Note: Brighton finished with a 3-6 overall record in 2016 and was fifth in Region 3 with a 2-4 record. It did not qualify for the playoffs.
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Brighton’s swan song in the state’s largest classification ended with a whimper last season as it missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Brighton started a bunch of underclassmen in the trenches, so the struggles were somewhat expected. That disappointment has galvanized the program, which is looking for a bounce-back season.
“We had a lot better summer than we had the previous year, that’s for sure. The kids are hungry, disappointed about last year. The kids put in a lot more hours in the weight room, and a lot more extra hours out here on the field,” said Brighton coach Ryan Bullet.
Brighton returns three of five starters on the offensive line and all three starters on the defensive line. Three of four linebackers are back as well, which should be a big help for a defense that ranked 19th in scoring defense in 5A a year ago.
That youth and inexperience on the defensive front really hurt Brighton in last year’s high-flying Region 3.
This year, Brighton will be competing in Region 7 with mostly familiar faces like Alta, Corner Canyon, Cottonwood and Jordan. The newcomer to the region is Timpview.
Most of those teams are high-tempo teams, so Brighton will try to counter it with a slower pace.
“With our offensive approach this year we’re going to slow it down a little bit. We’ll be a little better on defense cause we’re a little bit more conservative on offense,” said Bullet.
Three returning starters on the offensive line and talented newcomers at running back should help Brighton execute that offensive game plan.
Brighton Bengals at a glance
Coach: Ryan Bullet is entering his 12th year as head coach at Brighton High School. He’s amassed a 65-55 record during that decade. He’s a graduate of Hillcrest High School.
Brighton offensive snapshot
Offensive coordinator: Denny Crocket
2016 offensive production: 24.2 ppg (14th in 5A)
— 4 returning starters
— One-back offense
Key offensive returning starters
— Jackson Owens (OL)
Started as a sophomore on the offensive line last year, and he’s one of three returning starters in the trenches for the Bengals.
— Alex Zettler (QB)
Started most of the games last year for Brighton and completed 51 of 99 passes for 757 yards and seven TDs.
Returning offensive starters
Alex Zettler (QB)
Jackson Owens (OL)
Luke Martin (OL)
Taotasi Laufau (OL)
Offensive newcomers to watch
Evona Hall (TB)
Salua Masina (FB/TE)
Sione Angilau (FB)
Junior Heimuli (TB)
Devin Elder (WR)
Bullet's comments on O-lineman Jackson Owens:
“The kids are all bigger and stronger and faster. Jackson Owens probably put on 40 to 50 pounds since last season. He was playing at about 215 and now he’s about 265. I look for a big year from him. He’s looking like a man out here now.”
Bullet's comments on QB Alex Zettler:
“He started more than half the season last year for us. He’s looking really good. He’s bigger, stronger, faster. He’s a baseball kid also — pitcher. He’s looking really good. We’ll be a little more line it up, run it, play-action type team this year, instead of spreading it out as much. But he’s got a nice arm, he can get the ball out there quick. He’s a good kid, he’s smart, he’ll take charge.”
Bullet's comments on offensive toughness:
“We’ve got to get a downhill mentality, run the ball, get a little tougher. We’ll get checked Week 1 we’re at Fremont. We know we’ll have our hands full Week 1. We just need to get with the physical mentality.”
Keys for offensive success in 2017:
Brighton is strong on the offensive line and has returning experience at quarterback, but the skill position players are basically all varsity newcomers. Running backs Evona Hall and Salua Masina got a tiny bit of varsity experience, but Sione Angilau, Junior Heimuli and Devin Elder didn’t factor into the offense at all. If the Bengals hope to compete in Region 7 regardless of how much they slow the pace, they’re going to need an effective offense. They’ll need a bunch of those newcomers to step up in a hurry.
Brighton defensive snapshot
Defensive coordinator: Ryan Bullet
2016 defensive production: 28.9 ppg (19th in 5A)
7 returning starters
Odd stack defense
Key defensive returning starters
— Salua Masina (LB)
Led Brighton with 86 tackles a year ago to go along with his 12 sacks. Even bigger things will be expected of the highly recruited senior this year.
— Sione Angilau (LB)
Started as freshman last season for the Bengals at linebacker and still racked up 34 tackles. He’s one of three returning linebacker starters and will fly around this year.
Returning defensive starters
Tui Kefu (DL)
Olive Fifita (DL)
Teamour Djahanbani (DL)
Sione Angilau (LB)
Salua Masina (LB)
Alexander Marks (LB)
Brooks Johnson (S)
Defensive newcomers to watch
Junior Heimuli (LB)
Addison Trupp (LB)
Trey Davenport (S)
Makendy Wunderli (CB)
Devin Elder (CB)
Bullet's comments on experienced D-line:
“I think last year we were so young we didn’t have any strength on us and we were just getting manhandled and thrown around. I think some of it was the kids were a little intimidated. They were freshmen and sophomores going against juniors and seniors. One kid lined up four weeks in a row against a Division 1 recruit. I think he was probably a little overmatched.”
Bullet's comments on three linebacker returning starters:
“We’re looking for those guys with a year more experience to be a little more veteran, a little more eager, a little more hungry, not as tentative and a little more in an attacking mode this year. We’ll be better ’cause we’re more experienced.”
Keys for defensive success in 2017:
With just one returning starter in the secondary and considering the quality of the passing teams Brighton will play, getting the secondary really to roll by region play will be critical. Brooks Johnson is a returning starter at safety, and Trey Davenport, Makendy Wunderli and Devin Elder are all expected to start at the varsity level this year. They must prove themselves ready for the challenge if Brighton hopes to avoid some of those blowout losses.
Coaches' preseason Region 7 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 7 prediction: Fourth
Key region game: vs. Alta, Oct. 18 (Week 10)
Bottom line: Region 7 figures to be the most competitive region in the revamped Class 5A this season. While Cottonwood is in a rebuilding mode, the other five teams will be duking it out for four playoff spots, and Brighton is right in the mix. The trenches is where Brighton could be superior to most teams in the region with three starters back on both sides of the ball. That potential edge is only relevant if the skill position players rise to the occasion, and that remains to be seen this year.
Aug. 18 — at Fremont, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — HILLCREST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — at Olympus, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — at Granger, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — SKYLINE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — JORDAN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 — CORNER CANYON, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — at Timpview, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — at Cottonwood, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 — ALTA, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Brighton High School
All-time record: 355-183-2 (48 years)
Region championships: 16 (1977 co, 1978, 1979, 1981 co, 1982, 1986, 1988 co, 1992, 1995 co, 1996 co, 1997, 2000 co, 2001, 2002 co, 2004, 2005 co)
Playoff appearances: 36
Current playoff appearance streak: 0
All-time playoff record: 40-35
State championships: 1 (1982)
State championship record: 1-4
Most played rivalry: 47 meetings with Bingham dating back to 1969. Brighton leads 28-17-1.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Brighton didn’t have a losing season for 29 straight years — from 1977-2005 — the second-longest such streak in state history and longest since 1970. The Bengals enjoyed five undefeated regular seasons during the streak. … Simi Fehoko set a pair of state records by catching 24 TD passes and averaging a whopping 137.0 reception yards-per-game last season.
2016 — 3-6 (2-4 in Region 3 — Did not qualify)
2015 — 7-4 (4-2 in Region 3 — 5A first round)
2014 — 10-2 (4-1 in Region 3 — 5A semifinals)
2013 — 12-2 (4-1 in Region 3 — 5A runner-up)
2012 — 8-5 (2-3 in Region 3 — 5A first round)
Brighton coaching history
2006-current — Ryan Bullett (65-55)
1999-2005 — Tom Cushing (69-17)
1988-98 — Lynn Freestone (90-33)
1978-87 — Steve Dangerfield (70-32)
1974-77 — Unknown (21-19)
1970-73 — Rex Wright (19-19)
1969 — Dean Stringham (1-8)
Deseret News Mr. Football recipients the past 10 years
2015 — Simi Fehoko, WR
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2015 — Sione Lund, RB
2014 — Simi Fehoko, WR
2014 — Osa Masina, LB
2014 — Cody Barton, DB
2013 — Osa Masina, RB
2013 — Jackson Barton, OL
2013 — Tyson Aldridge, OL
2013 — Isaiah Kaufusi, LB
2012 — Jackson Barton, OL
2009 — Ricky Heimuli, OL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.