Note: Granger finished with a 4-6 overall record in 2015 and tied for fifth in Region 2 with an 2-4 record. It did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.
WEST VALLEY CITY — It isn’t massive changes in Granger’s system or personnel that convince Sidney Alofipo and Amata Tavai that the football team can achieve its goals this season.
“We are going to be state champs,” said Tavai, who goes by Rino. “We’re going to take it all the way. We know what we’ve been through, and we know how hard we’ve worked and what we deserve.” And the reason for the confidence that this year will be different for Granger is simply the way they approach the mundane.
“We do the ordinary things better than anyone,” said Tavai, a senior running back and linebacker for the Lancers.
Alofipo said coach Mike Morgan’s focus on the smallest monotonies of training, learning and playing the game have created an environment where they trust themselves and each other.
“I think we just became closer, a lot better as a team,”said Alofipo, a senior quarterback and defensive back. “We focused on the simplest things, and that involves the bond we have together. You can’t progress if you can’t trust the guy next to you.”
Morgan hates preseason chatter and predictions. But he loves his players, and says this may be the best team he’s ever coached. He is meticulous and strict in what he asks of the players, and credits someone else with the strategy the former BYU and NFL player employs in his third year as head coach of the Lancers.
“As the great coach at the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chuck Noll, said, ‘You do the ordinary things better than anybody else. You do those things, and good things are going to happen,’” Morgan said. “And that’s what we preach on every single day. We do the little things every day.”
Caden Cousins, a senior offensive and defensive lineman, said the team is stronger together because they’ve individually endured hardships.
“This team is really a band of tough guys,” Cousins said. “We’re all close. We all know what we’ve been through. We’ve all been there for each other.” The Lancers were 4-6 last season, but just two of those victories were in region play. The team knows they must change that if they want to play in Rice-Eccles Stadium this fall.
This year’s team returns veteran leadership and talent, including seven starters on both offense and defense. Among those returning are Alofipo, Tavai, Simati “Junior” Tiatia, tight end/defensive end; senior Tavite Tonga, lineman; senior Dayne Mortensen, running back/linebacker; senior Dallin Meikel, defensive back; senior Chase Alofipo, tight end/defensive end; senior Caden Cousins, lineman; senior Sidney Alofipo, quarterback/defensive back, and senior Sione Houma, running back/defensive back.
Sidney Alofipo said the team knows what the outside perception is of their program.
“I think a lot of people look down on us,” Sidney said. “One goal for us is to earn everybody’s respect. I feel like we’re on rock bottom. And the good thing about being on rock bottom is the only way to go is up.”
Chase Alofipo, a senior tight end and defensive end, said the naysayers aren’t discouraging to him, they’re motivating.
“It just gives me something to prove,” Chase Alofipo said. “I want them to know we’re not the bottom. We’re as good as any other team.”
But Morgan points out that while they may see success in increments and moments throughout the season, the rest of the world has a pretty simple measure of success.
“There is no substitute for winning,” Morgan said of what gives his players confidence in this approach to detail. “We want to say all the other things, but we have to win here. Then that gives this program and what we’re doing credibility. And without that, it’s not going to happen. We have to win.”
That is not to say victory is the only goal — or even the main goal — of the program.
“Yes, I’m building them as young men, and that’s great,” Morgan said. “But our society is not going to take anything less than winning. Let’s cut the B.S. It’s really not the measure I use.”
In fact, he’s invited two of his former players from West Jordan to come speak to this year’s team. He chose them not only for the way they helped that Jaguar team improve throughout the season, but because they are dedicated husbands and fathers.
He hopes they can help the players understand that when they are dedicated and disciplined in one thing, it often translates into success in others.
“They’re just going to come talk to the team about what does football mean to them now,” Morgan said. “How do they relate football to what they do in their everyday lives?” His players are ready to articulate some of what football has taught them.
“It’s really taught me how to be a better person to other people around you,” said senior defensive back Dallin Meikel. “It’s helped me with school and just becoming a better person.”
Alofipo said that when the team members run onto the field in crimson, blue and silver, they don’t just represent each other.
“We owe respect to a lot of people,” he said. “When we play, we represent our own families, we represent our school, we represent this community and we also represent this state. I feel like there’s a lot of things that we have to give to our community.” The game, their success, he said, that’s how they thank the Hunter community for supporting them.
“It’s more like us giving back,” he said. “I feel like it inspires us. They’ve done so much for us, it’s just us giving back to them.”
Granger Lancers at a glance
Coach: Mike Morgan is in his third season with the Granger Lancers but his 17th as a head coach. The Brighton alum played college football at BYU, where he was first-team all-WAC as a defensive tackle.
Offense (7 returning starters; Double Wing)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Morgan
Returning offensive starters:
Amata “Ryno” Tavai, senior running back; Simati “Junior” Tiatia, senior tight end; Tavite Tonga, senior OL; Enrique Salvador, junior, RB; Dayne Mortensen, senior, RB; Chase Alofipo, senior, TE; Sidney Alofipo, QB; Caden Cousins, senior, OL; Sione Houma, senior, RB.
Defense (7 returning starters; 4-3)
Defensive coordinator: Brian Jacketta, first year.
Returning defensive starters: Amata “Ryno” Tavai, senior linebacker; Simati “Junior” Tiatia, senior defensive end; Tavite Tonga, senior lineman; Enrique Salvador, junior, linebacker; Dayne Mortensen, senior, linebacker; Dallin Meikel, senior, defensive back; Chase Alofipo, senior, defensive end; Sidney Alofipo, defensive back; Caden Cousins, senior, offensive lineman; Sione Houma, senior, defensive back.
Preseason region straw poll: 5
Deseret News Region 2 prediction: 7
Bottom line: Mike Morgan has spent the last two seasons installing his program, and this is the year it could pay dividends. He returns some key leadership in captains Sidney Alofipo, Amata “Rino” Tavai, Sione Houma and Hector Magallanges. The Lancers have enough talent to compete with any of the teams in their region, but the question remains do they believe they can compete with those programs that have a history of winning?
2015 — 4-6 (2-4 in Region 2 — Missed playoffs)
2014 — 1-9 (0-5 in Region 2 — Missed playoffs)
2013 — 2-8 (1-4 in Region 2 — Missed playoffs)
2012 — 7-4 (3-2 in Region 2 — 5A first round)
2011 — 6-4 (2-3 in Region 2 — Missed playoffs)
Granger coaching history
2014-current — Mike Morgan (5-15)
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.