High school football: Brighton, West headline new-look Region 6

When last year’s high school football playoffs shifted to the semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium, there wasn’t a current team from Region 6 to be found. It was a gut punch for a region that throughout the regular season believed it had teams capable of competing at the state level.

Alta came closest to crashing the semifinal party, but even that would’ve been as a No. 19 seed.

A year later, the sentiment internally hasn’t changed that the region is strong top to bottom, but with the addition of two new teams there is legitimate truth to the belief.

Resurgent West joins Region 6 this season, a year after advancing to the 6A quarterfinals, while Alta is also back in the region after competing with Utah County teams in recent years.

The addition of those two teams, along with the departure of Park City and Murray down to 4A, has completely altered the landscape of the region.

“I think our region from top to bottom is a really good region,” said second-year Brighton coach Casey Sutera. “It’s going to take playing some games to see how we all stack up, and that’s how you want it. You want a lot of teams competing.”

Four different Region 6 teams received a first-place vote in the coaches preseason region straw poll, with Brighton leading the way with three. It narrowly came out on top in those preseason rankings, edging West, Alta and East for the top preseason spot in Region 6.

In the overall 5A rankings, West received far more votes than any other Region 6 team, but the coaches within the region believe it will be more balanced.

For Brighton, Sutera hopes his program takes the next steps to be recognized as a 5A contender, but first it has to prove it on the field. In the past four years — including the previous three before Sutera took over as head coach — Brighton’s playoff seeding has been No. 5, 1, 12, 5 and its record is 1-4, with all four playoff loses coming at home.

“The biggest thing for us is how can we take a step forward, and that’s the emphasis, how can we take a step forward and not just being a good region team, but how can we be a premier in 5A and have a chance to compete for a state championship,” said Sutera.

Last year Brighton was a No. 5 seed but lost on its home field to No. 21 Olympus in the second round 28-20.

Brighton returns six starters on each side of the ball from that team, including quarterback Jack Johnson and explosive receiver Nash Matheson.

Sutera said his team has enjoyed a great summer and it is ready to hit the ground running at 4A No. 1 Desert Hills in Week 1.

West is equally as loaded offensively as it embarks on a new challenge in Region 6 after competing in 6A’s Region 2 recently.

Among the eight returning starters offensively for West is returning 6A first team all-state offensive lineman Semisi Tonga. Also back is two-threat QB Isaiah Su’esu’e, who was a 6A honorable mention a year ago.

Defensively, however, West has a bunch of a major holes to fill as only three starters return from a group that only allowed 11.7 ppg a year ago.

“We have a lot of young guys stepping in so that will be interesting to see how fast they can adjust with a tough schedule,” said West coach Olosaa Solovi.

Few teams in Region 6 return more experience than Alta, however, with eight offensive starters back and seven defensive starters.

That youth took its lumps through the meat of its regular season schedule a year ago with a four-game losing streak. The group displayed confidence by the end of the season, though, with back-to-back road playoff wins over Bonneville and Springville before narrowly losing to Orem 26-24 in the quarterfinals.

Alta opens with three straight winnable games in the preseason before a region-opener against East. If the Hawks take care of business early, it could build a lot of momentum heading into the tough Region 6 slate.

On paper, East was as strong as anyone in Region 6 a year ago, finishing second to Brighton. But a tough preseason schedule, including losses to Skyridge and nationally-ranked IMG Academy from Florida, contributed to No. 15 seed in the playoffs and a date with No. 2 seed Timpview in the second round.

East believed it could compete with the T-Birds, but quickly fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter and never stood a chance.

Fast forward to this season, and the Leopards have a chip on their shoulder as they try and return to relevancy at the top of 5A.

East returns quality experience in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and newcomers on coaching staff at both coordinator positions have shaken things up within the program.

The projected bottom three in Region 6 are Olympus, Highland and Skyline.

Former Olympus coach Aaron Whitehead took a job with Granite District in early July, with long-time defensive coordinator Brandon Burt taking over as head coach. His team returns 10 starters on defense and seven more on offense.

That experience has helped for a smooth coaching transition late in the process.

“The coaching staff will remain intact, which has been a huge plus. We owe coach Whitehead so much for the work he has done for the players, community and school. As for the team, we will have good team speed and will be physical. We have a good core of returning players that gained valuable experience last year. We play a very tough schedule and are looking forward to competing each week. We will be tough to beat,” said Burt.

Region 6 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Brighton Bengals

2023 schedule

Head coach: Casey Sutera

In his debut season at Brighton, he guided the program to a 9-2 record and a region title. He’s a graduate of Murray High School and the University of Utah.

Coach Casey Sutera’s general outlook

“The team is ready to build on a last year. We have a lot of returning leadership that always makes you feel good as a coach. The kids have worked really hard this offseason and it is always exciting to see how that translates to the field.”

Offensive coordinator: Josiah Price

2022 offense: 36.1 ppg (No. 6 in 5A)

Six returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Jack Johnson, Sr., QB.Nash Matheson, Sr., WR.Myles Peters, Sr., TE.Easton Smith, Sr., WR.Donovan Wismer, Sr., WR.Jack Bowers, Sr., OL.

Key offensive newcomers

Mason Haertel, Jr., RB.Ben Henriquez, Sr., OL.Marshall Huber, Soph OL.Gustavo Queiroz, Sr., OL.Beau La Fleur, Jr., RB.Conner Melchior, Jr., OL.Rowan Hennings, Sr., WR.Easton Adamson, Sr., OL.

Defensive coordinator: Frankie Sutera

2022 defense: 17.4 ppg (No. 4 in 5A)

Six returning starters.Multiple defenses.

Returning defensive starters

Andrew Wood, Sr., LB.Jarom Tapusoa, Sr., LB.Miles Morgan, Sr., LB.Siale Ofa, Sr., DB.Dylan Thomas, Sr., DB.Kaimana Fuertes, Sr., DB.

Key defensive newcomers

Easton Adamson, Sr., DL.Kaden Morzewelski, Sr., DB.Kimball Shill, Sr., DE.Braxton Morzewelski, Sr., DE.Caleb Stock, Jr., DL.Kaleb Miller, Jr., DL.Tyree Pearson, Jr., DL.

2. West Panthers

2023 schedule

Head coach: Olosaa Solovi

Entering his fifth season as head coach at West, where he’s posted a 30-14 record over that span. He’s a graduate of West High School.

Coach Olosaa Solovi’s general outlook

“We’re excited for this team this year. We have a lot of young guys stepping in, so that will be interesting to see how fast they can adjust with a tough schedule.”

Offensive coordinator: Olosaa Solovi

2022 offense: 34.2 ppg (No. 4 in 6A)

Eight returning starters.Multiple offenses.

Returning offensive starters

Isaiah Su’esu’e.Semisi Tonga.Nuku Mafi.Foti Vaenuku.Luseni Fifita.Carson Taula.Leon Crutcher.

Key offensive newcomers

Vaea Ikakoula.Rob Lapuaho.Charles Pan, Jr.Louie Hamilton.Kelvan Malepeai.

Defensive coordinator: Manaia Brown

2022 defense: 11.7 ppg (No. 2 in 6A)

Three returning starters.Multiple defenses.

Returning defensive starters

Lava Vailahi.Taimane Brown.Darian Ma’ae.

Key defensive newcomers

Alvin Puefua.Aisea Angilau.Miller Carter.Charles Pan, Jr.Rayce Walker.

3. Alta Hawks

2023 schedule

Head coach: Alema Teo

Entering his ninth year as Alta head coach, compiling a 54-38 record his first eight seasons. Teo was Woods Cross’ head coach from 2000-2004 and posted a 7-42 record during that stint. He’s a graduate of Leone High School in American Samoa and Southern Utah University.

Coach Alema Teo’s general outlook

“We expect to be contenders this year.”

Offensive coordinator: Nick Robins

2022 offense: 22.8 ppg (No. 22 in 5A)

Eight returning starters.Pro style offense.

Returning offensive starters

Matt McKea, QB, Jr.Jaxon Toala, WR, So.Anthony Cottis, RB, Sr.Wyatt Johnson, TE, Sr.Siosaia Lapuaho, OT, Sr.Gabe Ofisa, OG, Sr.Seth Watson, OC, Sr.Jake Malieitulua, OG, Sr.

Key offensive newcomers

Defensive coordinator: Alema Te’o

2022 defense: 21.2 ppg (No. 14 in 5A)

Seven returning starters.Even defense.

Returning defensive starters

Tony Vainuku, DT, Sr.Garrett Jessop, DE, Sr.Kalvin Liavaa, LB, Jr.Damian Singelton, CB, Sr.Abe Jager, FS, Jr.Moses Mailei, DT, Jr.Leka Tuakoi, DE, Sr.

Key defensive newcomers

4. East Leopards

2023 schedule

Head coach: Brandon Matich

Entering his 14th season as head coach at East, where he’s tallied a 116-49 record and two state titles (2015, 2016). Previously, he coached at Park City for five seasons from 2005 to 2009, with a 39-18 record and semifinal appearances in 2008 and 2009. His career record is 155-67. He’s a graduate of Brighton High School and the University of Utah.

Coach Brandon Matich’s general outlook

“I feel like it’s a team that has some great potential. We have really, really good running backs. We have the best quarterback room I’ve had since I’ve been at East, which is crazy. We have six dudes who could perform at a high level on a Friday night. Pretty good receiver core, we have a lot of team speed. We don’t have a ton of depth on the O-line/D-line, which is something we’ve been blessed with for so many years, we just don’t have that depth there. But our ones are pretty good. Our defensive line returns a guy that had 28 sacks last year and another guy that had 17.5, so there’s some really good players on that defensive front.”

Co-offensive coordinators: Brandon Matich, Kevin Alexander

2022 offense: 30.6 ppg (No. 12 in 5A)

7 returning starters.Option offense.

Returning offensive starters

Sekope Wallace, Sr., RT.Ben Blake, Sr., LG.Tuai Tonga, Sr., C.Sam Tuai, Sr., T.Pharoah Hafoka, Sr., C.Tucker McCormick, Sr., QB.Nunu Fonua, Sr., RB.Junior Kaufusi, TE/WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Marcus Loerscher, Jr., Slot/WR.Nasio Otukolo, Jr., Slot/RB.Sama Mapa, Jr., OL.

Defensive coordinator: Vaha Vainuku

2022 defense: 22.2 ppg (No. 16 in 5A)

Five returning starters.Multiple defenses.

Returning defensive starters

Papa Matelau, Sr., DT.Junior Kaufusi, Sr., DE.Sam Tuai, Sr., DE.John Amone, Jr., LB.Damian Otukolo, Sr., S.

Key defensive newcomers

David Bergstedt, Sr., S.Marcus Loerscher, Jr., CB.Jonah Slighting, Jr., LB.

5. Olympus Titans

2023 schedule

Head coach: Brandon Burt

After serving as an assistant coach to Aaron Whitehead at Olympus for the past 12 years, Burt is taking over as head coach this season as Whitehead is taking a job in the Granite District Office. While Burt was an assistant, Olympus posted an 83-41 record over the past 11 years. He’s a graduate of Highland High School and Weber State.

Coach Brandon Burt’s general outlook

“With coach Whitehead leaving the program, these past 3 weeks have been very hectic for sure. The coaching staff will remain intact, which has been a huge plus. We owe coach Whitehead so much for the work he has done for the players, community and school. As for the team, we will have good team speed and will be physical. We have a good core of returning players that gained valuable experience last year. We play a very tough schedule and are looking forward to competing each week. We will be tough to beat.”

Offensive coordinator: Mark Smith

2022 offense: 23.4 ppg (No. 21 in 5A)

Seven returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Luke Bryant, Sr., WR.Nash Taylor, Sr., WR.Chase Moseley, Sr., QB.Nic Brown, Sr., TB.Logan Moeakiola, Jr., OL.Max Harmer, Jr., OL.Jarom Gilbert, Sr., OL.

Key offensive newcomers

Hugh Matsumori, So, WR.Thomas Mauga, Jr., WR.Collen Mauga, Jr., OL.Morgan Boyce, Sr., TE.

Defensive coordinator: Brandon Burt

2022 defense: 19.9 ppg (No. 8 in 5A)

Ten returning starters.4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Gabe Johnson, Sr., DE.Ammon Johnson, Sr., DT.Dre Leota, Sr., DT.Weston Olson, Sr., LB.Jarom Gilbert, Sr., LB.Tate Ames, Sr., DB.Nash Taylor, Sr., DB.Ty Seagle, Sr., DB.Nic Brown, Sr., DB.Jack Evans, Jr., DB.

Key defensive newcomers

James Schlendorf, Jr., DB.Adam Bywater, So., LB.Lincoln Ames, So., DE.Nate Sheets, Jr., LB.

6. Highland Rams

2023 schedule

Head coach: Kautai Olevao

Olevao is entering his third season as head coach at Highland, with here’s 4-16 in those previous two years. He’d previously served as an assistant for six years. He’s a graduate of Kahuku High School in Hawaii and the University of Utah.

Coach Kautai Olevao’s general outlook

“We have some good athletes returning back this upcoming season. We have had some bumps in the road the last couple of years but I feel this could be a successful year for the team.”

Offensive coordinator: Kautai Olevao

2022 offense: 22.6 ppg (No. 23 in 5A)

Five returning starters.Spread offense.

Returning offensive starters

Sefa Brown, Sr., TE/WR.Kas Bloxham, Sr., OL.Jeremiah Jimoh, Sr., WR.Jason Tupua, RB.Grant Starks, WR.

Key offensive newcomers

Manasa Pela, Jr., QB.Maka Fiefia, Jr., QB, WR.Sione Noa, Fr, OL.

Defensive coordinator: Adam Flores

2022 defense: 25.4 ppg (No. 18 in 5A)

Six returning starters.4-3 defense.

Returning defensive starters

Sefa Brown, Sr., DE.Taione Vea, Sr., DT.Danny Tupua, Sr., DE.Jeremiah Jimoh, Sr., DB.Max Erickson, Sr., LB.Jason Tupua, Jr., LB.

Key defensive newcomers

Maka Fiefia, Jr., DB.John Noa, Fr, DL.

7. Skyline Eagles

2023 schedule

Head coach: John Rowbotham

Entering his third season as head coach at his alma mater after posting a 10-12 record the past two years. He’s a graduate of Pacific Lutheran College in Washington.

Offensive coordinator: Ryan Frandsen

2022 offense: 27.36 ppg (No. 15 in 5A)

Three returning starters.Spread offense.

Defensive coordinator: Andy Selcho

2022 defense: 30.7 ppg (No. 21 in 5A)

Five returning starters.3-4 defense.

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