Most competitive athlete’s goals are big in either stature or wishful thinking: state championships, scholarships, breaking records, etc.
Taren Morrison is no exception, but sometimes it’s about the promise of food.
Big goals were established before the Desert Ridge junior embarked one of the best seasons by an Arizona big-school running back in recent history, but some mini, performance-based wagers with his father helped fuel — metabolically and figuratively — his cause.
Even before the Jaguars’ passing game practically vanished because of brother Tarek’s slow return from a serious knee injury in the 2012 playoffs, followed by another serious knee injury late in the 2013 regular season, Taren knew his sights: 2,000 yards in the regular season (actual: 1,828), 2,500 yards including playoffs (actual: 2,587), 250-300 yards rushing per game, a few touchdowns and a lot of wins.
Reach those goals on a (near-) weekly basis, and a free movie — maybe out to dinner with dad — was the dangling carrot.
“That’s when we’d go harder,” Taren said with a laugh.
While Tarek — who again is rehabbing from a torn anterior cruciate ligament — struggled to generate an effective passing game, and the Jaguars lost leading receiver E.J. McClanahan to a season-ending injury, it became obvious Desert Ridge was going to win one-dimensionally. Add in the Jaguars’ offensive line was tough, but mostly undersized (by Div. I standards), and it’s fair to wonder how Morrison averaged a surreal 12.4 yards per carry in his 209 attempts against Division I competition, third-best in the state behind Tucson Sabino’s Zach Joseph (14.3 average in 97 carries) and Tuba City’s Brenton Goldtooth (12.71 average for 148 attempts), and it includes Red Mountain holding him to five yards per carry.
The two worst weeks came during losses in Week 1 against Serra (Calif.), and against the state’s best defense in Mountain Pointe. Both times he still reached 100 yards.
“They had all those guys in the box and just closed everything,” Taren said of the Mountain Pointe loss in the semifinals. “They stacked their best (linebacker) to side where I was going to run, so they knew what we were going to do.”
He burned an otherwise-solid Mesa defense for 376 yards on 11 carries (34 yards per carry) and had his season’s self-admitted personal highlight — a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He accounted for 587 yards and five touchdowns in two games against Desert Mountain, and 573 yards and nine touchdowns in two meetings with Brophy.
“There was basically nine guys in the box and they knew we weren’t going to pass, that wasn’t us,” he said of opposing defenses playing 1-on-11 against him most of the season. “They just stacked the box and it felt like there’s nowhere to run, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.”
What he did was hit the hole, wait for a block on the second level or make a juke, and turn his path into a vapor trail with speed.
It’s a trail that may eventually lead him out of the state. Other than visits to California to see his sister, and the Week 1 game at Serra, Taren sees his next venture involving exposure to a different part of the country.
The obvious hope being the NFL is involved someday, and another beyond pro football involves opening a hair/nail salon, similar to one his cousin owns.
To get there, however, the paper trail of college letters and scholarship offers has been a different form of vapor. Though not overly worried on the basis he’ll play next year, an appeal to the Arizona Interscholastic Association might be forthcoming to grant both Morrisons another year of eligibility after they didn’t attend school two years ago for what the school cites as family hardship reasons.
He said a few schools have reached out, but no offers have come so far.
If this sounds hard to believe to anyone who’s watched him play the past four months, it would be around the 210th time Taren has left others in the dust, scratching their heads.
“I’m just waiting to see what comes,” he said. “It’s kind of become, ‘How much further do I have to push myself?’”
• Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.
All-Tribune First Team Offense
Name School Yr. Pos. Comment
Luke Rubenzer Saguaro Sr. QB Cal-commit broke state records for TD passes and 74 percent completion rate; 4,201 yards, 61 TD
Weston Barlow Queen Creek Jr. RB Unheralded emergence became season of 2,335 yards and 25 total TD in place of injured Matt Guida
Taren Morrison Desert Ridge Jr. RB Tribune POY rushed for 2,538 yards and 38 TD; 3rd in state with 12.4 yards per carry.
Mark Andrews Desert Mtn. Sr. WR Oklahoma-commit hampered by injuries; 68 catches 1122 yards and 17 TD, played defense and kicked
Jalen Brown Mtn. Pointe Sr. WR Two-way starter, All-American and AZ all-time leader at WR with 50 career TD catches
Clark Brown Mountain View Sr. WR Speed and agility helped break several school records after 72 rec. for 1,306 yards and 14 TD
Trevor Wood Chaparral Sr. TE Returned from lost 2012 season with 68 rec. for 929 yards and 8 TD for Div. II; headed to U of A
Natrell Curtis Mtn. Pointe Sr. OL Three-plus-year starter used his 6-3, 320-pound frame to dominate; easily best OL in school history
A.T. Hall Brophy Sr. OL At 6-5, 305 pounds, anchor of OL and played some DL now headed to Stanford
Justin Leeper Desert Ridge Sr. OL Best run blocker on state-record rushing team and Div. I semifinals also a top long-snapper
Alex Anderson Saguaro Sr. OL Paver for Rubenzer and Christian Kirk for past two years at tackle headed to San Diego State
Bryce Holland Hamilton Sr. OL Army-bound center was Huskies’ best lineman for full season
Christian Kirk Saguaro Jr. ATH 825 yards rushing and 13 TD; 1,164 receiving, and 17 TD plus 50 tackles, 2 INT and 5 passes defended
Austin Carver Gilbert Sr. K All-State choice by AZ football coaches with 18 touchbacks in 25 KO and 7 FG incl. 52-yarder
Kam’ron Johnson Tempe Jr. KR Dynamic RB and WR in backfield was No. 2 in EV at 28-yard average per KO return and 3 return TDs
All-Tribune First Team Defense
Name School Yr. Pos. Comment
Mitchell Fraboni Mtn. Pointe Sr. DL 10 sacks, 68 tackles, 10 TFL, 3 passes defended, and two fumble recoveries for state champions
Grant Gale Highland Sr. DL The “Grants” (Gale and Thompson) were immovable forces inside: 12 sacks, 75 tackles, 17 TFL
Qualen Cunningham Hamilton Sr. DL Broke school records for sacks (19) and vastly improved against run past two years at DE
Amonai Itaahau Desert Ridge Sr. DL Played bigger than his stats (121 tackles, 21 hurries, 3 INT) with athleticism and tenacity
Wesley Payne Mtn. Pointe Sr. LB Top LB in the state even with injuries, also rushed 138 times for 938 yards and 12 TD
Diego Hernandez Red Mountain Sr. LB Top among coaches’ picks at TE and LB. 62 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 9 TFL plus 32 rec. for 447 yds, 5 TD
Nathaniel Rodriguez Desert Ridge Sr. LB Leader of dynamic defense smashed school record for most tackles in career
Santana Sterling Hamilton Sr. LB Division I Section 1 player of the year anchored stout Huskies defense, especially against run
Brian Woodward Brophy Sr. DB Brophy’s best 2-way player in years; had 71 tackles, 3 INTs; 1,258 yards, 11 TD passes in 8 games.
Darius Williams Williams Field Sr. DB Had six interceptions, 50 tackles and 2 1/2 tackles for loss for the Black Hawks
Timmy Hernandez Mtn. Pointe Sr. DB Popular choice among coaches as Pride’s best def. back in 2013 plus underrated WR.
Conner Ipsen Mountain View Sr. DB Put together outstanding season with 75 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries
Ben Sweet Pinnacle Sr. P 42.0 yard average per punt, good for 6th in state; 13 punts inside 20 (tops in the state)
Elijah Castro Chaparral Sr. PR 28 returns for 479 yards (a 17.1-yard average) and one TD. (As a RB, 163 carries 1,345 yards 17 TDs)
Player of the Year: Taren Morrison, Desert Ridge
Coach of the Year: Norris Vaughan, Mountain Pointe: From start to finish, took an already talented roster and not only dominated the Barry Sollenberger and state championship games en route to a title and national ranking, but forged players to care about the team first. Despite the pressure and top billing in the state and among the best nationally, the Pride never stumbled or slacked in putting together one of the most dominant seasons by a Division I school in Arizona high school football history.
All-Tribune Second Team Offense
Name School Yr. Pos. Comment
Josh Eckley Marcos de Niza Sr. QB Arguably no one more was valuable to team’s success: 2,678 yards passing, 32 TD; 767 & 15 TD rushing
Luke Quinn Horizon Sr. RB DI Section 5 POY at RB and DB; 1,131 yards, 20 rush TD; 49 rec., 772 yards 9 TD; 99 tackles, 6 INT Paul Perry Mesquite Sr. RB Epicenter of ‘Cats offense and 2013 turnaround with 1,700 total yards, 16 total TD
Doc O’Connor Basha Jr. WR Further proof sheer size (5-foot-9) doesn’t matter; 1,127 yards and 9 TD as Werlinger’s top target
Massiah Smith Tempe Sr. WR Emanuel Gant’s top target for good reason: 1,301 yards, 22 yards per catch and 18 TD
Cole Forsgren Williams Field Sr. WR Missed 3 weeks with broken hand but hard to tell after 50 rec. for 1,151 yards (23 YPC) and 12 TD
Nick Colson Higley Sr. TE 98 yards rec. per game, 18 YPC and 10 TD; 4.0 GPA committed to Air Force.
Casey Tucker Hamilton Sr. OL Consensus Top OL in AZ (6-foot-6, 290 pounds) missed 6 games but returned to dominance in postseason
Robert Schrock Mesa Sr. OL Captain and center arguably top center in EV according to opposing coaches; 55 tackles at DT
Keenan Walker Chaparral Jr. OL Big-time talent has Pac-12/Big-12 schools in pursuit still with room to develop
Jake Grant Horizon Sr. OL Tackle had 42 pancake blocks and zero sacks allowed in 290 pass attempts for prolific offense
Quinn Bailey Higley Sr. OL Captain and 3-year starter was first-team two-way all-section lineman; chose ASU over Oregon
Bryce Perkins Chandler Jr. ATH 70 percent comp., 2,500 yds, 24 TD & 880 yds, 11 TD on the groud; Led school’s first win over rival
Danny McAtamney Horizon Sr. K 9 of 10 FG made (long of 46 yards) and 66 of 68 PAT (97 percent) both top 3 in the state
Jordan Schlueter Notre Dame Sr. KR Saints’ standout averaged 36.4 yards per KO return; 1,285 all-purpose yards and 8 INT on defense
All-Tribune Second Team Defense
Name School Yr. Pos. Comment
Elijah Jeffcoat Williams Field Sr. DL 18 1/2 tackles for loss, 13 1/2 sacks, 3 PD, 3 FR and two blocked punts for underrated defense
Logan Palmer Marcos de Niza Sr. DL 128 tackles, 10 sacks, 9 TFL and 30 QB hurries
Jalen Jelks Desert Vista Sr. DL Best player on Thunder with 72 tackles, 12 TFL, 3 FF; heading to Oregon
Hayden Pate Chaparral Sr. DL Rush end/part-time LB had 87 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 TFL off the edge
Greg Frasco Desert Mtn. Sr. LB Three-year starter led state in tackles (143) plus 5 sacks, 3 FF and never left the field
Ricky Wilson SanTan Foothills Jr. LB Div. V Defensive Player of the Year: 109 tackles, 4 INT, 4 sacks, 3 FF and rushed for 1,075 yards
Cole Neubauer Pinnacle Sr. LB Section 5 def. POY with 66 tackles, 12 TFL, 6 1/2 sacks
Skyler Bollman Queen Creek Jr. LB Leader of revamped defense had 106 tackles, 9 sacks for Div. III runners-up
Coleman Griffith Marcos de Niza So. DB 128 tackles, 8 1/2 sacks, 4 INT, and a safety for next great Padre safety
Levi Sterling Hamilton Sr. DB Sure tackler alongside AJ Greathouse in secondary the team’s best cover corner
Nate Woods Skyline Sr. DB 48 tackles, 5 INT, 7 PD and blocked FG for Coyotes’ revival season
Tyler Whiley Chaparral Sr. DB 3-way stud rushing (702 yards, 12 TD rush), receiving (587 yards, 7 TD) and defense (6 INT, 16 PD)
T.J. Widner Valley Christian Sr. P 41.8-yard punt average was 4th-best in state, included 7 downed inside 20-yard line
Honorable mention (Local schools only)
Desert Vista: Richard Haywood, Sr., WR/DB; T.J. Roberts, Jr., WR/DB; Matt Trujillo, Sr., LB; Mountain Pointe: Emmanuel Butler, Sr., WR; Nick Carmen, Jr., OL; Kendre Churchwell, Jr., LB; Austin Cronin Jr., LB; Dominque Fenstermacher, Sr., DB; Antonio Hinojosa, Sr., QB; Bruce Hester, Jr., DL; Trey Lauer, Sr., DB; Brandon Leonard, Jr., RB; Paul Lucas, Jr., RB; Kyle Spith, Sr., OL; Charlie Trevino, Sr., DL.