High school football: Brighton Bengals 2020 preview

Here’s an in-depth look at the Brighton Bengals football team heading into the 2020 season.

Note: Brighton finished with an 8-3 overall record in 2019 and was second in Region 6 with a 5-1 record. It was RPI seed No. 5 in the 5A playoffs and was eliminated by Orem 21-6 in second round.

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Certainly one of the more positive surprises in the entire state of Utah during the 2019 high school football season was the Brighton Bengals.

Over the previous three seasons, the Bengals had combined to win just 10 games, including only two in 2018. With new head coach Justin Hemm taking over, it appeared Brighton could be in for a rebuild of difficult magnitude.

But the Bengals started 2019 by winning their first two games and were a solid 3-2 halfway through the regular season. Over the second half of the campaign, they took the success to another level, winning five straight before facing juggernaut Orem in the second round of the playoffs and falling.

“I give a lot of credit mostly to the kids,” Hemm said. “Their consistency, their work ethic, holding one another accountable, those things go a long way. As coaches we can scream and yell and coach and preach all we want, but when things really start to change is when players start to hold each other accountable.”

As the 2020 season gets set to start, not only has a foundation for success largely been laid, but there will be a bunch of key players returning on both sides of the ball, including Power Five-quality linebacker Lander Barton, quarterback and leading rusher Gabe Curtis, a couple of other skill position players, a bunch of offensive linemen and a couple of other starters on each level of the defense.

Hemm made it clear the expectations are high.

“Last year, we set that foundation and we showed that we could compete,” he said. “Our big thing this year is to take that next step. We don’t want to just compete, but we want to now establish ourselves as one of those elite teams, and not just for one year, but to do this on a yearly basis.”

Brighton Bengals at a glance

Hemm’s thoughts on how his players dealt with the COVID-19 adversity in the spring and summer:

“We’ve managed and tried to make the most of it. Really the biggest thing that we’ve missed is the weight room, but it is what it is. We were able to do a variety of other things that we feel will get our kids in the best shape for hopefully a 14, 15-week season.”

Brighton offensive snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Justin Hemm

2019 offense: 30.9 (sixth in 5A)

2019 offensive statistics
  • Eight returning starters
  • Spread offense
Returning offensive starters
  • Gabe Curtis (QB)
  • Owen Powers (RB)
  • Collin Edwards (WR)
  • Jake Reece (OL)
  • Carson Constancia (OL)
  • Nate Vyfvinkel (OL)
  • Cole Casto (OL)
  • Kabe Merhish (TE)
Offensive newcomers to watch
  • Bingham Zollinger (WR)
  • Carter Budge (WR)
  • Tanner Newitt (WR)
  • Dante McMaster (WR)
  • Israel Moeai (WR)
Hemm’s keys for offensive success in 2020:

“Usually when we say ‘stay healthy,’ it’s just from a physical football aspect, but this year adds a different dynamic.”

Brighton defensive snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Kirk Merhish

2019 defense: 16.6 ppg (sixth in 5A)

2019 defensive statistics
  • Seven returning starters
  • 4-3 defense
Returning defensive starters
  • Orlando Martinez (DB)
  • Mason Young (DB)
  • Lander Barton (LB)
  • Nick Hagman (LB)
  • Grant Raddon (DL)
  • Andonios Dounias (DL)
  • Kabe Merhish (DL)
Defensive newcomers to watch
  • Tanner Church (DB)
  • Aiden Bruce (DB)
  • Sean Wright (DB)
  • Coden Spinks (DB)
  • Walker Harris (DB)
Coach Hemm’s keys for defensive success in 2020:

“You might be missing this player, this player, this player, so to me that’s the hugest thing, is maintaining health, and it’s going to be easier said than done.”

Deseret News outlook for 2020

After coming out of nowhere in 2019, can Brighton prove in 2020 that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan? Hemm is certainly saying the right things to give the impression that he’ll truly be able to turn the Bengals into a perennial contender once again. With the returning production it has, there’s good reason to believe Brighton can be elite this year, although the program under Hemm is still unknown enough to say the Bengals are an absolute lock for great success.

Felt’s Facts for Brighton

  • All-time record: 370-199-2 (51 years)

  • Region championships: 16 (1977 co, 1978, 1979, 1981 co, 1982, 1986, 1988 co, 1992, 1995 co, 1996 co, 1997, 2000 co, 2001, 2002 co, 2004, 2005 co)

  • Playoff appearances: 37
  • All-time playoff record: 40-36
  • State championships: 1 (1982)

  • State championship record: 1-4

  • Most played rivalry: 47 meetings with Bingham dating back to 1969. Brighton leads 28-17-1.

Last five seasons

  • 2019 — 8-3 (5-1 in Region 6 — 5A second round)
  • 2018 — 2-8 (1-4 in Region 7 — missed playoffs)
  • 2017 — 5-5 (1-4 in Region 7 — missed playoffs)
  • 2016 — 3-6 (2-4 in Region 3 — missed playoffs)
  • 2015 — 7-4 (4-2 in Region 3 — 5A first round)

Brighton coaching history

  • 2019-current — Justin Hemm (8-3)
  • 2018 — Rafe Maughan (2-8)
  • 2006-2017 — Ryan Bullett (65-55)
  • 1999-2005 — Tom Cushing (69-17)
  • 1988-98 — Lynn Freestone (90-33)
  • 1978-87 — Steve Dangerfield (70-32) *one state title
  • 1974-77 — Unknown (21-19)
  • 1970-73 — Rex Wright (19-19)
  • 1969 — Dean Stringham (1-8)

Brighton All-State at-a-glance

Deseret News Mr. Football recipients the past 10 years
  • 2015 — Simi Fehoko, WR
Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years
  • 2019 — Lander Barton, OLB
  • 2019 — Owen Smith, PK
  • 2017 — Justen Smith, K
  • 2015 — Sione Lund, RB
  • 2014 — Simi Fehoko, WR
  • 2014 — Osa Masina, LB
  • 2014 — Cody Barton, DB
  • 2013 — Osa Masina, RB

  • 2013 — Jackson Barton, OL

  • 2013 — Tyson Aldridge, OL

  • 2013 — Isaiah Kaufusi, LB

  • 2012 — Jackson Barton, OL