Note: Taylorsville finished with a 5-7 overall record in 2016 and fourth in Region 3 with a 3-3 record. It lost to Fremont 48-21 in 5A quarterfinals.
TAYLORSVILLE — Like most high school coaches, Pala Vaitu'u is spending an awful lot of time trying to figure out how to help his team succeed this fall.
But on a recent summer morning, the second-year coach showed an unusual level of commitment when he was found taking a short — and very uncomfortable-looking — nap on a mat in his tiny, windowless office located just off the school's weight room. The second-year head coach had been up most of the night studying film and completing paperwork.
“I do feel pressure,” he said grinning. “But it’s a good thing.”
Vaitu’u finds the pressure to improve on last year’s success motivating. He hopes that although most of his players this season didn’t start for the team that won its first playoff game in more than a decade, that they will find that same pressure fuels them for another historic season.
“”It makes most of them work harder,” he said. “We tell them, ‘You guys didn’t win anything.’ We lost a lot of good guys, but expectations have been raised.”
So how does he balance the pressure with the opportunity?
“We just give it to them real,” he said with a shrug. “We always want to get better. This year is no different. We’ve made it to the playoffs three times in the last four years. Last year, we got past the first round. This year, our goal is to make it to the U. That’s our next step.”
That will be tough as the team lost most of last year’s starters. In fact, the Warriors return only three offensive starters and only four defensive starters.
But Vaitu’u said adaptation is something the Warriors embrace.
“We have a lot of inexperience,” he said. “Last year, we did it with only 64 kids in our whole program. We had 18 varsity kids, and most of them played both ways.” This year it looks like seven players will earn significant time playing offense and defense. The Warriors had a prolific offense last season thanks, in large part, to junior quarterback Dane Leituala. He accounted for 410 yards of offense per game with 305 yards coming in the air.
But Taylorsville has to improve defensively to compete in its new region and the newly created 6A. Vaitu’u hopes new defensive coordinator Matt Manuma will bring defensive development that will help the Warriors become more than a team just hoping to make the playoffs.
Warriors Hawks at a glance
Coach: Pala Vaitu'u enters his second season leading the Warriors. He finished last year with a 5-7 record guiding the team to its first playoff win in more than a decade.
Warriors Offensive Snapshot
Offensive coordinator: Ulualo Vaitu'u
2016 offensive production: 36.5 ppg (5th in 5A)
-- 3 returning starters
-- Spread offense
Key offensive returning starters
-- Dane Leituala (QB)
The dynamic junior quarterback averaged 410 total offensive yards per game last season for the Warriors, 305 of those passing.
Returning offensive starters
McKay Savini (C)
Mona Hunt (G)
Offensive newcomers to watch
Caleb Schulte (WR)
Marshall Vaituu (RB)
Vaitu'u’s comments on Leituala:
"He's a true dual threat. But the biggest thing with him is his competitiveness. It's crazy, out of this world. He wants to win and be the best every, single time. He doesn't like losing. He's so tough, it's unreal. That's really what sets him apart from a lot of quarterbacks."
Vaitu'u’s comments on returning offensive lineman:
"We have two returning offensive linemen. McKay Savini is a big, strong technician with very good feet at center. Mona Hunt is as explosive and as physical as anyone in the state."
Keys for Offensive Success in 2017:
Replacing nearly all of last year's prolific offense is a daunting task. But the Warriors have the perfect leaders to make the transition in Leituala, Savini and Hunt. The team has talented athletes capable of great things.
Warriors Defensive Snapshot
Defensive coordinator: Matt Manuma
2016 defensive production: 39.4 ppg (26th in 4A)
-- 4 returning starters
Key defensive returning starters
Martin Tafa (DL)
Timothy Hazel (DL)
David Sterzer (LB/S)
Tre Cook (DE/LB)
Returning defensive starters
Marshall Vaituu (LB)
Defensive newcomers to watch
Ma'a Hall (CB/S)
Vaitu'u’s comments on improved defensive line:
"TJ Hazel is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the state. Last year he led the state for interior linemen with 13 sacks. Martin Tafa, playing nose, plays with good leverage and is stout versus the run. he commands double teams, and that frees up Hazel."
Vaitu'u’s comments on Sterzer:
"(Sterzer) has a great work ethic with a non-stop motor. He never quits on a play. He's fast and fearless."
Keys for Defensive Success in 2017:
The Warriors need to be able to stop teams if they want to do more than make the playoffs again. With a new defensive coordinator and an infusion of new talent, hopes are high that the team's defense can make more stops, allowing the offense to shine.
Coaches preseason Region 3 straw poll: Fourth
Deseret News Region 3 prediction: Fifth
Key Region Game: Herriman, Oct. 6
The future would be much more uncertain for Taylorsville if they didn't have quarterback Dane Leituala. With two veterans back on the line, the Warriors' offense will be reliable. The bigger issue is can the defense make stops. With the addition of East and Herriman and the coaching changes at Riverton and Copper Hills, defense will be more important this season if the Warriors hope to realize their goal of making it to Rice-Eccles.
Aug. 18 — at Murray, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — STANSBURY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — ALTA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — at Jordan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — at East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — at West Jordan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 — RIVERTON, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — at Herriman, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — COPPER HILLS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 — at Westlake, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Taylorsville High School
All-time record: 117-236 (36 years)
Region championships: 2 (1999 co, 2013 co)
Playoff appearances: 14
Current playoff appearance streak: 1 (2016)
All-time playoff record: 4-13
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-1
Most played rivalry: 30 meetings with Kearns dating back to 1981. Taylorsville leads 17-13.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Warrior Isaiah Tafua (1998) is one of just eight players to return a fumble 99 yards. … Ryan Filipe holds the record for longest kickoff return - 99 yards - in a championship game (1999).
2016 — 5-7 (3-3 in Region 3 – 5A Quarterfinals)
2015 — 3-7 (2-4 in Region 3 -- Missed playoffs)
2014 — 7-4 (3-2 in Region 2 – 5A First round)
2013 — 6-4 (4-1 in Region 2 – 5A First round)
2012 — 1-9 (0-5 in Region 2 -- Missed playoffs)
Taylorsville coaching history
2016-current — Pala Vaitu’u (5-7)
2012-2016 — Rod Wells (22-31)
2009-2011 — Jonny Matich (2-28)
2004-2008 — Scott Henderson (6-43)
1998-2003 — Brad Molen (32-31)
1996-1997 — Mark Clinton (12-8)
1988-1995 — Randy Tuft (17-55)
1981-1987 — Doug Bills (26-40)
Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years
2013 — Mori Savini, DL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Taylorsville QB Dane Leituala and DL TJ Hazel