We’re going to be better in our run game than we were last year. Concept-wise, we are doing some good stuff with our schemes. —Mike Richmond
Note: Murray finished with a 1-8 overall record in 2013 and was seventh in Region 7 with an 0-6 record. It failed to qualify for the 4A playoffs.
MURRAY — For the first time in three seasons as head coach of Murray High, Mike Richmond feels his squad is finally ready to start making some noise.
“We’ve got high expectations this year,” Richmond said. “No longer is the goal to be competitive and to try to stay in games; we are looking to win our games this year.”
Plagued by injuries and a lack of experience and leadership, Murray has won just one game in each of its last two seasons.
Starting quarterback Riley Richmond’s shoulder injury from last year’s season opener that caused him to miss the majority of the 2013 campaign seems to have fully healed, and Coach Richmond is really pleased with his progress thus far.
“He’s looking really good,” Richmond said of his starting QB. “He’s fully recovered from his shoulder injury; he’s healthy; and we are looking at moving him around to a lot of different positions this year.”
With a fully healthy and experienced team that has a total of 14 starters returning (seven on offense, seven of defense), the Spartans may have finally found the right pieces to put together a successful and winning season.
“Last year, we only had six seniors on our football team and 20-25 sophomores. Flash-forward to this year, I’ve got two sophomores on our varsity roster and the rest are all juniors and seniors,” said Richmond. “So the experience level with guys coming back is going to be one of our strengths as a football team.”
With the hiring of a new offensive coordinator and the experience of their impressive offensive line, the Spartans are hoping to make more of an impact on the offensive side of the ball, especially in the run game.
“We’re going to be better in our run game than we were last year. Concept-wise, we are doing some good stuff with our schemes,” Richmond said of his team’s run game.
Murray will continue to run its spread offense and a lot of its schemes will be the same despite the change in offensive coordinators. However, Richmond is confident his team will drastically improve its execution on offense this year.
“We’re optimistic; we have a new offensive and defensive coordinator with us this year, and our kids are really grasping the new concepts,” said Richmond. “We’re really excited about what we’ve got going on.”
Acord led the Spartans with 60 tackles and two sacks last year, while Aloi recorded a team-high six sacks and added 33 tackles, and Tupai contributed 38 tackles, four sacks and one interception to lead Murray’s solid defense.
On the offensive side, Mitch Rasmussen, 2013’s Region 7 Special Teams MVP, is set to return and should provide some exciting returns in special teams, along with some explosive speed and athleticism as a wide receiver.
“He’s fantastic. He’s done a great job. He’ll probably be the smallest guy on the field every night, but I’ll tell you what, he’s as tough as they come. He’s quick, and his ability to cut and change directions makes him extremely slippery,” Richmond said of his breakout special teams star.
Overall, the Spartans' experience on the field and overall good health should provide them with enough weapons to improve significantly and compete in a very competitive Region 7.
Richmond stressed the importance of the maturity and growth of this squad, and truly believes his players are finally ready to compete after a couple of single-win seasons.
“The learning curve has been so much smaller this year because the kids have been out there,” Richmond said of his more experienced roster. “Getting under the lights on Friday nights isn’t going to be that new thing that our guys went through last year. Now they’re getting into their prime, their bodies are maturing, and they are all juniors and seniors who have paid the price. So we’re looking for good things to happen this year.”
Murray Spartans at a glance
Coach: Mike Richmond is in his third year as the head coach at Murray. The University of Utah alum is just 2-17 as the Spartans’ head coach and will look to have his first winning season at Murray this year.
(7 returning starters; Spread offense)
The team will be led by dual-threat quarterback Riley Richmond and will continue to run the spread offense. Out of the backfield, Ashton Hagen and Taylor Liston are expected to get the bulk of the load, as they combined for 142 carries and 643 yards but scored just three touchdowns last season.
Crossing the pylons and limiting turnovers are the two main components Litson is really focusing on coming into the new season, seeing as his team-high 374 yards never resulted in six points.
“Our expectations are to get the ball downfield and score,” Litson said. “We need to make sure we hold onto the ball and don’t drop the thing, and hopefully, that will lead to some touchdowns (for me).”
The Spartans will also look to fellow Region 7 Special Teams MVP Mitch Rasmussen for a spark of speed and athleticism outside as a wide receiver. Any time Rasmussen possesses the ball, he is a legitimate threat to take it to the house.
“He’s going to have a great year and will be key in our kicking game and with what we’re doing offensively,” Richmond said. “He will be somebody we will really try to feature with the ball in his hands.”
(7 returning starters)
Treven Aloi, Maxs Tupai and Brock Acord will obviously be the main components of the Spartans’ defense and will be heavily relied on as leaders of this team.
Aloi, who will start at nose tackle, will allow Murray to look at both a three-man and a four-man front and will anchor those A-gaps.
“We are trying to play to the strength of our players. With Aloi, Tupai, Acord, and our other four returning starters on defense, we’ve got guys who know what they’re doing,” Richmond said of his defense. “And now we’re able to customize our defense to kind of play to the strengths of our guys.”
Mason Burnett will also line up at linebacker, while Ashton Hagen might also see action on the defensive side as a defensive back, alongside starter Zach Wells (DB).
Coaches preseason Region 7 straw poll: Seventh
Deseret News Region 7 prediction: Seventh
Bottom line: With a more experienced roster set to return alongside a healthy quarterback, there’s no doubt this year’s squad will enjoy more success than it has in the last two years.
With a powerful and experienced offensive and defensive line, the Spartans’ run game should be more explosive and effective than it has been in recent years.
While four of Murray’s all-region returning starters are very reliable, most of the team’s skill players are fairly untested. The defense has the potential to be one of the best in its region, especially its line.
Murray will improve from last year and have some success, but will not contend for a region title in a talent-packed Region 7. It shouldn’t be expected to be seen in the playoffs just yet, either.
“The playoffs are our goal, and not just a one-and-out, we want to get deep. But again, we’re realistic in that we are in a very tough region,” Richmond said of Murray’s goals this season. “We recognize where we are at, but we also like our chances just given the fact that our kids have been in our system and have matured and gotten bigger. It’s going to be tough, but that’s what we have our sights set on.”
Murray coaching history
2012-current — Mike Richmond (2-17)
2007-2011 — Dan Aragon (8-39)
2003-2006 — George Georgelas (18-24)
2002 — Wes Meier (2-8)
1988-2001 — Wade Meier (63-80)
1984-1987 — Dale Pehrson (10-28)
1981-1982 — Gene McKeehan (5-11)
1974-1980 — Ron Haun (44-19)
1972-1973 — Dan Slaugh (6-12-1)
1970-1971 — Gene McKeehan (8-10)
1969 — Jerry Saffell (3-6)
1968 — Rex Wright (4-4-1)
1965-1967 — Joe Hansen (8-19-1)
1964 — Wayne Reid (0-7-1)
1963 — Bill Dickey (2-6-1)
1956-1962 — Ray Oliverson (24-34-4)
1949-1955 — Allan Davis (36-27)
1948 — Ken Farrell (5-2)
1945-1947 — unknown (6-13-1)
1942-1944 — Verl Meyrick (7-14-2)
1937-1941 — Paul Rose (18-20)
1933-1936 — Gil Soesinger (16-12-3)
1932 — unknown (3-4)
1931 — Mr. Swenson (3-4-1)
1920-1930 — unknown (23-27-5)
1919 — W.L. Gardner (2-4-1)
1916 — unknown (0-3)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2006 — James Aiono, DL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sportswriter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724