Note: Millard finished with an 8-3 overall record in 2012 and was third in 2A North with a 5-2 record. It lost to Grand 48-33 in the 2A quarterfinals.
FILLMORE — Millard has run the wishbone for decades, and does it as well as anyone in the state.
Heading into the 2013 season, however, coach Marshall Sheriff said it’s imperative his team becomes more balanced offensively.
“Running is obviously what we do well, but we’ve got to be able to keep people honest and keep them out of the box by throwing the ball,” said Sheriff.
The 14th-year Millard coach doesn’t necessarily want to throw more, but across the board the Eagles need to be more efficient. The quarterbacks need to make the right reads and the receivers need to hang on to the ball, something that was sorely missing last year.
Sheriff said he worked tirelessly with his players on throwing and catching last year, but it just never clicked — which made it even harder to call such plays during the game when he really needed to.
Millard finished with 621 passing yards as a team last year, which is on par with past Millard’s teams. But in big games the efficiency was awful.
It completed only 4 of 17 passes for 41 yards in a 30-7 loss to South Summit in September. Late in the season it completed 4 of 13 for 69 yards in a 24-14 loss to Manti.
In a playoff ouster to Grand, Millard only completed 2 of 8 passes.
Those struggles made it very easy for opposing defenses to stack the box to try and slow all-state running back Jesse Rhodes. The senior still had a fantastic season with 1,693 yards, but his presence is a luxury the Eagles no longer have.
Dayton Komarek takes over at tailback, but with just 21 carries last season he possesses very limited varsity experience.
Sheriff hopes the passing game comes along so Komarek and the rest of Millard’s running backs have more gaps to run through.
“We have the intention of being a little more balanced with our passing game, but they’ve got to prove they can do that in practice,” said Sheriff.
That falls on the shoulders of everybody. It’s up to junior quarterback Skyler Cranney to throw the ball accurately, and if he can’t the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of sophomore backup Kyle Stevens. When they do throw it, it’s up to returning starter Jeffrey Robison to catch it. The senior finished with 401 yards and five touchdowns a year ago.
None of that can happen if the offensive line doesn’t protect the quarterback, or if it doesn’t open up holes in the running game for Komarek, Rudy Alcala and Co.
For the first time in several years, the offensive line might be capable of doing both. The Eagles have decent size in the trenches for the first time in a while, but most of those players are sophomores and juniors.
“Up front with our big bodies, we’ve got to try and move people out of the way,” said Sheriff. “We’ve been undersized the past couple years and we need to try and blow people back and dominate.”
That size will certainly come in handy against South Summit. With Manti out of the equation in 2A, Millard and South Summit are the top dogs in the 2A South region, and South Summit coach Jerry Parker said he has more size this year than he ever has.
Like most of his team, that size is untested, and as a result Sheriff isn’t quite sure what to expect in 2013.
“It’s exciting to see what they can do. We feel they can be pretty good, but they’re not tested,” said Sheriff.
That doesn’t change the expectations one bit, though.
“We never go into a season we don’t have a shot to win it. We realize things have to play out for us, and sometimes you’ve got to be lucky a bit. But we have our eye on the prize, and we want to win a championship,” said Sheriff.
Millard Eagles at a glance
Coach: Marshall Sheriff is entering his 14th season as Millard’s head coach, and he’s amassed a 110-39 record along the way. The Delta High graduate led Millard to the 2A state title in 2001.
(4 returning starters; Inverted wishbone offense)
Millard was the second-highest scoring team in 2A last year at 35 ppg, but it became predictable in the big games and wasn’t nearly as efficient. The coaching staff is hoping new quarterback Skyler Cranney can help increase that efficiency with the passing game. Returning offensive linemen Nathaniel Wade and Erick Alcala will help with the transition, and ironically enough the seniors might be the two smallest players on the line. Running backs Rudy Alcala and Dayton Komarek are the front-runners to carry much of the load offensively, but the coaching staff is excited about a couple of big sophomores waiting in the wings.
(4 returning starters)
Millard is traditionally strong against the run, but last year the secondary really struggled against the pass. That’s been an area of focus this summer, particularly with a few teams in region expected to throw the ball more. Erick Alcala and Wade are both returning starters at linebacker, while Komarek is a returning starter at defensive end and Jeffrey Robison is back at safety. Alcala and Wade were the third- and fourth-leading tacklers on the team a year ago, but even bigger things are expected this season. Robison had seven interceptions to go along with his 41 tackles in 2012
Coaches preseason 2A North straw poll: Second
Deseret News 2A North prediction: Second
Bottom line: Size is critical, and for the first time in several years Millard has the size necessary to win a 2A championship. That size is unproven, however, and realistically so is the entire team with only four returning starters. The youthful Eagles might take some lumps the first two weeks against Juab and Delta, but they’ll be big favorites in every game until Week 9 when they host South Summit. That’s the game that will ultimately define this team. With a victory, it will be clear that Millard has what it takes to win its first state title in 11 years. A loss, and it will likely face another semifinal exit from the playoffs.
Millard coaching history
2000-current — Marshall Sheriff (119-39)
1999 — Dennis Alldredge (7-4)
1995-1998 — Franklin Bramall (36-9)
1992-1994 — Al Marshall (12-17)
1984-1991 — Dennis Alldredge (50-32)
1973-1983 — Lew Monsen (99-27)
1967-1972 — Nyle Norris (40-22)
1965-1966 — Lynn Foxley (10-7-1)
1964 — Rex Lilly (3-5)
1943-1963 — Taft Watts (149-33-10)
1942 — Sam Gordon (1-3-1)
1941 — Meldon Walker (2-3)
1938-1940 — Stan Watts (8-6-1)
1936-1937 — "Riff" Kimball (6-4)
1935 — unknown (1-3-1)
1934 — F.G. Richards (0-2-1)
1933 — Dunn Taylor (6-2)
1931-1932 — Leo Probert (0-6)
1930 — Phil Baker (0-4)
1927-1929 — Royal Chamberlain (2-8)
1926 — Eddie Kimball (0-3-1)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2012 — Jesse Rhodes, RB/DB
2011 —Pancho Alcala, RB/DB
2011 — Jesse Rhodes, RB/DB
2011 — Keith Kesler, OL/DL
2010 — Nate Robison, QB/DB
2010 — Jesse Rhodes, RB/DL
2010 — Pancho Alcala, RB/DB
2009 — Rendon Shields, RB/LB
2009 — Thomas Kesler, OL/DL
2009 — Kade Wilcox, RB/DE
2008 — Clancy Mortensen, RB/LB
2007 — Freddy Alcala, OL/LB
2007 — Grant Barber, QB/DB
2007 — Clancy Mortensen, RB/DB
2007 — Josh Robinson, WR/DB
2007 — Zack Wilcox, RB/LB
2006 — Tyrel Beckstrand, WR/DE
2006 — Daniel Freeman, OL/DL
2006 — T.J. Robbins, RB/LB
2006 — Kyle Tuttle, QB
2006 — Scott Whitaker, OL/LB
2005 — John Monsen, WR/DB
2005 — Ty Ashton, OL/DL
2004 — Maben Larsen, QB
2004 — Slade Turner, DL
2003 — Clint Monsen, RB
2003 — Ethan Stephenson, RB
2003 — Daniel Anderson, OL
2003 — Devan Shields, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Follow Deseret News prep editor James Edward on Twitter @DNewsPreps