HURRICANE — To say that Hurricane’s football team has a new coach is a bit of a misnomer. The Tigers have a new head coach in Steve Pearson, but not a lot else has changed and that’s the way Pearson wants it.
“I think if a person came and sat in the stands to watch practice … I’m really not sure that a person would be able to tell that there’s anything real different in our structure, in our energy and in our format in what we do,” said Pearson, who has been an assistant to former coach Chris Homer for 13 years. “Other than Coach Homer’s not there and we miss him.”
Pearson is quick to note that if things aren’t broken, why would he want to fix them.
“We have some great traditions at the school,” he said. “The way we do things won’t change.”
Of course, Hurricane is coming off a spectacular run in which it won 48 games in four years, including an undefeated state championship in 2011. Pearson was the offensive coordinator during those halcyon days. He also called the offense in 2012 when Hurricane was bounced out of the playoffs 38-0 by Juan Diego and last season when the Tigers won just two games and gave up nine touchdowns to rival Pine View in a 63-28 loss in the 3AA Quarterfinals.
“You’re going to be surprised sometimes with downward swings and when that happens, I think the best thing you can do is just hang on to what you believe in,” Pearson said. “Don’t make radical changes. Trust in what’s gotten you there before and know that it’s going to work. I felt really grateful that we hung onto things last year and we actually caught fire a little bit there toward the end.”
Hurricane did get a big road win at Bear River last November in the first round of the playoffs and, the Pine View loss notwithstanding, Pearson said his team gained a little momentum for this season with the strong finish.
Of course, momentum and tradition still need to be backed up by athleticism. And the Tigers have plenty of that, starting with all-region linebacker Jeremiah Ieremia (pronounced your-uh-me-uh). The senior stud athlete has the royalty of college football ringing his doorbell, including mighty USC.”
“I’ve narrowed it down to three schools but I don’t really want to talk about that too much,” Ieremia said. “It’s time for Hurricane and it’s time for football.”
Clearly, Ieremia’s college football future is at linebacker. But the muscular 220-pounder will carry a load at fullback in Hurricane’s Wing-T offense. He showed flashes of brilliance last season, including an eye-popping performance in a regular season game at Pine View in which he rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
But the Tiger offense was inconsistent last season, getting shut out vs. Cedar and scoring 10 points or less in 5 of 12 contests. Hurricane does have some athletes back in the backfield, namely Ieremia, Kole Richins and JD Stanworth. The quarterback spot will be key though as senior Kaden Langston and junior Cole Stratton battle for that job. Both have strong arms and could have Pearson tempted to throw the ball a bit more than years past.
“They’ve been neck and neck in practice the last couple of weeks and we’ve got a tough decision coming up for Friday,” Pearson said, clearly not wanting to tip his hand just yet. If the Tigers do throw more, a lot of those passes will aimed toward Noah Elison, who led the team with 395 receiving yards in 2013.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Hurricane teams that dominated and last year’s two-win squad was the defense. The Tigers gave up 34 points a game in 2013 and allowed seven different opponents to score at least 34 points. It’s hard to win games when the other team is slapping down five touchdowns a game.
“Every good team has to rebuild and we felt like last year was a rebuilding year for us,” said HHS inside linebacker Charlie Sefita, who led the team in tackles in 2013. “We’ll be back. We’re excited to compete.”
With seven returning starters on defense, the Tigers should be better. New defensive coordinator Chris Hurst will lead the charge and surely will be grateful to have a linebacking crew that includes Ieremia, Sefita, Richins and Tyson Yardley. The secondary will be anchored by returners Elsion and Kyle Williams.
“I’m really confident in our team,” Richins said. “We like to fly around and hit people. We just like to be physical.”
The Steve Pearson era begins Friday with a home game against Skyline, a perennial powerhouse from Salt Lake’s east side. The Eagles beat Hurricane 28-6 last season. The Tigers open region Sept. 12 with a home game against Payson.
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