Note: Millard finished with a 5-5 overall record in 2013 and was third in 2A North with a 4-2 record. It lost to South Sevier 27-26 in the 2A first round.
FILLMORE — During almost every workout, weightlifting session or practice since January, Millard’s coaches have reminded their players about the disappointment of 2013.
They’re reminded about being shut out by rival Delta, about losing at home to American Leadership, about getting crushed by South Summit 43-0 and as a result of all of that, failing to advance to the 2A quarterfinals for the first time in 19 years.
“We’ve had long discussions of why this happened, what causes it. What we need to do is fix it. Everything we thought was broken is an emphasis to fix right now,” said Millard coach Marshall Sheriff.
Millard went into last season with region title expectations, and despite some early lumps everyone involved with the program was feeling good heading into Week 9 against South Summit riding a four-game winning streak.
The Wildcats, however, provided a massive wake-up call that’s still serving as motivation.
“We always felt we were this close from being a great football team, but for some reason we could never put it all together. It just seemed like the bigger the game, the worse we played,” said Sheriff. “Because that happened they’re really motivated to work hard and play hard, and we’re a little more family-oriented and closer.”
Over half of last year’s starters are back this season, and they’re hungry to make amends.
“It was definitely a disappointing year last year. All the seniors that we have returning this year we’ve been working really hard in the offseason. We plan to come back and have a lot stronger year,” said Millard quarterback Skyler Cranney.
There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, particularly offensively.
With only one starter returning on the offensive line, not surprisingly this year’s group has been very inconsistent.
Sheriff likes to recount a sequence at team camp in mid-July in which he called the same play four times in a row. The line blocked it incorrectly the first three times, but when it finally executed it correctly the fourth time, Millard’s running back ran for 30 yards.
“I keep telling my kids, when we do our assignments right good things happen,” said Sheriff. “Even though they were good JV linemen, it’s going to take them time to get the speed of varsity.”
It’s going to be trial by fire the first two weeks of the season as Millard travels to 3A programs Juab and Delta. The Eagles may be 0-2 after those two games, but if they’re trending in the right direction those early challenges may prove to be a good thing.
The experience that Millard lacks on the offensive line, it makes up for with its skill position players.
Along with Cranney, Gerardo Ruvalcaba returns at fullback, Derek Brunson is back at running back, Paco Alcala is back at receiver, and Austin Wardle returns as a dual-threat player at receiver or running back.
Sheriff wants to see Cranney take a big step offensively in his second year under center.
“He’s kind of a double threat, which we haven’t had for a couple years. He has decent speed and can get to the edge and we want him to become a run threat,” said Sheriff.
Sheriff believes Cranney is the best running threat Millard’s had at quarterback since Grant Barber back in 2007. Barber only ran for 319 yards that season, but he was a threat to run that defenses had to respect.
On the other side of the ball, Millard must prove it can stop the run. South Summit torched Millard for 411 rushing yards in the 43-0 victory last season.