By Lindsay Cronin
Photos by Kevin McInnis
The stands were full, the air smelled of freshly made concession treats, the temperature bitter, and the nerves high. The Juan Diego Catholic High School football team entered Stewart Stadium on campus at Weber State University to compete for the Utah state football championship for the first time in five years.
With a 12-1 record and an undefeated mark against Class 3A competition, the team had a lot to celebrate this season, even before it capped it off by taking the state title with a 28-13 win over Morgan Nov. 14. The teams had met earlier this year, with the Soaring Eagle winning by 14 points, but Juan Diego knew that Morgan would come out stronger than before.
The last time Morgan played in a championship game was 1997, when Juan Diego was not even open. John Colosimo, head coach of the Soaring Eagle, led the team to its sixth state championship in the school’s 16-year history. This feeling was a familiar one, but he said that each win is special.
“It’s always great, to end off the season with a great victory like that,” Colosimo said. “Which was good for the boys finishing off their dreams and their goals. It’s always a relief too because it’s like alright we’re done so I can take a deep breath and be able to relax now, but also be able to bask in the glory of a state championship.”
The team was led by captains Jorge Rico, Alex Hoffman and Blake Moore. With a two-running-back offense featuring junior Ryan Baker and Senior Kaden Hayward, the team excelled in the ground game, but Colosimo said the defense rose and shined through the playoffs, giving up few points and shutting teams down. Hayward was awarded Class 3A MVP at the end of the season, also capping off the success he had in his first, and last, year at Juan Diego.
Moore, who took on many roles, playing tight end, linebacker and long snapper his senior season, has been there since his freshman year He said he just wanted to win a championship.
“It’s undescribable, all the hard work we’ve put in, all the camaraderie we’ve had this season,” Moore said. “This year has been really great compared to last year and the feeling is just undescribable.”
The Soaring Eagle were ranked No. 1 in Class 3A all year long, and were favored to win the title the whole year, but Colosimo said he never puts too much consideration into rankings because it never takes the team into consideration.
“You had kids become good leaders, improve themselves as football players,” Colosimo said. “A lot of things had to happen for us to win that and they did, so that’s always gratifying.”
The team faced heavy criticism since this group of seniors’ freshman year. Many speculated then that they would become the worst team in school history. After a quarterfinal loss last year, the team was moved to Class 3A from 3AA as part of UHSAA realignment. Having been moved down, many people told them that they should have lobbied to stay in 3AA.
“I mean, even after we won they are still talking crap on us, like how we should be playing bigger schools and all that,” Moore said. “It’s much more rewarding knowing that we won and we can rub it in their faces.”
With the win, the team proved they could overcome the adversity they faced to show people the players created a good team.
“I think that’s the testament to those kids that they wanted to come out and show people they could be a good football team and rise up and be able to get the respect of everybody that they are a good football team,” Colosimo said.
The team finished the season 12-1. After beating West Jordan to start the season and pushing to a win in double overtime over Snow Canyon, it picked up its only loss in a game against Murray. The Soaring Eagle were undefeated in 3A play and were the featured Game of the Week on senior night game against Canyon View, taking that win in the last six seconds. The team took home the region championship before earning its spot in the championship game.
Along with a state title, Colosimo is celebrated his 203rd win. He is the only coach Juan Diego has ever had and he celebrated his success with the final win this season, making him one of the winningest coaches in Utah history.
“Winning 203 games was easy when I had the people I had to work with and the opportunity I had here at Juan Diego,” Colosimo said.
This year, the coach added to his abilities by creating reports for the players every week based on game film. Moore said that this game film helped the team and pushed them to a more elite level.
“I think coach John lost a lot more hair because he watched so much film,” Moore said. “They gave us really detailed scouting reports that put us in really good spots.”
After the championship game, as the team celebrated its win, it added to the tradition of writing on the coaches’ room’s ceiling, but Colosimo enjoyed watching the happiness of his players as they capped off the successful season.
“It was so much fun to see the joy and the laughter and how much fun they had and I was just so proud of them for what they had accomplished,” Colosimo said.
The team had 22 seniors this year, four of them new additions to not only the team but the school. Moore said the four new additions brought athleticism and gave the team an ability to make big plays while carrying the momentum through the game. Each senior class brings something new, and Colosimo will miss what this class brought to him.
“I think it’s individuals I’ll miss, the leadership that was provided by our outstanding captains,” Colosimo said. “I’ll miss their enthusiasm and love for the game but it’s always the next group of kids that come up and it’s always brand new and exciting to see what they can do.”
After the championship trophy was presented by principal Galey Colosimo, students in the stands rushed the field to join the team in the celebration.
The day before the game, a pep rally was held in the team’s honor. Coach Colosimo described what it meant to be a “Juan Diego.”
“I mean what’s a Juan Diego, it’s just a demonstration of the class that we have, I think that we were very classy in the victory both on the field and in the stands,” Coach Colosimo said. “They gave me a lot as players and they really tried to accomplish what we asked them to do. I love them to death and I’m so very grateful to have this chance to coach them.”