MURRAY By any definition, last season played out in dismal fashion for the Murray football program.
The Spartans were rife with inexperience at several key positions and were breaking in a new head coach. That's all it took to send Murray spiraling to one win and a last-place Region 6 finish
No such problems exist this time around. With 19 returning starters, including 17 seniors, the Spartans might be the region's most experienced team. And the seniors feel a sense of urgency to translate such advantages into bigger and better things.
"They kind of have a little chip on their shoulder," second-year coach Dan Aragon said. "They didn't appreciate last season either. This senior class has always been successful."
One reason why the seniors feel bent out of shape is that, in a lot of ways, last year was such an anomaly for them. Moving through the ranks from little league to sophomore football they had become accustomed to enjoying winning seasons.
Enduring a forgettable fall was an eye-opening experience on many levels.
"I didn't like losing every week," senior running back Brandt Anderson said. "The team's attitude was not very good from the beginning."
Murray's quest to be more of a factor in Region 6 will start with improving the offense. The Spartans were shut out by three consecutive opponents Cottonwood, East and Cyprus to open region play in 2007 and never quite recovered.
By the end of the season, Murray averaged 7.9 points per game and allowed 32.2 the worst point differential in 4A.
"You would look at our scores and you would think that defensively we were horrible," Aragon said. "But it was actually just the opposite. We could never get off the field, because our offense was constantly going three-and-out."
So little offensive production forced the defense to work with a distinct disadvantage on field position. Things should be more positive now that Murray has plenty of horses to power its run-oriented offense.
Anderson, Erik White and Tyler Prestwich are all expected to fill important roles in the backfield. With depth at running back, Aragon expects the Spartans to have a much easier time holding onto the ball longer and keeping scores more manageable.
Depth should also be a bonus at linebacker with many backs also slated to contribute there. Murray hopes to use their speed and athleticism to its advantage by putting more pressure on the ball and forcing more turnovers.
The Spartans are gambling on speed becoming a tool they can use to throw off opposing offenses.
"(Last year) instead of making the offense try to guess what we were doing, we had to try to guess what the offense was doing," White said. "(Now) instead of us playing to them, they have to play us this year."
Murray got an early confidence boost after stringing together solid performances against Alta and American Fork in 7-on-7 competitions at Snow College. Potential for building on it exists with a favorable early schedule.
COACH: Dan Aragon experienced a rocky debut, going 1-8 after taking over as head coach last fall. Aragon should improve on that mark with a more experienced and confident group to work with in '08.
KEY PLAYERS: Murray returns a total of 19 starters, including several at key skill positions. The Spartan backfield will count on the trio of Brandt Anderson (RB), Erik White (RB) and Tyler Prestwich (RB) to pile up yards. Nate Davis (QB/DE) offers a lot of size and strength at his positions.
QUESTION MARK: An obvious question for Murray is how much improvement can it expect with virtually the same cast on the field as a year ago. Can the coaching staff tweak the Spartan offense enough to coax more points out of unit that barely produced a touchdown per game in '07?
LAST YEAR: 1-8, did not make the playoffs.
PREDICTED REGION 6 FINISH: Eighth.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: There's no doubt Murray will be much improved this season and maybe it will surprise a team or two. But, unfortunately for the Spartans, almost every other Region 6 team has improved as well. Like it or not, Murray could endure another year of sitting at home during the state tournament.
Aug. 22 LOGAN, 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 at Hillcrest, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Taylorsville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 COTTONWOOD, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 EAST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Cyprus, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 GRANGER, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 at West, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.
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