FILLMORE Losing two straight state championship games has a way of messing with a coach's mind.
"You wonder if you went too hard, you wonder if you didn't push them enough," said Millard coach Marshall Sheriff. "Did we feed them right before the game? Mentally did we not get them in the right position to play?"
In the 2A title game in 2006, Millard was blanked by San Juan. A year later, the Eagles were manhandled from the opening whistle in a humbling 30-6 loss to North Summit.
Sheriff still hasn't watched film of the 2007 loss, and a year later he's aware that his team has a slightly more fragile mentality than most teams.
"It's a little of both. I think our seniors got a feel for what it's like to be in the big show, but whether or not they do what it takes to get there again is going to be based on their leadership once we get playing," said Sheriff.
That's a bizarre notion for a team with a 19-5 combined record the last two years, but a pair of gut-wrenching championship losses will have that effect on a team.
In some small way, this year's Millard team might be more suited to get the job done.
Sheriff doesn't question whether his players the last two years wanted to win, but there was an intangible missing, a sense that they were going to do whatever was necessary to win. He believes that's how North Summit played in last year's championship game, but his players didn't match it.
With the fresh taste of defeat in its mouth, this year's Millard team might possess that missing intangible.
"This team, they're kind of bigger jerks, which can sometimes pay off," said Sheriff. "I had a really good, nice team last year, they did everything we asked. This team tends more to fight in the halls. They're just a little different, more of a high-maintenance team, which when it gets right down and dirty sometimes isn't bad."
He said he doesn't want his players turning into thugs, but it's OK if they get a little salty and mean when push comes to shove on the gridiron. That's the challenge, though.
"If we can convert that over to football, we're definitely a contender," said Sheriff. "Every senior team has a personality; these guys have a lot different personality than my team last year. As coaches, you find out what makes them strong and then build around that."
Millard enters the 2008 season ranked third in Class 2A in the coaches preseason rankings and is the favorite in the 2A South region.The Eagles are hoping to claim their first football state title since the 2001 season.
2A SOUTH PROJECTIONS
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. MILLARD: After coming up short two straight years, the Eagles are hoping to take the next step this year. Running back Clancy Mortensen was having an MVP-type season last year before Millard succumbed to North Summit in the championship game. He'll have a huge line blocking in front of him, one of the biggest in recent memory, according to coach Marshall Sheriff. Tony Ruvaigaba, Sergio Pedroza and Justin Dickins will anchor that line. Corwin Chlarson and Rendon Shields will be key contributors at running back as well. 2007 RECORD: 12-1. PLAYOFFS: Lost to North Summit in state championship game.
2. SAN JUAN: The Broncos had a tough go of it in 2007, but they pushed eventual 2A champ North Summit to the brink in the quarterfinals before losing 21-14. With five starters back on each side of the ball, there's reason to be excited for San Juan. Leading the way for San Juan is running back Kohler Black, who rushed for 1,032 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior last year. His success will depend on how well an inexperienced line develops in the preseason according to coach Monty Lee. 2007 RECORD: 6-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the quarterfinals.
3. RICHFIELD: Last year was an up-and-down season for the Wildcats, but ended badly with a 34-9 loss to South Summit in the quarterfinals. Things are looking up this season, though, with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Leading the way is senior quarterback Travis Tuttle, who passed for 1,300 yards last season. Two other seniors, running back Zach Cropper and receiver JD Michaelsen, make a solid core of skill position players. To be successful, though, first-year coach Corey Morrison said he'll need a couple of young lineman to step it up. 2007 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the quarterfinals.
4. GRAND: This team could be pretty good if things fall into place, according to coach Dennis Wells. The offensive line will average 254 pounds, with seniors Dan Simpson, Tony Cassart, Shane Yuhas and Ryan Burraston occupying four of the five spots. All four will see time on the defensive line as well, which should give the Red Devils a formidable front four defensively. Austin Brewer will start at quarterback after spending his junior year at wide receiver. Cayden Black is back at running back after a productive junior season. 2007 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the semifinals.
5. SOUTH SEVIER: Like so many teams in 2A this year, the Rams return a good chunk of starters in 2008. Defensively, it should benefit coach Travis McAllister's team the most, as four of his leading tacklers from a year ago are back this year. The core is led by senior linebackers Scott Mathie and Zach Dustin, along with junior linebacker Landon Leavitt and junior defensive back Dillon Bishoff. Offensively, South Sevier returns for starters on the offensive line, along with leading running back Dustin. 2007 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round.6. BEAVER: Last year was a rough season for the Beavers, losing all 10 games. The growing pains might pay off this year with eight starters back on defense and eight on offense. Jordan McMullin is a three-year starter at linebacker and fullback. But this year his services are needed on the offensive line, where he will try to make an impact. At running back, Jud Marshall will take over and he has good speed and leadership qualities. 2007 RECORD: 0-10. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round.