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Cottonwood Heights Journal

The makings of the 1982 Brighton Football championship

Jan 05, 2023 10:44AM ● By Jerry Christensen

Forty years later at Freestone Field at halftime in October 2022 the 1982 championship team is honored. From L to R: Darrin West, Doug Lee, Troy Campbell, Bart Packer, Jeff Housley, Dave Blonquist, Ty McRae (standing in for his deceased father, Kip McRae), Chris Stackhouse, Ryan Schmidt, Lance Thaxton and Steve Sutton. The team will be gathered again at Homecoming 2023 to be feted by the annual gathering of the BHS alumni. (Photo by Christine Yee)

Forty years ago, Brighton High School athletics accomplished a feat that the school hasn’t been able to quite repeat. It won its first, and only, football state championship. It’s a strange thing, seeing the football trophy surrounded by a record 120 other state championship trophies that the school has garnered in other sports. That 40-year-old trophy represents a moment, a history, an era.  

Speaking of stranger things, think back to the early ’80s—MTV, Ronald Reagan, “Poltergeist” and the newly released anthem “Eye of the Tiger” from the movie “Rocky III.” This song, which the team adopted, continues to be the run-out music for all Brighton teams and the Brighton home venues are known as “the Jungle.” This was the era of a core group of Brighton football players who had been playing and winning together since they were 8 years old.  

The team was guided by an exceptional coach, Steven Dangerfield. Dangerfield is a Green Beret Vietnam veteran who brought unity, grit and resolve to Brighton’s gridiron. He brought two of his star players to his coaching from a championship he coached at Viewmont High in the early ’70s—Larry Wall and Lynn Freestone. Wall went on to coach at Bountiful High for 30 years but he recalls the Brighton championship as “an unmatched collection of players with heart like I have never experienced.” 

Doug Lee, who joined the cadre in his senior year as a new move in from Texas, remembers being underwhelmed by the contrast between his Texas football and the Brighton stadium that “had no AstroTurf nor even stadium lights.” However, his opinion of Brighton football changed when the calm and cool Dangerfield would methodically break down opponents and plays instead of drift into tirades as was his experience with coaches in Texas. Coach Freestone took over as head coach for Brighton Football until an accident took his life in 1999. The Brighton stadium has since then been known as Freestone Field in his honor.

The 1982 football season kicked off with a tragedy. Teammate Troy Caldwell, the newly elected senior class president, and his girlfriend Tami Hill were hit by a drunk driver at 700 East and 3900 South and killed. The team dedicated the season to Caldwell and wore his number 83. Down by three points in a game against rival Hillcrest, Dave Blonquist, a team captain, remembers, “I told the team in the huddle that we needed to get the ball back and win the game for Troy.” They team responded, won the game and continued to win every other game that season including a 41-0 blowout win against a highly ranked Bonneville Lakers team in the state championship final. Stranger things.

Oddly, Brighton High School sits atop a sandbar created by ancient Lake Bonneville. In 1982, the east-west facing football field ended 50 yards from the sand pits that precipitously dropped into Willow Creek valley. “The Pit,” as it became known, was a ritual, end-of-practice drill that had the team plunge down the steep sand and then sprint back to the top—sometimes multiple times. It was enjoyed by none but revered by many. John Cougar Mellencamp’s 1982 hit single “Hurts So Good” likely was side A on many a Sony Walkman. The Pit became a source of endurance and symbol of team pride. As the team began to tick off the undefeated season against higher ranked opponents, the players pointed to the Pit as a difference maker. Lance Thaxton recalls, “We brought a jar of the Bonneville sand to Rice-Eccles Stadium as a reminder of all our hard work during the season.”

What was it that caused this cohort to pull together and make such an historic feat for Brighton?  The history of Brighton football is highlighted with standout players who knocked out post high school honors and proper NFL careers. Brighton has had undefeated regular seasons as late at 2021. The program has had outstanding seasons with teams headlined by Reno Mahe, Bryan Kehl, Mike Hague, Sean Hagen, Simi Fehoko, Jackson Barton, Cody Barton and Lander Barton. But 1982 stands alone as the one season when Brighton Football stood supreme. Dave Blonquist, a team captain that year and designated “team historian” claims, “It was a team of destiny after the tragedy with Troy Caldwell.”  

Dick Ball, longtime Brighton athletic director, suggests, “The Brighton student body is unique in its quest for excellence—academic, artistic or athletic. Individuals find fertile ground in the Brighton environment to grow and blossom. We won our fair share of team sport championships, but we dominated in ‘Olympic’ sports where individuals showcased their skills—tennis, wrestling, gymnastics.”  

Robert Sproul, former BHS principal and ardent BHS sports enthusiast, adds, “The Brighton students are high achievers who can do anything they put their minds to. Brighton Football has been in the finals multiple times and, but for key injuries, would have multiple state titles.” In addition to Brighton’s 120 state titles there are 70 second-place trophies which also adorn the Hall of Champions at the new Brighton—five of those are for football finalists. 

Steve Sutton modestly suggests that “the team of 1982 had no super stars—no 1,000-yard rushers, no 3,000-yard passers. What we had was each other. We were a team built on great coaching and hard work.” 

Truth be told, the 1982 team was packed with defensive talent. While the offense averaged only 22 points a game, the stout defense had many shutouts and many fourth down stands at the goal line. They held opponents to an astoundingly five point per game average. 

“There were games where the defense outscored the offense,” recalls defenseman Dave Petersen. In fact, Petersen in his own right might be known as a Brighton unicorn having earned seven state championships as a Bengal athlete (one in football, two as a rare two-time state wrestling champion and four with the Brighton wrestling team. He wrestled varsity at 119 pounds as a freshman). This team of “no super star” knocked out seven all-state honors including 4A MVP (Chris Moore), Class 4A First Team (Steve Sutton, Dave Petersen, Dave Blonquist) and Class 4A Second Team (Darren Fortie, Lance Thaxton, Mike Dobecki). Seven of the team went on to play college football (Chris Moore at the University of Utah and Iowa State, Steve Sutton at the University of Utah and Ole Miss, Mike Dobecki at Dixie State, Troy Campbell at Dixie State, Lance Thaxton at Dixie State, Darren Fortie at BYU and Dave Blonquist at Dixie State).  

Chris Stackhouse remembers the team as “all about the relationships. To this day, 40 years later, it is about the guys, the connection we still have. These guys are some of the best people I know.”