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Note: Gunnison finished with a 2-7 overall record and was seventh in the 2A North region with a 1-7 record in 2011. It did not qualify for the 2A playoffs.
GUNNISON — With Gunnison only trailing eventual 2A champion Manti 17-14 just before halftime in last year’s Week 4 meeting, coach Yori Ludvigson couldn’t help but feel Gunnison was on the precipice of turning the corner on a history of futility.
At that exact moment, if you had told Ludvigson that things would quickly spiral downward and his Bulldogs wouldn’t win a game the rest of the season, he would’ve said you were nuts.
Three minutes later when halftime arrived, five of Gunnison’s best players were injured. They each missed a minimum of three games, and the Bulldogs never recovered losing their final six games. It marked Gunnison’s sixth straight losing season, and the 21st in the school’s 23-year football history.
“It’s kind of always been a Gunnison thing. It’s Gunnison — we’re never going to be good,” said Taylor Anderson about the mentality of the team throughout the skid.
Changing that losing mentality has been Ludvigson’s top priority since taking over the program prior to the 2010 season. After a difficult first season, Ludvigson genuinely thought Gunnison was poised to compete for a playoff spot in 2011.
Injuries and a defeatist attitude creeping back in to the players’ minds derailed those hopes.
As the team prepares for the 2012 season, Ludvigson has spent much of the summer convincing his players they have what it takes to win.
“Mentally they have to realize, 'Don’t live in the past. Go win. Go play. You have as much right, and you’ve worked as hard as Millard or anyone else,'” said Ludvigson.
His players have bought into that notion, and now it’s a matter of staying healthy and going out and taking care of business beginning Aug. 17 at South Sevier.
Gunnison returns four starters on offense and defense, and Utah State commit Braden Harris will anchors things on both sides of the ball.
At fullback last season, Harris led the team with modest rushing stats (393 yards, two TDs) despite only playing offense in five games because of a hand injury. He’ll be counted on for greater production in the spread offense.
Outside linebacker is his bread and butter though, and is the reason the Aggies recruited him. A Deseret News First Team All-Stater last year, Harris racked up 88 tackles despite routine double teams — not to mention teams running away from him.
“He shut down half the field and everyone went away from him. He should do a lot more this year. He knows a lot more and we have more support for him this year. He should play well,” said Ludvigson.
The Bulldogs used five different linebackers opposite Harris last year, but none of the five made their mark and Gunnison struggled mightily to keep teams from moving the ball on the ground.
“That was the problem last year — we couldn’t stop the run,” said Ludvigson. “If you don’t stop the run, you don’t win. You’re dead meat.”
Offensively, moving the ball on the ground and taking pressure off first-year starting quarterback Taylor Anderson is just as important. Even though he’s a senior, Anderson only started four games at quarterback in JV ball last season after getting hurt.