After a four-year stint playing up in 6A for football only, East is returning to 5A this season.

Coach Brandon Matich says he has mixed feelings about the change.

East had a lot of success over the past four years, advancing to the semifinals three times and the championship game once. Matich believes this year’s team had semifinal potential again.

Whether it go tricky for East was the lower levels.

“Where we started to fight the fight was JV and sophomore, which week in and week out becomes hard number-wise,” said Matich. “It kind of puts us at a health risk, had to evaluate that.”

East’s departure is a blow for 6A, which really only has a handful of teams that can compete at the top, but great for 5A and Region 6.

Returning to 5A allows East to resume many of its natural rivalries with programs like Highland, Skyline and Olympus.

“First, to be able to jump into a car and drive 15 minutes down the road to a Skyline, Olympus or Highland is pretty cool. I think our kids are excited. … Those are fun games to play, the student body gets into it more. Our student body wasn’t really getting into the Herrimans and Rivertons of the world. But I think they’ll show up and get more into the Olympus and Skylines and Highlands ’cause they know those kids,” said Matich, whose team posted a 36-15 record during its four years in 6A.

East isn’t the only newcomer in Region 6.

Park City is the other newcomer to the region as it makes the jump from 4A, and it’s in a great position to compete this season with a big chunk of returning starters from last year’s quarterfinal team.

Park City returns eight starters from an offense that ranked second in 5A last year at 42.2 ppg, including quarterback Chase Beyer. He and Murray’s Kyler Nielsen are the only returning starting quarterbacks in the region.

As Park City makes the jump up a classification, experience at the signal caller position could be a big advantage.

For region favorite East, a lack of experience at QB isn’t that big a deal, especially with Amini Amone back at running back. After rushing for over 1,900 yards as a freshman and over 1,500 last year, Amone is back to anchor the core of East’s offense again this season.

“I think he’s got a chance to be better than anybody we’ve had. His talent is off the charts. He’s big, he’s explosive, he’s fast,” said Matich.

Brighton, the projected runner-up in Region 6, has its own off-the-charts talent that most believe is the top recruit in the state, Lander Barton. The senior linebacker/tight end was a first team all-stater a year ago and the sky’s the limit for his potential as he tries to follow in the path of his two older brothers who are already playing in the NFL by way of the University of Utah.

Brighton coach Justin Hemm said Barton is still weighing his college options, which his included additional offers recently from tradition-rich programs like Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan and LSU among many others.

Hemm said he’s been impressed with Barton’s humble, focused approach despite all the attention.

“He’s special. Obviously he has all the physical attributes, but it’s more of who he is, how he treats his teammates, what he does around the facility, how he interacts with kids no matter who they are on the depth chart. Holds doors open for kids. It keeps things in perspective for him and allows him to have a great mindset and work ethic,” said Hemm.

Barton’s versatility defensively will allow him to play a variety of positions and give the Bengals a formidable defense on that side of the ball. The bigger question is offensively where the team must replace just about every skill position player from last year’s team that averaged 41.5 ppg.

Hemm is confident the newcomers will slide into those new roles seamlessly, which is a must with the quality of teams within the region.

“A lot of these teams all have some good stuff coming back and are consistently good programs, it will be fun. It makes for an interesting region season cause anything can happen,” said Hemm.

Olympus edged Brighton to claim the Region 6 championship a year ago, but defending it won’t be easy. Not only did the quality of competition get better, but the Titans only return three starters on offense and two on defense.

Two of the unknowns in Region 6 are Highland and Skyline.

Highland has a new head coach as Kautai Olevao takes over for longtime head coach Brody Benson. Skyline, meanwhile, has a new coach as well, with John Rowbotham taking over.

Both coaches inherit teams with a decent amount of returning experience, but both programs face an uphill battle to compete against the perceived top dogs in the region.

Olevao is taking over at Highland after serving as an assistant coach for the past six seasons.

“Highland has a rich tradition, it’s something that I’m very familiar with. My wife is a Highland alum. She was there when Morgan Scalley and those guys were there, so there’s familiarity with where Highland has been and what they’ve done and we hope to continue that tradition going forward,” said Olevao.

Region 6 projections

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. East Leopards

  • All-time record: 602-366-31 (107 years)
  • State titles: 18 (1917, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, 1943, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1964, 1974, 1996, 2015, 2016) — championships determined by season record vs. other high schools from 1898-1918.

2021 Schedule

Coach: Brandon Matich

Entering his 12th season as head coach at East, where he’s tallied a 104-37 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 143-55. He’s a graduate of Brighton High School and the University of Utah.

Coach Matich’s general outlook

“We’re dealing with some early season injuries that are left over from last year to some key guys, but the team is really talented. It’s a really talented group that’s very young. It’s going to have a lot of inexperience which could be some growing pains, and I’m not going to say in the form of losses, but there are going to be growing pains based on youth. So we’re trying to do as much as we can to liven practice up, liven drills up to give it as much of a game experience as we can possibly muster.”

Offensive coordinator: Brandon Matich

2020 offense: 31.4 ppg (8th in 6A)

  • 4 returning starters
  • Triple-option

Returning offensive starters

  • Amini Amone, RB
  • Kalausa Fonua, OT
  • Siona Vailahi, RB — moving to QB
  • Matthew Fredrick, TE

Key offensive newcomers

  • Omar Shah, RB
  • Jerrick Little, RB
  • Sione Vailahi, RB
  • Ben Blake, OL
  • Sekope Wallace, OL

Defensive coordinator: Gary Bowers

2020 defense: 22.0 ppg (9th in 6A)

  • 6 returning starters
  • 4-2-5 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Ben Roberts, DE
  • Petelo Tafisi, LB
  • Siuta Latui, LB
  • Tui’One Tausinga, S
  • Spencer Blake, S
  • Chase Barker, CB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Kauvakahiva Patetefa, DL
  • Jonathan Brambila, DL
  • Tavyn Weaver, CB
  • Jay Otukolo

2. Brighton Bengals

  • All-time record: 380-200-2 (52 years)
  • State titles: 1 (1982)

2021 Schedule

Coach: Justin Hemm

Entering third season as Brighton’s head coach, with his teams posting a 18-4 record the past two years. Prior to taking over at Brighton, he spent two years as an assistant at Jordan and then two years as an assistant at his alma mater in Ohio, Piqua High School. He helped lead Piqua to a state title as a player in 2006. He’s a graduate of Adrian College in Michigan.

Coach Hemm’s general outlook

“This is my third season, but this is my first time I’ve actually had an offseason with these guys. First year I got the job in May and then the second year obviously with COVID, so I’ve never had an opportunity to go through the full offseason, winter session of lifting, spring session of lifting and a summer session. I think as far as expectations and things like that, we’re in a good place.”

Offensive coordinator: Justin Hemm

2020 offense: 41.5 ppg (2nd in 5A)

  • 5 returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Jacob Reece, LT
  • Max Owens, LG
  • Nate Vyfvinkel, RG
  • Lander Barton, TE
  • Dante McMaster, WR

Key offensive newcomers

  • Bingham Zollinger, WR
  • Easton Smith, WR
  • Quincy Covington, WR
  • Nash Matheson, WR
  • Kace Gurr, RB
  • Jack Johnson, QB

Defensive coordinator: Kirk Merhish

2020 defense: 17.6 ppg (2nd in 5A)

  • 5 returning starters
  • 4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Mana Nonu, DL
  • Tyler Knaak, DL
  • Lander Barton, LB
  • Nick Hagman, LB
  • Jace Matheson, S

Key defensive newcomers

  • Theddus Monson, DB
  • Canyon Sargent, DB
  • Jarom Tapusoa, DB
  • Cody Steed, DB
  • Siale Ofa, DB
  • Sam Lowe, DB
  • Dane Merhish, LB
  • Matt Oliphant, DL
  • Ezekiel Gehrken, DL

3. Olympus Titans

  • All-time record: 400-279-9 (68 years)
  • State titles: 2 (1984, 1998)

2021 Schedule

Coach: Aaron Whitehead

Now entering his 11th season as head coach at Olympus, posting a 76-36 record the past nine years. His previous stint as a head coach was at East from 2003 to 2007 where his teams went 39-21. He’s a graduate of Skyline High School and the University of Utah.

Coach Whitehead’s general outlook

“Last year’s group showed a lot of toughness and grit. This year’s team has taken the example of their predecessors to heart and have been diligent in the offseason. This region will be as competitive as I have seen. With the addition of East and Park City, each week will be a challenge. Skyline is coming off one of their better years. Brighton will be their typical tough self, Highland and Murray should be solid, too. East is a powerhouse. Park City is disciplined and solid.”

Offensive coordinator: Aaron Whitehead

2020 offense: 27.0 ppg (12th in 5A)

  • 3 returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Matthew Herron, OT
  • Tommy Barrus, OG
  • Ryan Reynard, HB

Key offensive newcomers

  • Ryan Reynard, RB
  • Seth Roberts, QB
  • Sam Green, WR
  • Simon Mayfield, OL

Defensive coordinator: Brandon Burt

2020 defense: 16.9 ppg (1st in 5A)

  • 2 returning starters
  • 4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Matthew Herron, DE
  • Sam Bodily, LB

Key defensive newcomers

  • James Smith, SS
  • Sam Bodily, LB
  • Matthew Herron, DE

4. Park City Miners

  • All-time record: 447-450-23 (113 years)

2021 Schedule

Coach: Josh Montzingo

Entering his sixth season at Park City, where his teams have posted a 41-21 record the past five years and a state runner-up finish last season. He’s a graduate of Edmonds Woodway High School in Washington and North Park University in Illinois.

Coach Montzingo’s general outlook

“Excited for the opportunity to compete at the 5A level this season. The boys have put in a lot of work in the offseason and summer to prepare physically for this great challenge. We have a very talented group returning on Offense this year with multiple returning starters. We are also excited to see very talented new starters on Defense compete this season as we lost a lot to graduation last year.”

Offensive coordinator: Dalton Bolger

2020 offense: 42.2 ppg (2nd in 4A)

  • 8 returning starters
  • Pro-style offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Max Alford, RB
  • Carson Tabaracci, RB
  • Sam Alford, WR
  • Jesse Helton, OL
  • Luke McCurdy, OL
  • Ian Morris, OL
  • Chase Beyer, QB

Key offensive newcomers

  • Joseph Eldridge, WR
  • Matt DeMarco, WR

Defensive coordinator: Josh Montzingo

2020 defense: 24.3 ppg (8th in 4A)

  • 1 returning starters
  • 3-5 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Stone Combs, MLB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Brayden Beyer, ILB
  • Carson Baynes, CB
  • Miles Preston, CB
  • Jack Stouffer, S
  • Ian Morris, DL
  • Tyler Gallwas, DL

5. Skyline Eagles

  • All-time record: 462-208-1 (59 years)
  • State titles: 14 (1967, 1969, 1970, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2005)

2021 Schedule

Coach: John Rowbotham

Entering his first season as head coach at his alma mater. He’s a graduate of Pacific Lutheran College in Washington.

Coach Rowbotham’s general outlook

“The Eagles are excited about the upcoming season! We have an awesome group of student-athletes who are working hard to come together as a team and have fun on the football field. We look forward to some great competition this year with lots of talented teams in our region. We have compiled a great coaching staff that is working hard to support the athletes. We have strong leadership on the team and some talented football players.”

Offensive coordinator: Trevor Woodall

2020 offense: 42.9 ppg (1st in 5A)

  • 5 returning starters
  • Air Raid offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Inoke Touhuni, OL
  • James Kerr, OL
  • Jared Prince, OL
  • Porter Brockman, RB
  • Austin Okerwa, WR (Injured last year)

Key offensive newcomers

  • Zane Cooper, WR
  • Garrett Adams, WR

Defensive coordinator: Andy Selcho

2020 defense: 17.8 ppg (3rd in 5A)

  • 6 returning starters
  • 3-4 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Thomas Bunker, LB
  • Zach Tueller, LB
  • Jake Campbell, DE
  • Mike Jones, DE
  • Miles Hall, LB
  • Andrew Rassmussen, LB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Luke Wright, CB
  • Rayce Walker-Adams, S

6. Highland Rams

  • All-time record: 434-248-3 (64 years)
  • State titles: 5 (1959, 1961, 1963, 1986, 2010)

2021 Schedule

Coach: Kautai Olevao

Olevao is entering his first season as head coach at Highland High School, where he’s previously served as an assistant for six years. He’s a graduate of Kahuku High School in Hawaii and the University of Utah.

Coach Olevao’s general outlook

“We’re improving as a team. And while I like what I see, I’m anxious to get going against a live team. I can’t wait to get to our first game on Aug. 13. That’s when we’ll get a more accurate assessment of our team. As of right now the kids have been practicing hard and trying to mesh together. Some of these guys are first-year guys that are our here at Highland.”

Offensive coordinator: Sala Asiata

2020 offense: 23.3 ppg (16th in 5A)

  • 5 returning starters
  • Two-back offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Ashton Olevao, RB
  • Maea Giles, RB
  • Justin Raihauti, FB
  • Peizge Mailei, WR/QB
  • Sefa Brown, WR

Key offensive newcomers

  • Misi Diaz, OL
  • Leka Mesake, OL
  • Joe Lords, OL
  • Ashton Zwick, QB
  • Zedrick Fifita, WR
  • Josh Mayeda, WR
  • Elijah Tolbert, WR

Defensive coordinator: Adam Flores

2020 defense: 30.8 ppg (19th in 5A)

  • 4 returning starters
  • 4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Ashton Olevao, S
  • Maea Giles, S
  • Justin Raihauti, LB
  • Peizge Mailei, LB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Sefa Brown, DE
  • Cedric Fifita, CB
  • Josh Mayeda, S

7. Murray Spartans

  • All-time record: 365-514-24 (103 years)
  • State titles: 3 (1954, 1975, 1977)

2021 Schedule

Coach: Todd Thompson

Thompson is entering his fifth season as head coach at Murray, with his teams posting a 17-25 record over that span. He’s a graduate of Murray High School and Southern Utah University.

Coach Thompson’s general outlook

“We have a lot of returners this year. They got valuable experience starting last year, we should be much improved from last year, last year we couldn’t do a lot of things because covid shut us down, so already we’ve been at it hard in the weight room we are definitely stronger we have had some 7 on 7 which has helped us in the second year of our new offense. Depth is always an issue here at Murray but we have the tools and kids in place to have a successful 2021 campaign.”

Offensive coordinator: DJ Pirkle

2020 offense: 12.6 ppg (21st in 5A)

  • 7 returning starters
  • Spread offense

Returning offensive starters

  • Kyler Nielsen, QB
  • Lance Wightman, RB
  • Gavin Maycock, Slot
  • Chandler Thompson, WR
  • Barrett Francom, OT
  • Gage Thacker, OG
  • Tyler Graham, WR

Key offensive newcomers

  • Kade Scott, WR
  • Jacob Lorton,OL
  • Aidan Jiminez, OL
  • Ken Phillips, TE

Defensive coordinator: Ashley McSwain

2020 defense: 35.5 ppg (21st in 5A)

  • 6 returning starters
  • 4-3 defense

Returning defensive starters

  • Barrett Francom, DE
  • Mark Jessop, DT
  • Gavin Maycock, OLB
  • Aidan Wahlbridge, SS
  • Chandler Thompson, CB

Key defensive newcomers

  • Josh Boulden, FS
  • Eli Cushing, LB
  • Kade Scott, CB
  • Ken Phillips, DE
  • Caden Alexander, LB
  • Aidan Jiminez, DL