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High school football: Copper Hills Grizzlies 2009 preview

WEST JORDAN — According to senior linebacker Braxton Magalogo, Copper Hills' football program is a lot different this year than it was last year.

The Grizzlies have a new coach, Kai Kapele, and Magalogo says he's been pushing his players extremely hard from the end of last winter up until right now.

"He's helping us a lot and making us condition," said Magalogo. "That's what we really need. He's making us more like a team . . . I like it a lot because we really need it. Last year we didn't really condition at all. It's been pretty intense, (but) I like it because the coaches are actually on us. They're yelling at us a lot more and are pushing us a lot harder."

Getting more out of his players has been a huge priority for Kapele, who took over Copper Hills' program when Art Erickson resigned after a 4-6 season last fall. A Special Ed. teacher at Copper Hills High the past nine years, Kapele had previously been an assistant coach under coach Mike Smith and then Erickson before leaving football for two years so he could help his wife take care of their new baby.

Accordingly, while Kapele is trying to breathe new life into Copper Hills' program, he knows exactly what he's getting into.

"I've been in the building for about nine years, so I'm familiar with the kids, the community and just kind of the atmosphere and the mentality that these kids have kind of adapted and owned the last few years," said Kapele. "We're trying to change their attitude and get them to believe in themselves. We're focusing on the fundamentals and the basics."

Copper Hills' football program has struggled mightily throughout its existence, but Kapele is trying to instill the same winning attitude and belief that he had as a quarterback at Hawaii's St. Louis High School back in the mid-1980s.

Kapele quarterbacked St. Louis to a state title back in 1986, which was the first of 14 consecutive championships won by the school.

"I've kind of been an old-timer, but 20 years ago when I played, we took ownership," said Kapele. "We fought, we clawed, we did everything we could to make the play, whether I had to sacrifice my body or not.

"I've noticed that the kids here have never done that. 'If I miss that block, it's OK. If I drop this pass, it's OK. If I don't run my route, it's OK. Somebody else will take care of me.' This generation is, 'I deserve it' rather than, 'I'll work for it,' and so we're trying to change that."

In terms of Xs and Os, Kapele will be installing what he called his "dream offense," which will be balanced between the ran and the pass. Defensively, he said his team will stay with a four-man front.

Copper Hills Grizzlies at a glance

Coach: Kai Kapele enters his first season as a head football coach.

Key players: Receivers Chandler Allen, Chris Martinez, Chandler Johnson and Cam Smith are all expected to make big contributions on offense this fall. In the backfield, Kapele is currently trying to find a quarterback, but whomever he settles on will have the luxury of handing the ball off to running back Colton Fogarty. Defensively, Braxton Magalogo has moved from defensive end to middle linebacker and will lead the way for the Grizzlies' youthful D.

Strengths: Depth at wide receiver and a number of returners on offense should undoubtedly help Copper Hills. The Grizzlies will have a number of skilled players to try and get the ball to this fall.

Concerns: Copper Hills' biggest challenge — by far — is trying to overcome a losing mentality. It's much easier said than done, and it'll be up to the Grizzlies to prove to everyone that they can do it.

Last year: 4-6, didn't make the playoffs.

Predicted Region 3 finish: Fifth.

Postseason possibilities: Getting to the playoffs in Year 1 of Kapele's tenure would be a big accomplishment for the Grizzlies.

2009 Schedule

Aug. 21 — at Syracuse, 7 p.m.

Aug. 28 — BOX ELDER, 7 p.m.

Sep. 4 — OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.

Sep. 11 — WEST JORDAN, 7 p.m.

Sep. 18 — at Riverton, 7 p.m.

Sep. 24 — TAYLORSVILLE, 7 p.m.

Sep. 30 — at Bingham, 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 — Bye.

Oct. 16 — at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Oct. 22 — LONE PEAK, 7 p.m.

e-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com