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High school football: Brighton Bengals 2019 preview

Note: Brighton finished with a 2-8 overall record in 2018 and was fifth in Region 7 with a 1-4 record. It did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.

Brighton 2018 Offensive and Defensive Stats

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — For first-year Brighton head coach Justin Hemm, taking over a program that won just two games last season can be a challenge.

“Challenges, starting from scratch as far as the organization and the practice, responsibilities of coaching staff and players, just trying to get the whole picture and get it all to fit together,” Hemm said.

Thus far, Hemm and his staff have seen great buy-in from the players at summer conditioning.

“Players have been awesome. Very, very excited, willing to do whatever we ask. Attendance this summer has been awesome, I think we’re around 50-plus guys that had perfect attendance in the month of June. That just shows their commitment, their buy-in. We can’t ask for anything more as a coaching staff,” Hemm said.

The Bengals will have to replace quarterback Alex Clifford, but have seven starters returning on offense, including wideout MJ Cirillo. On defense, the defensive line will be anchored by seniors Christian Nielsen and Jeremy Goble. Brighton is young, but experienced, as many starters return for another year. Can that experience pay off this season?

Team at a glance

Coach: Justin Hemm enters his first year as head coach of Brighton. He is a graduate of Adrian College.

Coach Hemm’s comments on new UHSAA RPI:

“I think the RPI thing is a step in the right direction. I like it. I know trying to balance out the divisions, because sometimes, depending on a region, have teams compared to other regions. I think it’s a step in the right direction. I was in Ohio prior, Ohio uses a similar thing. I know a lot of states do, so nothing that I’m not necessarily familiar with. I think it’s good. As a coach, you might want to add some teams in your nonregion, some competition, things like that to help you with the RPI."

Team Offensive Snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Justin Hemm

2018 offensive production: 14.5 ppg (22nd in 5A)

-- Seven returning starters

-- Spread offense

Key offensive returning starters

-- MJ Cirillo (WR)

Caught four touchdown passes last season.

-- Joel Finlinson (OL)

Senior offensive lineman returns for his final season.

Returning offensive starters

MJ Cirillo (WR)

Rexley Florendo (WR)

Collin Edwards (WR)

Jacob Reese (OL)

Joel Finlinson (OL)

Cole Casto (OL)

Owen Smith (K)

Offensive newcomers to watch

Gabe Curtis (QB)

Mason Young (RB)

Owen Powers (RB)

Lander Barton (TE)

Kabe Merhish (TE)

Orlando Martinez (WR)

Hemm’s comments on quarterbacks:

“We’ve got two guys right now competing, doing their thing. Apo Hillas and Gabe Curtis. Both guys battling, coming here. They’ve both been working hard all summer, had good showings on the 7-on-7s. We, offensively, we put a lot on the shoulders on our quarterbacks in a variety of ways. These guys, the commitment level, these guys are the extension of the coaching staff, is what we ask of our quarterbacks.”

Hemm’s comments on wide receivers:

“I think in the perimeter out there, we’ve got some talent. Overall, we’re pretty young, but a lot of guys were able to get experience last year, which I think will help us at the start of this year. Having those skill guys that you can count on, that’s huge for a quarterback.”

Hemm’s comments on offensive line:

“I expect that our offense line is going to be our best unit by the end of the year. I know they’re young, but they’ve been here doing a lot of things all summer as a unit to kind of develop and come together. Scheme-wise, they know what’s going on, what they’re doing, responsibilities, things like that. I have a lot of confidence in those guys as we go throughout the year.”

Keys for offensive success in 2019:

Hemm says the keys to offensive success are to stay ahead of the chains, protecting the ball and making big plays.

Team Defensive Snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Kirk Merhish

2018 defensive production: 33.7 ppg (20th in 5A)

-- Five returning starters

-- 4-3 defense

Key defensive returning starters

-- Christian Nielsen (DL)

Senior that will anchor the defensive line.

-- Jeremy Goble (DL)

Senior that will anchor the defensive line.

Returning defensive starters

Jake Hoole (LB)

Mason Young (S)

Blake Yates (S)

Christian Nielsen (DL)

Jeremy Goble (DL)

Defensive newcomers to watch

Lander Barton (LB)

Orlando Martinez (CB)

Grant Raddon (DE)

Hemm’s comments on returning starters:

“We return two safties, a corner, some of the defensive line, a couple backers. We’re looking at about six guys, both sides of the ball, returning some starters. That’s good. A lot of those guys are going to be sophomores and juniors. That’s good to have these guys, they’ve got some experience, now they can keep learning, keep building, keep getting better week by week."

Hemm’s comments on safeties:

“Saftey is huge. That’s the quarterback of the defense. That’s who’s getting the defense set, where they need to be. Especially now, with offenses tending to spread it out in the pass games, safeties are going to have to do a lot — whether it’s run support or in the pass game. Those are a lot of the time your best athletes on the defensive end and smartest guys."

Hemm’s comments on defensive line:

“We’ve got two seniors there on the D-line, so we’re a little older there. That’s good, because when we’re going against each other, it brings out the best in the offensive line, get these guys better. Those guys we count on as captains and leaders of the defensive unit and the team as a whole.”

Keys for defensive success in 2019:

Hemm says the key to defensive success is stopping the run, taking the ball away and limiting big plays.

Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: Fourth

Deseret News Region 6 prediction: Third

Key Region Game: vs. Olympus, Sept. 13 (Week 5)

Bottom line

After a forgettable season last year, Brighton will try again, led by another new head coach. The team is young, but will have room to grow over the upcoming season and beyond with Hemm.

2019 Schedule

Aug. 16 — at Fremont, 7 p.m.

Aug. 23 — LAYTON, 7 p.m.

Aug. 30 — WOODS CROSS, 7 p.m.

Sept. 6 — at Bountiful, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 — OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 — at Cottonwood, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 — SKYLINE, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 — at Murray, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10 — at Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 — HIGHLAND, 7 p.m.


Felt’s Facts for Brighton High School

All-time record: 362-196-2 (50 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 Factoids: 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 in 2015.


Last 5

  • 2018 — 2-8 (1-4 in Region 7 – Missed playoffs)
  • 2017 — 5-5 (1-4 in Region 7 – Missed playoffs)
  • 2016 — 3-6 (2-4 in Region 3 – Missed playoffs)
  • 2015 — 7-4 (4-2 in Region 3 – 5A First round)
  • 2014 — 10-2 (4-1 in Region 3 – 5A Semifinals)


Brighton coaching history

  • 2019 — Justin Hemm (0-0)
  • 2018 — Rafe Maughan (2-8)
  • 2006-2017 — 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 receipients the past 10 years

  • 2015 — Simi Fehoko, WR

Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years

  • 2017 — Justen Smith, K
  • 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.