MORGAN — It's amazing what a run to the state semifinals will do for a football program.
It's not as if the Morgan Trojans were down in the first place, but more and more kids are buying into what Kovi Christiansen is doing in his third year.
Freshmen through seniors, Morgan has 110 kids out for football this year as opposed to 85 last year. Nine of those newcomers haven't played football since they were freshmen, something Christiansen acknowledges is out of the ordinary but isn't a coincidence.
"We had fun last year. The kids and coaches got along really well. It didn't get to be long or tedious," he said. "They were still excited about practice and excited about playing and putting on the gear every day, and the coaches were excited to be there, so word of that gets around. Making the semis helped."
That impressive run into the semifinals ended with four Morgan turnovers and a 26-9 loss to juggernaut Hurricane. Those costly turnovers have been a motivating factor for the Trojans all summer in the weight room.
"They saw what it did for some of the kids last year who were in there consistently, so this year our numbers in the weight have been on average 20 more than we've had in the past. Hopefully, that work ethic will pay off," said Christiansen.
With a tough nonregion slate and an even tougher region slate, Morgan will need to be sharp from the get go, which isn't unrealistic with six starters back on offense and three on defense.
Even though Christiansen believes his team will be good again, there's still some concern in his mind.
"Probably the biggest thing that is yet to be determined is leadership and some mental toughness," said Christiansen. "We had a real good group as far as kids who led by example last year. I'm hoping this group of seniors will do some of that."
That leadership may come from the offensive line, where Chase Davis, Josh Mines and Taylor Drennan are all returning starters. If the trio stays healthy and gels with the two newcomers, Morgan could be a pretty good offensive football team this year.
It helps that Matt Largent is back for his third season as the Trojans' starting quarterback.
The question mark on offense is at running back following the graduation of several all-state caliber backs. Tad Sargent and Jordan Wamsley are the most likely to fill the void, but several others could emerge as contributors as the season wears on. Regardless of who it is, their success depends on experienced blockers in front of them.
"Losing those all-state backs will be tough, but with these guys, hopefully, they can make some other backs look exceptional, too," said Christiansen.
The Trojans don't have quite as much experience back defensively, but the coaching staff is optimistic that that shortcoming will take care of itself with time.
Morgan Trojans at a glance
Coach: Kovi Christiansen is in his 3rd year at Morgan with a 15-9 record.
Key Players: Third-year quarterback Matt Largent is poised for a big season and is anxious to make amends for last year's poor showing in the semifinals. He'll have an experienced line in front of him anchored by Chase Davis, Josh Mines and Taylor Drennan. Braden Saunders is a returning starter in the secondary, one of only three for the Trojans. The team is also counting on Tad Sargent and Jordan Wamsley to make big contributions at running back and linebacker.
Strengths: With increased numbers and an increased commitment to the weight room, Morgan has plenty of options to fill the vacancies caused by graduation. One area that isn't a concern is on the offensive line, a position loaded with seniors. A three-year starting quarterback is a bonus as well.
Concerns: Morgan graduated all four linebackers, which was definitely one of the team's strengths after the first month of the season last year. Filling those voids is vital in an extremely tough region. The team is unproven at running back as well, and the coaching staff is still waiting to see some leaders on the team emerge.
Last year: 10-3, lost in the semifinals to Hurricane
Predicted Region 11 finish: Second
Postseason possibilities: Talented enough to win a region championship, and perhaps go all the way to a state championship. It won't be easy in a balanced Class 3A, though.
Aug. 21 — JUAB, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 — SNOW CANYON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 — at Wasatch, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — SALEM HILLS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 — at Grantsville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 — at Bear River, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 — PARK CITY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 — BEN LOMOND, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 — JUDGE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — at Juan Diego, 7 p.m.