Note: Morgan finished with a 9-3 overall record in 2013 and second in 3A North with a 4-1 record. It lost to Manti 36-28 in 3A semifinals.
MORGAN — No coach is naive enough to think summer seven-on-seven success guarantees success when the pads are strapped on.
However, it can certainly put a coach at ease. That’s exactly what happened to Morgan coach Kovi Christiansen in June when his team finished second in the small-school division at the seven-on-seven Ute Shoot.
With only two returning starters from last year’s semifinal team, Christiansen went into the summer with absolutely no idea what to expect. The Ute Shoot answered a lot of questions.
“That was kind of a pleasant surprise to all of us to see how they stepped it up and responded. The biggest question I had going into the spring was how they’d compete and that kind of opened my eyes a little bit,” said Christiansen. “We have some good kids that want to compete and want to earn a spot.”
Based on that personnel, the Trojans’ double wing-T offense will have a slightly different look. The past few years the Trojans have been more of a power run team that operated between the tackles with conviction, but this season speed will be their calling card.
“Both of them you could play a game of tag in a silo I couldn’t touch them. They’re both quick and have great moves. That’s kind of exciting to have speed like that in our backfield,” said Christiansen.
If the offensive line can help the duo get to the edge, along with returning starter Jake Peterson, Morgan’s offense could thrive. That’s assuming five brand-new offensive line starters reach their potential.
Christiansen is confident his new coaching staff will make it happen. Offensive line coach Chad Crossley is being joined on the staff this year by former BYU linebacker Bryan Kehl and former Utah offensive lineman Max Peterson — who was Alex Smith’s center. Both live in Morgan and are helping out the football program, specifically the offensive and defensive line.
“I basically have three coaches who have a lot of experience and know what they’re doing and think they’ll get them ready,” said Christiansen.
It’s only fitting Morgan has an ex-Ute lineman on staff, because the team it’s chasing in the 3A North region — Judge Memorial — has one as well. Luther Elliss, a former defensive lineman, has helped coach the Bulldogs for the past several years since his sons started playing for the program.
Defending 3A state champion Judge is the team everyone is gunning for again, and Morgan is no different. It played Judge close for three quarters in the regular-season finale last year but eventually lost 28-14.
“You’ve got to go into it looking as they’re the team beat every year 'cause they’re different every year. You never know who you’re going to be playing. You’ve got to prepare the best you can,” said Christiansen.
Morgan hosts Judge in Week 10 again this year, and if the newcomers find their groove early in the season the showdown could be for the region title yet again.
That likelihood may depend on how the quarterback position shakes out. Christiansen is leaning toward going with a two-quarterback system between running QB Nick Porter and passing QB Tyler Kelsey. Both can handle the other aspects of the position, but their coach said they’re clearly better at their own strengths.
The coaching staff will see how preseason games the first two weeks go against Delta and South Summit before committing to anything, but being unpredictable certainly is intriguing.
Morgan Trojans at a glance
Coach: Kovi Christiansen is entering his eighth season as Morgan’s head coach with a career coaching record of 54-27. He’s a graduate of Lovell High in Wyoming.
(2 returning starters; Double wing-T offense)
Running back Jake Peterson and wide receiver Bridger Streadbeck are the only starters that return from last year’s semifinal team that lost to Manti. And even then, they were mild contributors with 315 combined yards of total offense and four TDs. Both will be asked to take on larger leadership roles to bring the newcomers along. Spencer Larsen and Chez Stout are speedy running backs expected to fill the graduation void, while Tyler Kelsey and Nick Porter could both get playing time at QB as they try and replace Ben Saunders. The big question offensively is on the offensive line with five new starters.
(2 returning starters)
Defensive back Peterson and defensive end Streadbeck are the only returning starters, but a couple others got notable varsity time and are anxious for their varsity starting duties. Kaleb Schlichte rotated in at defensive end on occasion while Wyatt Ekblad saw a fair amount of time at defensive tackle. Jarred Carrigan is another big body who will contribute to the defensive front. The linebacker position will be entirely new this year, and the coaching staff will use the preseason to get the right players in the right positions. In the secondary, Larsen and Porter are athletic players who could be real assets.
Coaches preseason 3A North straw poll: Second
Deseret News 3A North prediction: Second
Bottom line: Being so senior-heavy last year was always going to set this year’s team back a bit, but that should only last a week or two. Morgan is a tradition-rich program that consistently puts a winner out year after year, and 2014 should be no different. Now whether that means this team wins seven games or 10 games remains to be seen, but the potential is there. If things come together as the coaching staff hopes, the schedule is certainly favorable for the Trojans to claim the 3A North title with home games against both Grantsville and Judge Memorial.
Morgan coaching history
2007-current — Kovi Christiansen (54-27)
1997-2006 — Renn Hoopes (81-33)
1994-1996 — Mike Grajek (19-10)
1990-1993 — Blaine Monkres (32-9)
1988-1989 — Steve Coburn (13-6)
1985-1987 — Jan Smith (113-59-1)
1984 — Dave Christiansen (5-4)
1972-1983 — Jan Smith (113-59-1)
1971 — Richard Rodak (3-6-1)
1969-1970 — Brent Thorne (9-11)
1967-1968 — Joe Dilworth (11-7-1)
1962-1966 — Bob Wilson (15-24)
1961 — Bob Wilson/Don Johnson (2-6)
1958-1960 — Don Johnson/Don Guest (7-11-1)
1957 — Jack Raymond (0-6)
1950-1956 — Kent Murdock (12-19-1)
1949 — Tally Stevens (3-3-1)
1947-1948 — Garth Bellston (10-3-4)
1946 — Francis Porter (5-4-1)
1941-1945 — Fred Bohman (8-22-1)
1939-1940 — Bill Cowley (10-2-2)
1929-1938 — Wes Schwab (19-24-3)
1928 — I.L. Peterson (1-2-1)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2013 — Kade Carrigan, RB
2013 — Kyle Stapley, OL
2012 — Lantzen Toomer, Specialist
2011 — Boston Saunders, DL
2010 — Tad Sargent, RB
2009 — Jordan Wamsley, SP
2008 — Jake Kinsey, DB
2008 — Chad Crossley, OL
2005 — Alan Tucker, QB
2005 — Mike Rose, DB
2004 — Derek Wiscombe, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.