Matthew Lickona 10:22 a.m., May 24
Grossmont honors late coach with inspired season
Foothillers off to 6-0 start for second time in three years
EL CAJON – For Grossmont, every win this season has been fueled by significant loss. The Foothillers dedicated the 2012 season to the memory of late coach Ron Murphy, and haven’t yet lost a game.
“It’s the main thing – it’s really important,” said Grossmont junior quarterback Anthony Lawrence. “We all miss him and want to honor him.”
Murphy died of cancer at age 48 in February, a few months after completing his third season as head coach at Grossmont. Before the season started the Foothillers decided to play the 2012 campaign for Murphy, honoring his memory on the field.
“We want to win for him,” said Foothillers senior running back/defensive back Marcus Flisher. “He was a really big influence in all of our lives, just having him here every day. He was always the first one here.”
Every Grossmont helmet has a reminder of Murphy – a black sticker with the initials ‘RM.’ Those two letters also serve as punctuation each time the Foothillers break in practice or during a game.
“These guys have really done a good job of understanding that they dedicated this season to coach Murphy and they’ve played accordingly,” said head coach Tom Karlo, a Grossmont alum. “They haven’t used it as just speak and language – they’ve really adopted that as a way of working and a way of preparing.”
Grossmont’s Thursday night team dinners are a weekly tradition that Murphy started. And before they take the field on Friday nights, the Foothillers point to the sky to acknowledge their former coach.
“In a couple games, I have gotten goosebumps just thinking about him,” Flisher said. “Looking up into the sky, I can just feel his presence.”
Comeback wins were common under Murphy, and his last win as head coach was a 33-25 victory at Mira Mesa in the Division I playoffs in which the Foothillers overcame a 25-0 halftime deficit. Fittingly, the first win of this season also came in come-from-behind fashion – trailing Ramona 24-7 after three quarters, Grossmont rallied for three touchdowns and a 28-24 victory.
“He always taught us to work hard all the time and never give up – it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Lawrence said. “We’ve been really focusing on finishing games and not letting teams get back into it once we get the lead.”
Grossmont has rolled to victories since its season-opening comeback win at Ramona on Aug. 31. The Foothillers have beaten their last five opponents – all playoff teams from last season – by an average of 27 points.
“We run some different systems, and the kids have done a really good job of adapting,” Karlo said. “They’ve played hard and they’ve been playing well.”
The most significant change brought in by Karlo, who spent the previous seven seasons at Mount Miguel, is an uptempo offense that has been too fast for opposing defenses to stop. The Foothillers model their spread attack after the University of Oregon’s, and aim to snap the ball every 12 seconds.
“We play fast, and when you play fast you practice fast,” Karlo said. “Our whole program is set on speed, and the kids have bought into it.”
Lawrence leads the fast attack, and the right-hander has quickly become one of the top quarterbacks in the section this season. Through six games, the junior has completed 69.9 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,640 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“The reads are much easier in games, because in practice we’re all flying around and we go even faster,” Lawrence said. “The reads are more precise in the game and it’s easier to pick up – everything just slows down.”
Grossmont also takes a fast approach when its opponents have the ball. The Foothillers run an aggressive 3-4 defense that has improved throughout the season and recorded a goal line stand in each of the first two games.
“We’re making offenses work,” Karlo said. “We’re not giving up a lot of big plays and that’s key.”
The toughest part of Grossmont’s schedule lies ahead in the challenging Grossmont Hills League. The Foothillers travel to Steele Canyon on Friday night as part of a three-week stretch that includes Valhalla (Oct. 19) and Helix (Oct. 26) – a sequence that will go a long way in determining a league champion.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but we all have the motivation and we’ve wanted to beat these teams since freshman year,” Flisher said. “We feel like we don’t get any respect in league, and we’re trying to change that.”
In a season marked by change, Grossmont has made winning a familiar feeling. Emotion has fueled the Foothillers’ success as they honor a former leader.
“This is what we’re doing it for and this is why we’re out here – we’re doing it for him,” Flisher said.
Pictured: Grossmont is playing this season in memory of former head coach Ron Murphy, seen here celebrating a Foothillers’ playoff victory in 2009. Murphy died of cancer in February at age 48.