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Bonneville football preview: Sime Havili, Kena Kailiponi lead young Lakers team

By Patrick Carr - Prep Sports Reporter | Jul 29, 2022
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Bonneville's Sime Havili (34) tries to escape the grasp of a Bountiful defender Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Bountiful.
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Bonneville's Kena Kailiponi (51) looks to grab a fumble during a prep football playoff game against Northridge on Oct. 22, 2021.

WASHINGTON TERRACE — During the summer, it’s typical for high school football players to put a strip of athletic tape on the front of their helmets with their last name written on it so coaches can identify them.

That type of thing could help the casual Bonneville High football fan this year, because the Lakers — they don’t put last names on the back of their jerseys — expect to line up with a young and inexperienced team in a departure from teams they’ve fielded the last two seasons.

There’s good and bad news with this year’s situation.

The “bad” news is that Bonneville’s younger than it’s been in quite some time and the current senior class numbers about 10 players compared to anywhere between 24-29 for the juniors and sophomores, mirroring the school’s enrollment demographic of having a smaller senior class.

“I think we’ve got some good starting groups. We don’t have as much depth as we’ve had the past two years, but yeah we have a good starting group, a couple of good guys that we can put into any of the positions that we need,” senior running back/linebacker Sime Havili said.

Just two starters return on both sides of the ball and it’s the same players on both sides: Havili and senior lineman Kena Kailiponi, who will be a three-year starter.

Practically everywhere else will see new starters. Jaxon Johnson and Cole Lueders are battling for the starting quarterback spot, according to Bonneville coach Jantz Afuvai. Neither threw a pass in a varsity game in 2021.

“The good thing though is this is probably one of the best underclass groups I’ve had since I’ve been here, which is really exciting to see how fast these guys can mature and start playing at a game speed in a varsity game,” Afuvai said.

There’s still the matter of game experience, or lack thereof, facing Bonneville and the challenges that come with getting that group ready to go.

“I think it’s just helping them realize that you gotta do more than just what the coaches are telling you to do. Some of these guys think that they’re going to come on the field and ball out. It’s not how it works. So just telling them to put that extra work in is important,” Havili said.

Teams normally have their ups and downs. Bonneville’s been consistently up the past four years with a combined record of 25-17 in that span plus the 2020 Region 5 championship.

Thom Budge retired following the 2005 season and Bonneville plummeted for years, but the Lakers have undergone a revival under Afuvai.

“A lot of that was just good old-fashioned hard work, and then who you bring on as coaches. I think that having a good supporting cast of guys that know, one, how to work with kids, then they bring something they can sell to these guys that they want to buy in on,” Afuvai said.

Even though the Lakers have made a lot of good things happen the last three years in particular, there’s still work to be done to keep this good thing going.

They had a good, talented and senior-heavy team last year that was 6 points away from a region championship. That same team lost 42-15 at Timpview in the second round of the 5A state playoffs.

“To sustain a good program and to beat a Timpview, to beat some of those big schools down in Salt Lake, you’re going to have to have kids in your program for four years, there’s just no other way around it,” Afuvai said. “If you’re going to beat teams like that, then you better have guys in your program for at least four years because the experience will counter the raw talent of kids from those type of programs.”

WHAT’S NEW

Former longtime Bear River head coach Chris Wise is the new offensive line coach. He and Afuvai were college teammates at Weber State.

QUOTABLE

There’s actually a handful of new coaches on the staff, Afuvai said. And he specifically looked for younger coaches.

“Just picked up a couple new guys, really good young guys. I think it’s important for us as a coaching staff to have that — just guys who …” Afuvai said, pausing. “… know how to do social media, you know what I mean?”

He laughed.

“And know how to communicate with some of the acronyms and all the crap that’s going on right now. I have no idea what some of these guys are saying, but they bring a good energy to the kids and we give an opportunity to teach guys how to do things old-school instead of relying on computer programs and such.”

FACTS and FIGURES

2021 season: 6-5, 4-1 Region 5. After starting 0-3 with an exceptionally tough schedule, Bonneville finished with a third straight winning season and a fourth straight season of going .500 or better. The No.15 Lakers beat No. 18 Northridge in the first round of the playoffs before losing at No. 2 Timpview in the second round.

2022 strength of schedule: 54-46 (.540). Three of the Lakers’ nonregion games come against teams that had a winning record in 2021, including Weber (10-3) and 4A state champion Ridgeline (13-0). Every Region 5 game is tough in its own way, but two merit being circled on the calendar: Bountiful, which beat Bonneville for the region title last year, and Northridge, who the Lakers beat twice and who has definitely emerged as a de facto region rival.

Players to watch: Kena Kailiponi (OL/DL), Sime Havili (RB/LB), Max Diaz (WR), Gavin Pelagio-Williams (WR/TE)

Returning starters: Kailiponi and Havili on both sides of the ball.

Strength/Weakness: Talent/Youth and inexperience

NOTES

Bonneville is 12-3 in Region 5 games the past three seasons, with Bountiful the only team to register multiple wins over the Lakers in that span.

Last year’s 6-5 record clinched a third straight winning season, and Bonneville hasn’t had a three-year winning run since 2002-04 in the later years of Thom Budge’s tenure as head coach.

The Lakers have a four-game winning streak against Box Elder and three-game win streaks against region rivals Viewmont and Woods Cross.

SCHEDULE

All games 7 p.m.

Aug. 12: at Ridgeline

Aug. 19: at Tooele

Aug. 26: Weber

Sept. 2: Mountain Crest

Sept. 9: at Viewmont*

Sept. 16: Bountiful*

Sept. 23: at Woods Cross*

Sept. 30: at Northridge*

Oct. 7: Box Elder*

Oct. 12: BYE

* — Denotes Region 5 game

Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at pcarr@standard.net, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.

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