Cougars enter season with revamped roster
Aug 24, 2018 01:26PM ● Published by Jana Klopsch
The Cougars gather around head coach Matt Rickards after practice. The team has many newcomers taking over in key positions. (Greg James/City Journals)
By Greg James | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kearns captured a Region 2 football championship last season. This year’s team has similar goals and a new group of players to try to do it with.
“We are improving; we have some inexperience, so we need to make mistakes in practice for us to get where we want to be,” Cougars head coach Matt Rickards said. “We have kids that have had some playing time. We have some really talented kids that are going to be playmakers.”
Stepping in at quarterback are juniors Tucson Vaenuku and Dakota Lynde. Both have little varsity experience, but Rickards expects them to have a great season.
“Dakota is a pocket passer; Tucson is a bigger kid and could run over a linebacker if needed,” Rickards said. “We have been blessed to have a good chunk of running backs. We have five that will see significant time. We try to split up our offense 50-50, spread and pro-style.”
Isaiah Afatasi has transitioned into the feature back. He was a wide receiver last season but did have 18 carries for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Replacing last season’s heavily recruited Sese Felila will be a difficult task. Afatasi will not be expected to carry the entire load; Seth Reid, Kalux Manuo, Melchi Bright and Xavier Afatasi will also contribute from the backfield.
“Last year, we were so loaded at offensive line,” Rickards said. “The other teams knew that we were going to run it, but we hung our hat on that, and we will try it again this year. Our quarterbacks can throw the ball, and I feel one area we have improved is at receiver this year.”
Senior Sam Havili has been inserted at the tight end position. The 6-foot-5 receiver has good hands and is a large target in the center of the field for the Cougars.
“We have a lot of speed, and they can catch the ball,” Rickards said. “Austin Perry is like 6-foot-3 and has great hands. Jeff Bassa is a big kid too, so we have some size.”
The corps of the offensive line that has players that have never played the position, but Rickards said a key to the team will be defense.
“Todd Garcia, our defensive coordinator, feels good about the defense,” Rickards said. “We have guys that run to the ball and a good amount of speed. The line is speedy, and our linebackers are as good as I have had here.”
The Cougars have six returning starters on defense, but Rickards said team numbers are down from the past years.
“Last year, we had a deep team and lots of numbers,” Rickards said. “This year, we lost a lot of kids to graduation; we are about 40 players less this season. There is a few factors to that. We have expectations that are hard. The westside team numbers are down all around.”
The Kearns little league youth football coaches are encouraged to be part of the high school team. They coach and help with administration of the team. Rickards has tried to encourage the younger players to be part of the Kearns program.
“The youth teams have shirts that say, ‘stay loyal, to the soil,’” Rickards said. “We are always out being part of the youth program. This is a great group of kids. They do a lot of community service, and they represent the school very well. We had 17 4.0 point grade point averages and a 3.1 team GPA. We want the kids to turn into men of integrity. I think we will compete for a region championship.”
Kearns has not won a state playoff game for 24 years. Rickards is beginning his sixth season as head coach.
The Cougars will host Olympus Sept. 7 in their first home game.