The issue Morton Ranch’s football program has dealt with the most over the last few seasons has nothing to do with anything on the field.
The issue Morton Ranch’s football program has dealt with the most over the last few seasons has nothing to do with the play on the field.
The biggest obstacle is the numbers, or lack of, within the program. Going into the 2017 football season, Morton Ranch High School had an enrollment of 3,639. As of now, coach Ron Counter said the school’s enrollment is 2,450.
The opening of nearby Paetow has been the primary culprit, but the program has also been hit by transfers. Incoming juniors Justin Cryer, a starting linebacker, and five-star defensive lineman David Hicks Jr. left for Royal High and Allen High, respectively, because their fathers got assistant defensive coaching jobs.
Counter continues to battle the dearth of depth. He’s adjusted accordingly, trimming spring games from 10 minutes per quarter two years ago to eight minutes this year. It’s why his most important takeaway from the Mavs’ spring game Thursday, May 13, was health.
“All I care about tonight is nobody got hurt,” Counter said of the 10-0 win by the “Purple” team, consisting of the starting offense, against the “White” team, consisting of the starting defense. “I’m excited nobody got hurt.”
Counter typically only plays sophomores and juniors in the varsity spring game. This year, he included freshmen because he needed the bodies.
“With the lack of numbers, we’ll always be kind of young,” Counter said. “We’ll have kids playing both ways and on all special teams.”
One of those kids is incoming junior receiver Antonio Page, who was impressive on both sides of the ball.
Page had a speedy 50-yard catch-and-run on a screen toss from incoming junior quarterback Josh Johnson. He added a shifty, out-and-in 15-yard catch-and-run on another play. He also collected a leaping interception deep in the red zone.
“He had a really good spring,” Counter said. “He’s going to be good. He can do a lot of things. He’s quick, fast. He really works, putting in extra time with the jug machine or always doing something extra in practice.”
Counter said he expects Page will be used exclusively on offense and special teams. Page said he just wants to be on the field, no matter where he’s used.
“I like football,” Page shrugged. “I just like being out there and making plays.”
Page is a key part of last season’s sophomore class that could turn out special for Counter. Page is a dynamic playmaker and blossoming leader, showing off raw physical ability. All of those traits can be remarked about fellow Class of 2023 mates in running back Santana Scott, offensive lineman Zachary Session, defensive back Lamarcus Hurrington, defensive tackle Daniel Alequin, defensive back Chris Releford and Johnson.
“I know I need to work more,” Page said. “I’m pushing myself. My teammates are pushing me. I’m pushing my teammates. We’re all getting better as a whole. We’ve got guys that work.”
The Mavs’ have more holes on defense than offense, but the defense is experienced with a slew of young talent that saw quality varsity experience in 2020. Standouts have been incoming senior defensive end Benen Lee, incoming senior linebacker Alexis Lima, incoming senior defensive back Ki’Juan Tavarez and incoming senior defensive back Rene Luna.
“I feel we worked our butts off during the spring,” Lee said. “We keep getting better as far as stopping the run and stopping the pass. It’s a grind every day. It’s a process.”
The Mavericks have finished one win from making the playoffs each of the last two seasons. They’ve been oh-so-close. Even with the lack of depth, they have starters that can compete with anyone. But any injury can spell doomsday for Morton Ranch’s season because quality backup play is at a premium.
Counter is hoping more kids show up in the fall for preseason workouts and that the kids he does have stay healthy.
They are certainly confident.
“There’s things we can improve everywhere,” Lee said. “Defensively, we need to be able to cover the pass better. Offensively, we need to stay consistent and stay on the field. But for us to be out here, giving everything we’ve got, everybody 100 percent, and to come away with no injuries, this spring was a success.
“I feel we’re going to be something to watch next year.”
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