Prep football: Herriman Mustangs preview

Herriman fans may have expected a dropoff from the 2015 state championship, but the Mustangs weren’t that far off the map last season.

Herriman just missed out on the postseason in a high-level Region 4 by losing a play-in game to American Fork, which advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals.

The path to the playoffs isn’t nearly as difficult now, even with powerful East High in Region 3 with the Mustangs. But Herriman would be a threat in any league because the team returns 18 players with varsity experience, including 11 starters and five from the offensive line.

“I like this team. The camaraderie on this team is unbelievable,” Herriman coach Dustin Pearce said.

The Mustangs’ mindset isn’t just on doing well in region or making the playoffs. After all, it’s only one season removed from winning it all.

“If we continue on our path as far as work ethic and mastering the crafts I’ve asked the kids to do,” Pearce said, “we can progress to be a contender.”

HERRIMAN MUSTANGS <br>Coach • Dustin Pearce, fifth year <br>Last season • 5-5, 3-3 in Region 4 <br>State championships • 2015 <br>2017 SCHEDULE <br>Aug. 18 • Lone Peak, 7 p.m. <br>Aug. 25 • at Helix (Calif.), 7 p.m. <br>Sept. 1 • Bingham, 7 p.m. <br>Sept. 8 • at American Fork, 7 p.m. <br>Sept. 15 • Copper Hills, 7 p.m. <br>Sept. 22 • at East, 7 p.m. <br>Sept. 29 • at West Jordan, 7 p.m. <br>Oct. 6 • Taylorsville, 7 p.m. <br>Oct. 13 • Riverton, 7 p.m.

Behind center • Junior Blake Freeland (6 foot 8, 230 pounds) grabbed the starting quarterback job midway through last season. He already has committed verbally to BYU. While the QB has plenty of varsity reps, the running backs don’t. But Pearce thinks that seniors Maea Leakehe (5-10, 180) and Tavish Darger (5-10, 190), along with junior Quincy Sandoval (5-6, 160), have the ability to carry the load in Herriman’s power attack.

Ball hawks • Senior Jake Anderson (6-3, 230) is one of the returners along the line, although his position is tight end and he’ll make himself a ready target for Freeland. Other catching options include senior Ben Fife (5-8, 175), a slot receiver who started a few games last year, as well as senior Caleb Alvey (6-0, 165), sophomore Braxton Savage (5-6, 130) and senior Dawson Davis (6-3, 200). Senior Isi Leakehe (5-11, 155) is a possibility at WR, but his cover instincts and ability to get the ball is needed alongside fellow cornerback Darian Strate (6-2, 185) on defense.

In the trenches • If the promise on the offensive line comes through, the skill position players might be looking at plenty of holes. Jaren Kump (6-5, 265) has sought-after size and skill on the collegiate level, and the senior will start at offensive tackle. Senior Braxton Pearce (6-1, 250) got the start at center for the last three games of 2016, and he’ll have fellow senior returner Tyson Martin (6-4, 290) alongside at guard. Karter Shaw (6-4, 285) also is a big senior returning starter at tackle. Pearce, Kump and Shaw also are regulars at defensive tackle and will be joined by David Fotu (6-6, 275) a sizable menace to foes at defensive end.

Hit men • Drake Elliott (6-1, 185) is a senior outside linebacker who led Herriman with 69 tackles last year. His and Maea Leakehe’s seasoning will help more inexperienced players like senior Coal Castro (6-1, 200) on the linebacking unit. Senior strong safety Tyson Herrera (5-10, 170) made 54 stops in 2016, and cornerback Strate also finished with 20 tackles during his junior season.

Key returners • Jaren Kump, Sr. (OT); Blake Freeland, Jr. (QB); Maea Leakehe, Sr. (RB/LB); Drake Elliott, Sr. (OLB); Tyson Herrera, Sr. (SS)

Key losses • Sefanaia Leakehe, RB; Noah Vaea, FS; Semisi Vakapuna, LB; Jaden Cutler, WR

The next wave • Quincy Sandoval, Jr. (RB/DB); Braxton Savage, So. (WR); Coal Castro, Sr. (LB); Mona Kea, So. (LB)

from The Salt Lake Tribune


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