What we are looking for (in our players) is to take pride in being physical, being consistent, executing, and doing those type of things. There isn’t one person (we are focused on). We are only interested in things as a team. —Granger head football coach Mike Morgan
Note: Granger finished with a 2-8 overall record in 2013 and tied for fifth in Region 2 with a 1-4 record. It did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.
WEST VALLEY CITY — Nearly one year removed from the fallout of nine Granger High football players being arrested for embarking on an alleged crime spree, newly hired head coach Mike Morgan is trying to pick up the pieces and build a new team with a new sense of direction.
“What we are looking for (in our players) is to take pride in being physical, being consistent, executing, and doing those type of things,” Morgan said. “There isn’t one person (we are focused on). We are only interested in things as a team.”
Granger brings back a solid core on both sides of the ball, with a total of eight seniors and a variety of players with varsity experience under their belts returning.
The road won’t be easy, however, as the Lancers are coming off their least-successful season in four years.
“We really want to come out and start a foundation,” junior linebacker/running back Sione Tauataina said. “We want to make a name for this school.”
Heading into his first season as the program's head coach, Morgan is managing his expectations and goals by simply stating that he wants to see improvement on the field.
“Our goals and expectations are to get better. We hear that all the time. Everybody has expectations; I read all these things all the time,” Morgan said. “We want to take pride in being physical, in representing this community and being tough young men. But it comes down to taking pride in being physical.”
Physicality seems to be one of the Lancers’ stronger attributes, as they have a powerful combination of offensive and defensive linemen led by Macky Alofipo, Michael Fifta and Tevita Tauelangi (22 tackles, team-high four sacks last year).
Meanwhile, senior linebacker/running back J.R. Manuo and Tauataina, who combined for 150 tackles and two sacks last season, will look to step up Granger’s porous defense, alongside senior DB/RB Jacob Miles.
“Hopefully I can just come out, do the best I can for the team and lead the defense the best I can,” Tauataina said.
Granger’s strong O-line should provide the Lancers with the necessary protection in the backfield to produce a strong running game, with senior star RB Moano "MO" Finau (104 carries, 489 yards, six TDs) and sophomore running back Amata "Ryno" Tavai (44 carries, 168 yards, 3 TDs) getting the majority of the workload.
Zack Ashman (five TDs, 13 INTs) was the starting quarterback last year, but senior Robert "Paki" Liehr is set to start under center this season for the Lancers.
Liehr should have a solid chemistry with Granger’s top wide receiver, Suli Tukumoeatu, who hauled in 25 receptions for 454 yards and two TDs last season.
“Robert ‘Paki’ Liehr (is our quarterback), and we go way back — all the way back to little league,” Tukumoeatu said of his starting QB. “So there’s definitely some chemistry there.”
Despite losing second-leading target Anthony Amiker, Tauataina and junior Jeremian Deegan should both step up and fill that hole nicely alongside Tukumoeatu.
“We really just want to make a name for the school, build a foundation for this program, and do our best for this year,” Tauataina added.
Granger Lancers at a glance
Coach: Mike Morgan is in his first year as the head coach at Granger High. The Brighton High and BYU alum is hardly a rookie, however, as he has compiled a 70-76 record in his 16 years as a high school head coach.
Seniors Suli Tukumoeatu (WR), Sione Tauataina (RB/LB), Robert Liehr (QB) and Moano Finau (RB), who have all established important roles on Granger’s offense and defense, are set to lead the Lancers this season. Granger will rely heavily on players who play on both sides of the ball and will look to the seniors of this team for leadership.
Finau will likely be the team’s starting back this year, but will also run the option quite a bit and throw some other schemes in there as well.
“We run a little option, we run a little sprinkle of everything," Morgan said of his dynamic offense.
Tevita Tauelangi, Michael Fifta and Macky Alofipo will lead the offensive/defensive line, while Manuo, Tukumoeatu and Finau will also play linebacker and defensive back for Granger.
The Lancers’ deep roster gives them a variety of options in the backfield.
Coaches preseason Region 2 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 2 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: Because of the adversity the Lancers have faced in the last 12 months, this year's team will not have the depth, talent or chemistry that they have enjoyed so much in the past few years.
While the team’s offensive and defensive lines should be very solid, there are too many question marks and inexperience on this squad’s depth chart.
Granger is in rebuilding mode and should show some strides of improvement. However, the Lancers aren’t quite where they need to be to be a serious threat in this talent-packed region or classification.
Granger coaching history
2014 — Mike Morgan (0-0)
2012-2013 — Cecil Thomas (7-4)
2011 — Alex Gehrke (6-4)
2009-2010 — Doyle Holt (4-16)
2007-2008 — Johnny Matich (4-16)
2004-2006 — Richard Grosh (8-25)
2000-2003 — Dan Eckert (11-30)
1990-1999 — Ray Groth (55-71)
1982-1989 — Mike Fraser (57-21)
1980-1981 — Gordon Hanks (8-12)
1974-1979 — Unknown (30-31)
1973 — Perry Gillette (1-9)
1967-1972 — Ken Griener (32-21)
1964-1966 — Jay Rasmussen (12-12)
1962-1963 — Carl Ebert (2-16)
1958-1961 — Don Rydalch (12-21)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2013 — Kenyon Frison, OL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sportswriter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724