LAYTON — There might not be a more challenging head football coaching job at the high school level than at Layton Christian Academy.
The private school located on a scenic hillside has one of the most diverse student populations in the state. Many students come from other countries.
In most cases, international students coming to LCA have never played American football.
Of the American students who’ve played American football in the past, many have never played on the same little league or junior varsity team by the time they get to LCA.
Thus it is the ultimate melting pot and the ultimate experiment in getting a team to gel together. Fotu Katoa knows this and he’s jumping in headfirst.
“That combination there is very challenging. And a lot of these foreign kids coming in don’t know how to play football, but they’re phenomenal athletes,” Katoa, LCA's new head coach, said. “So if we can get them to learn basic fundamental football we’ll be able to challenge.”
The challenge he faces is, of course, the same as every other head coach in the school’s football history.
The big change to the program this year is Katoa's introduction after Dru Jones left to be head coach at Tooele.
Katoa played football at Ricks College and then Brigham Young University. He’s coached at the football camp level with Mountain West Elite and All Poly.
The Eagles will be his first foray into the high school head coaching ranks.
Katoa’s vision for the future of LCA football includes more local kids and a smaller reliance on international players. That will obviously take time, but he’s hopeful.
The Eagles have a solid group of returning players, Katoa says, plus the expected influx of international students who, like he says, may be athletic but just don’t know the intricacies of American football yet.
One such transformation story is lineman Cullen Naude, originally from Australia. Naude says he weighed 315 pounds last season and now is down to the 280 range as he hopes to play defensive end.
He played rugby league for his high school in Australia before moving to the United States last year.
“I fell in love with (American football) when I got here, it’s a technical sport, it’s aggressive, that’s what I like about it," Naude said. "There’s a lot to learn from football, it’s blessed me and my family so far, so I feel like I can go on a long journey with it.”
LCA returns its leading receiver in Ulric Sutton (363 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions on defense) and leading tackler Colter Wheelwright, who’s being moved to quarterback after Jaice Holt’s transfer to Ogden left the spot open.
There’s obviously a Dustin Moffo-sized hole on offense (he rushed for 1,789 yards and 14 scores last year) as well as defense (he had seven sacks), but Sutton says he’s confident the Eagles will be fine.
“We’re just going to be a high-scoring offense,” Sutton said after summer workouts one day in July.
Head coach Fotu Katoa is brand-new to the Layton Christian ranks. The Eagles are in a new classification (2A) and a new region (2A North) since the UHSAA disbanded 1A football in the latest realignment.
And there are more new coaches: Travis “Tra” Vendela (Clearfield’s offensive coordinator last year), David Putnam, Matt Coates, Akeem Briggs and Sam Russell. Charles Cook is the only returning coach.
Russell is technically new for this year but one might recall he was LCA’s first-ever football coach in 2004.
YOU BE THE JUDGE: The Week 2 meeting with Judge Memorial is the first-ever game between the two schools.
GOOD TIMING: LCA’s bye week comes on Sept. 27, right after a road game at Rich and right before consecutive long road trips to Duchesne (139 miles) and Monticello (312 miles).
LAYTON CHRISTIAN FACTS
2018 SEASON: 3-7, 1-3 1A North, lost to eventual state champion Milford 41-27 in the first round of the playoffs, which will likely be remembered as the Dustin Moffo game. The then-senior broke two single-game state records in that game with 57 rushing attempts for 467 yards.
2019 OPPOSITION RECORD: 32-64 (.333), including two teams — Judge Memorial and North Summit — that went winless last year, but usually that means those squads are marked for improvement.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ulric Sutton (WR/DB), Cullen Naude (OL/DL), Colter Wheelwright (QB), Armel Imena (WR/DB), Dominique Ramkison (WR), Faeamani Vaitaki (OL/DL).
STRENGTHS: Experience and athleticism.
WEAKNESSES: Inexperience and lack of exposure to American Football for many players.
RETURNING STARTERS: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense).
BASE OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Spread/Multiple fronts
BY THE NUMBERS
9: This season’s meeting with White Pine High in Ely, Nevada, will be the ninth game LCA has played against a school from the Pacific time zone.
15: years since LCA started playing football.
16.5: average yards per catch by Ulric Sutton last season.
Aug. 16: at Parowan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23: at White Pine (NV), 8 p.m.
Aug. 30: at Judge Memorial, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: North Summit*, 4 p.m.
Sept. 13: TBD
Sept. 20: at Rich*, 4 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Duchesne*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: at Monticello*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18: Gunnison Valley*, 4 p.m.
*2A North region game