Note: Park City finished with a 3-8 overall record in 2013 and was fourth in 3AA North with a 3-3 record. It lost to Cedar 23-13 in the 3A first round.
PARK CITY — When Mike Shepherd took over the Park City football coaching job last season after an eight-year absence, he had grand plans to get the program back on track.
He had no idea it would take so long.
“We actually never caught up where I thought we were going to be. That for me was very disappointing,” said Shepherd.
Circumstances certainly played a factor. The most gut-wrenching was the death of assistant coach Aaron Alford, who suffered a heart attack the first practice of the season. The sting of that death resonated throughout the season.
Other circumstances — like moving games and practices because of construction on Park City’s new track, or just poor practice habits from the previous coaching staff — all contributed to a 3-8 record.
A year later, Shepherd believes he’s got the program headed in the right direction. Don’t be mistaken, this team is still young and will rely on plenty of sophomores and juniors, but they’re more equipped physically to compete at the varsity level.
“We’ve had an offseason with the kids. We’ve had a spring and summer camp. My expectations are high. I’m not saying we’re going to be the best team in our classification, but certainly we are dramatically improved from last year,” said Shepherd.
There were games last season Shepherd said he went into feeling sorry for his players, particularly his undersized sophomores. They just got pummeled. In the last three games of the regular season Park City lost to Bear River 62-13, Stansbury 42-7 and Juan Diego 52-7.
Even though it followed those up with a respectable 23-13 loss to Cedar in the first round of the 3AA playoffs, it was a very frustrating final month of the season.
The players committed themselves to the weight room this offseason to help atone for those embarrassing losses.
“Those young guys have worked really, really hard this offseason. They’ve put on muscle and a little bit of weight so they can compete against those older kids,” said Park City senior quarterback Ian Moritz. “All summer long I’ve been asking myself, 'Why not us?' You never know, we could step up and have a great year.”
Moritz was a Deseret News second-team all-state safety last year, and big things are expected of him on both sides of the ball. He’s coming off a season in which he recorded 51 tackles and three interceptions defensively to go along with 1,300 passing yards and 498 rushing yards.
“He loves football, it seems the best kids playing football always love playing. They educate themselves, they naturally pick up the nuances of the game,” said Shepherd.
“The kids really respect him, he’s a hard worker. He’s not a prima donna at all. He’s one of those kids who will stick his nose in the dirt and get down and dirty with everybody. He’s a great kid to have as a leader.”
Moritz’s infectious work ethic has helped Shepherd change the mentality of the football program he inherited.
“We’re trying to install a positive attitude, every minute of every practice of every game. When a program is down, there’s typically a lot of negativity that goes with it. We’ve worked really hard to try and keep everybody positive,” said Shepherd. “Once you’ve got people being positive all kinds of other things work out that were problems previously, the work ethic, the motivation, all those other things fall into place.”