We need to develop an attitude that we don’t look up to anybody. We’re not little brother anymore —Richfield head football coach Erik Thorson
Note: Richfield finished with a 7-4 overall record in 2013 and tied for third in 3A South with a 2-3 record. It lost to Morgan 32-13 in the 3A quarterfinals.
RICHFIELD — On the surface, it’s easy to look back at Richfield’s 7-4 record last season in its first year back in 3A and call it a success.
Realistically, it was only mild success, something first-year coach Erik Thorson hopes to take to the next level.
Of Richfield’s seven wins last year, three were against 2A and 1A teams — none of which had winning records. It’s four victories against 3A competition also came against teams with losing records.
The four losses — which came in the last five weeks of the season — occurred against Manti, Delta, Juab and Morgan. Those are the teams Richfield needs to beat to be considered an upper-echelon 3A team.
That’s Thorson’s goal.
“We need to develop an attitude that we don’t look up to anybody. We’re not little brother anymore,” said Thorson.
Thorson is replacing Corey Morrison, who stepped down after six years as head coach, and it’s exactly the job he wanted when he got into the teaching/coaching profession.
“It’s the job I was looking for. When I was an assistant at Sky View I was actually working in engineering and enjoying it, but I really loved working with these kids and coaching. So in 2012 I went back to school and got my certificate to teach,” said Thorson. “I wasn’t really looking for a head job except Richfield. I grew up dreaming of living in Richfield, so when I saw that job open I went after it.”
The community has grown increasingly passionate about football over the past decade, and assistant coach Gabe Miller said the community is hungry for a winner.
“People talk about football now. They really want to be involved and they’re excited about Friday night,” said Miller.
With a handful of quality returning starters, there’s reason to be excited in Richfield too.
The Wildcats will continue to run the fly offense under Thorson, but he’s incorporating some exciting wrinkles to keep defenses off-balance.
Leading the offense will be quarterback Brandon Willardson, an all-state basketball player last year with limited football experience. What little experience he has came against the best, though, something that should help him in 2014.
When Spencer Henderson went down with an injury in Week 9 last year, Willardson was thrust into the starting lineup against Juab in Week 10 and then against Morgan in the 3A quarterfinals. The Wildcats lost both games as Willardson only completed 22 of 42 passes for 294 yards, three TDs and five interceptions, but the experience was invaluable.
The 6-foot-6 Willardson has a strong arm and has looked good at seven-on-seven camps this summer.
“We’re going to utilize every skill he has. We’re going to take advantage of his drive to win and take advantage of the vision he has on the field and his intelligence to adapt,” said Thorson.
Richfield opens the season again against 2A’s South Sevier and 1A’s Kanab and Monticello, and that might not necessarily be a bad thing to help its inexperienced offense gain confidence. Only two starting offensive linemen return from last year and just one running back who received notable carries.
Ryder Rippstein finished third on the team in rushing last year with 230 yards on 27 carries.
This summer, the offense has lagged behind the defense a bit, but that’s fine with Thorson for now.
“I want the offense behind the defense right now because defense is about being solid and being consistent, so when we get to the season the defense can relax and play,” said Thorson. “The offense, I want them to be open and growing so when we get to the season we have a lot of weapons.”
They’re unproven weapons, but they’ve got time to get things figured out because Richfield doesn’t play any of the big boys in 3A again until the final month of the regular season.
Richfield Wildcats at a glance
Coach: Erik Thorson is entering his first season as head coach at Richfield High. He’s a graduate of Davis High
(3 returning starters; Fly offense)
With a relatively new quarterback and mostly new skill position players, Richfield’s offensive line will be counted on heavily. Nathan Woolsey is a returning starter at tackle, and Mike Torgerson is back at center. Mitch Harris and Mason Torgerson will both step into starting roles this year after filling in occasionally in 2013. There’s a lot of uncertainty at the skill positions with the graduation of Richfield’s top two receivers from last year and four of its five leading rushers. Greyson Miller, Ryder Rippstein, Dalton Brown, Trevor Gentry and Payton Hafen will be counted on to fill those shoes this year.
(3 returning starters)
After dominating defensively against weaker opponents early in the season, Richfield allowed 36, 27, 20 and 32 points in its four losses down the stretch. Getting more consistent stops this year could be the difference between another quarterfinal playoff exit or a trip to the semifinals. The Wildcats will lean heavily on returning starting linebackers Mike Torgerson and Rippstein, who were among the top four leading tacklers on the team a year ago. Hafen returns in the secondary after his season was cut short by injury. On the defensive line, Woolsey, Mason Torgerson and Willardson all saw time last year, and all will be counted on for larger contributions in 2014.
Coaches preseason 3A South straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News 3A South prediction: Fourth
Bottom line: A new coach always brings excitement, and Richfield should have no problem maintaining that excitement the first three weeks of the season. After that, it faces three straight road games against Emery, Canyon View and North Sanpete — all teams it beat in 2013. If the Wildcats get through that stretch with a 6-0 record again, they’ve got a chance to do something special in October. They’ll be underdogs in each of those games, though, and will continue to be in future years too until they prove they’re not the 3A little brother anymore.
Richfield coaching history
2014 — Erik Thorson (0-0)
2008-2013 — Corey Morrison (37-28)
2005-2007 — Seth Giddings (12-18)
2000-2004 — Dave Clark (11-38)
1995-1999 — Corey Morrison (3-40)
1989-1994 — Randy Madsen (24-31)
1983-1988 — Paul Messersmith (50-17)
1982 — Larry Estep (4-5)
1979-1981 — Paul Tidwell (20-12)
1973-1978 — Nyle Norris (37-29)
1969-1972 — Gary Roylance (29-13-1)
1967-1968 — Ronald Pierce (1-16)
1966 — Ken Sampson (1-7)
1965 — Unknown (1-6-1)
1963-1964 — Andy Anderson (8-7-1)
1957-1962 — Art Nielson (12-34-3)
1955-1956 — Darwin Woodbury (2-12)
1943-1954 — Clive Roberts (1-7)
1937-1942 — Unknown (13-16-1)
1931-1936 — Joe Buys (28-14-1)
1925-1930 — Paul Packard (17-16)
1922-1924 — Unknown (6-7-3)
1921 — Harry Casey (5-1-1)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2013 — Brodie Ellis, RB
2013 — Shay Morrison, DL
2013 — Riley Cunningham, DB
2012 — Shay Morrison, TE/DE
2011 — Braden Hampton, RB/DB
2011 — Justus Clark, OL/DL
2010 — Robert TorgersonDL
2008 — J.D. Michaelsen, WR/DE
2007 — Tyler Tuttle, FB/LB
2004 — Austin Somers, RB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.