against some of the most competitive teams at both the local and national levels.
East will waste no time getting started, opening their season against in-state rival Timpview on Thursday. They follow that up with a game against last year’s 5A state champions Bingham in what is primed to become a new rivalry when they play the Miners, who are ranked No. 65 in the nation. East then crosses state lines for a road game against Arizona’s defending four-time state title-holder, No. 38 Saguaro.
While each of those games will likely test East, they are expected to face their biggest challenge against powerhouse IMG Academy (Florida) at home in their final regular season game on October 20th. The Ascenders begin the season ranked No. 5 in our rankings.
— Brandon Matich (@CoachBMatich) August 15, 2017
It’s a schedule pitting the Leopards against some of the best, but it’s one head coach Brandon Matich believes his team is ready for.
“We wanted to see how our guys would do and give them a chance to compete at a high level…we want to see where our kids stack up,” Matich said. “And why not? If we’re able to do it…then we probably should, because they expect to play the best and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Much of the confidence Matich has is due to the fact that the Leopards return plenty of star power to their run-heavy offense. Team leader Ben Ford is back at quarterback and will play behind an offensive line that has become the bread and butter of this team. Four of the five guys upfront return as three-year starters with Paul Maile back at left tackle playing next to Junior Angilau at guard. Seni Tuiaki makes the transition to center and Sam Taimani will line up at right guard.
Talent also returns on the defensive side of the ball highlighted by senior linebacker Viliami Pulu Tausinga. He is joined by big men Moa Heimuli and Apa Ika upfront, as well as seniors Tennesse Pututua and Johnson Hansen on the edges. There are holes to fill at the defensive backs spot, but Matich is excited about the return of senior free safety Saia Hamilton who finished with 46 tackles for the Leopards last season.
With so many players back on the roster, one can expect the same physical game that East High football has become known for. Its old school style of play focuses on using their large, powerful bodies upfront to secure the rush block, making its running game its most potent weapon against opposing defenses. While Matich does admit that playing this brand of football often makes opponents, who typically play spread, more hesitant to schedule games against the Leopards, he takes pride in the fact that this is the culture he has helped create and that has allowed for so much success in his eight years in Salt Lake City.
“It’s something we hang our hat on,” Matich said. “We are a throwback team…we line up on Friday night, you’ll know that you played us on Saturday morning.”
Below you can listen to Coach Matich on the High School Football America Radio Show.
by Kathryn Gallo
High School Football America Writer