Layton Christian football preview: Eagles are running it back in 2022 after close title-game loss
LAYTON — For the first time in at least several years, there’s a lot of tangible optimism around the Layton Christian Academy football team.
Sure, the amount of new head coaches the Eagles have had over the years have swung their own optimistic, “we’re changing the culture” and “we’re bringing the energy” types of hammers.
But when’s the last time LCA returned two 1,000-yard rushers, a lineman who’s committed to the University of Oregon and a defensive back who led the state with 10 interceptions?
And when’s the last time all of this happened the year after LCA’s best season in school history?
Not until 2022.
“Nobody pictured us going as far as we did last year, OK, so it’s pretty cool to see the boys come back hungrier this year. It’s like there’s one more step in that mission that wasn’t complete last year and thats what they’re back for,” LCA coach Ray Stowers said.
A common phrase to describe the Eagles is that they’re “running it back.” That can be taken quite literally as it happens.
Senior running back/linebacker Jessaia Giatras-Moala ran for 1,919 yards and 24 scores last year on 10.7 yards per carry. Manu Vaitaki returns after running for 1,085 yards and seven TDs in 2021.
Receiver/defensive back Malik Johnson comes back after intercepting a state-high 10 passes to go with 785 receiving yards and 10 TDs on offense.
And then the biggest (literally) name is lineman Tevita Pome’e, whose recruiting blew up over the offseason and ultimately ended with him verbally committing to the University of Oregon in April.
“It’s amazing. If I ever need to get a couple yards, if it’s like third-and-1, run it to Vita’s side. I know he’ll get the job done,” Giatras-Moala said.
The Eagles already had a very good team last year that went 9-5 and lost 18-14 to Duchesne in the 1A state championship game.
Now, most of those players return for 2022, which could be either a similar or better season than 2021.
“I think with the kids we’ve got now, we have a little more depth this year, so I’m feeling a little more confident,” Giatras-Moala said.
The 2022 season won’t come without a lion’s share of challenges.
Most starters will play both ways, so the Eagles have to be in shape and stay healthy, the latter of which is chancy for any team no matter the size.
Second, there are still plenty of international students on the team who’ve never played football before and that presents a steep learning curve.
And third, LCA’s schedule is undoubtedly the most difficult in 1A and, relative to the size of the school, possibly the toughest of any team in the state.
The most difficult games are week 1 at defending 2A state champion San Juan, week 4 at defending Idaho 2A state champ West Side, week 5 at 3A powerhouse Juan Diego, week 6 against defending Utah 1A champion Duchesne, week 7 at 1A semifinalist Kanab and week 8 at Idaho 3A state runner-up Sugar-Salem.
Even the “easier” games aren’t that easy. The Eagles host Ben Lomond in week 2 and their other three region games besides Duchesne are all on the road.
The difficult schedule wasn’t necessarily by design and underscores relations that were, at times, chilly between Layton Christian and its 1A peers.
Essentially, the 1A schools tried banding together to not play LCA during the regular season because those schools felt playing LCA would be unsafe due to the Eagles’ advantage in physical size.
Diplomacy prevailed and Layton Christian has four 1A North region games, though three of them are on the road and only one other game on the entire schedule as a whole this year is against a 1A team.
That led LCA to schedule whoever else was available, and that led the Eagles to two Idaho schools, plus San Juan and Juan Diego.
“We’re grateful to have a 10-game schedule, we’ll just leave it at that,” Stowers said.
The 1A North region is a little different this year. Rich High went independent and is playing an eight-player schedule, and Rich was replaced in the region by North Sevier and Gunnison Valley, both of which had been in the 1A South region last year.
Now, both the 1A North and South regions have five schools.
Dave Putnam is the new strength and conditioning coach.
Duchesne was LCA’s kryptonite last year, winning both matchups.
So how do the Layton Christian Eagles beat the Duchesne Eagles?
“We just gotta play clean, sound football against those kids. They are disciplined, they’re hard-nosed, they’re well-coached … and they rightfully so deserved it last year. But this is a new year and we’re going to take it one week at a time,” Stowers said.
FACTS and FIGURES
2021 season: 9-5, 3-1 1A North. LCA had its best season in school history in Stowers’ first year as head coach. The Eagles earned the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, pulled off two upsets and then lost to No. 1 Duchesne 18-14 in the 1A title game.
2022 strength of schedule: 74-39 (.655). As a 1A school, the Eagles face defending 2A state champion San Juan, 3A power Juan Diego, 1A semifinalist Kanab, Idaho 2A champion West Side, a Sugar-Salem (ID) team that was the Idaho 3A state runner-up by just one point and of course, defending Utah 1A state champ Duchesne.
Players to watch: Tevita Pome’e (OL/DL), Jessaia Giatras-Moala (RB/LB), Manu Vaitaki (FB/LB), Malike Johnson (DB/WR), Zoram Petelo (QB)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
Strength/Weakness: Running game/discipline and penalties
Eight of the 10 regular-season games are on the road. Kanab is the farthest trip at 337 miles, followed closely by San Juan at 333.
North Summit is the closest road trip at 39.9 miles. The average road trip for LCA this season is 171.9 miles.
According to MaxPreps, Layton Christian was the only team in the state to have multiple 1,000-yard rushers last year.
All games 7 p.m. unless noted
Aug. 12: at San Juan
Aug. 19: Ben Lomond, 4 p.m.
Aug. 26: at North Summit*
Sept. 2: at West Side (ID)
Sept. 9: at Juan Diego
Sept. 16: Duchesne*, 4 p.m.
Sept. 23: at Kanab
Sept. 30: at Sugar-Salem (ID)
Oct. 7: at Gunnison*
Oct. 14: at North Sevier*
* — Denotes 1A North region game
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at email@example.com, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.