Timeout football: Morton counting on Alfredo Gutierrez as its irreplaceable kid
By Tommy Williams Post-Tribune correspondent November 1, 2012 11:12PM
Head coach Roydon Richards (second from right) leads his team during the Governors' practice at Morton High School in Hammond, Ind. Wednesday October 31, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:43AM
HAMMOND — Feature articles involving players on good football teams are just like the Heisman Trophy. They are very exclusive. More often than not, the main focus is on a dynamic quarterback or lightning fast running back.
Every now and then, a Butkus-type linebacker might make the cut, but more often than not, it’s all about the guys who see the ball consistently and do wondrous things once they get it.
Case in point, the Morton squad which ran up an unbelievable 407 rushing yards while racking up 50 points against once-beaten East Chicago Central in its Class 4A sectional second round game victory last Friday.
This is where you are tempted to rely on standard procedure, and in this case it’s understandable. Morton’s leading rusher Kendall Huff had 104 yards rushing and two touchdowns while quarterback Torey Armstrong ran for two more. Amazing? Sure, but according to Morton coach Roy Richards, the guy who helped save the Governors that Friday night is the same guy who helped bail them out during the toughest part of their regular season that resulted in a 4-5 record.
“We have playmakers and some good student athletes, but if there is one guy on the team who if he lost his passion for the game and we weren’t going to get 100 percent from this guy, then we weren’t going to win,” Richards said. “Hands down he’s the voice of our team.”
The young man in question is three-year starter Alfredo Gutierrez, and outside of his punting chores with the Governors, he seldom sees the football.
He is the team’s right guard, which makes this one of the most unusual football success stories. When was the last time a team that has one 1,000-yard rusher for the season (Huff) and a second who is a hop, skip and jump away from a 1,000 himself (Eleazar Henderson with 906 yards) can say the catalyst of their team is an offensive lineman?
“That is a lineman’s favorite thing because we like being physical,” Gutierrez said about the East Chicago game in which Morton ran the ball a very un-Morton-like 54 times. “That was a lot of fun.”
There are ways to describe how the first half of the season began for the Governors. Fun isn’t one of them. Morton began 2-4, which included a Week 6 signature moment that began with six players being suspended and ended with a 28-14 loss to city and Great Lakes Athletic Conference rival Hammond High.
“You can tell by the record that it was a pretty rough (time),” Gutierrez said. “But we couldn’t put our heads down and quit. We had to surprise everybody.”
Surprise is the ultimate understatement. Morton trashed its trademark wide open offense that led to three straight sectional titles. But how do you get your best player involved in your new offense when that player can’t carry the ball?
“We’ve based our offense around the quarterback, around the running back, or around our five-receiver offense,” Richards said. “With some of the guys we’ve had in the past, you cater to that and you open your offense up. But then we realized that our best player was our right guard, and so much of a percentage of what we were practicing doesn’t involve your best player.
“So now we’re relying on the big guys up front.”
Gutierrez and company have led the Governors to four wins in their last five games including an output of 50 points or more in their last two against Clark and East Chicago.
“We had to make sure they kept their heads up,” said Gutierrez, the only Governor who plays on both sides of the ball. “We know we have the talent but we needed to keep working hard. We have a team full of leaders and when we work as a team, no one can stop us.”
East Chicago certainly would not argue that point now. In picking up 407 rushing yards, the Governors offensive line of Seth Miller, Zach Ward, Sebastian Navarro, Alfredo Valencia and Gutierrez deserved game balls, but the most successful plays the Govenors used were trap plays involving Gutierrez.
“He’s a great drive blocker but he is an outstanding puller and we pull and trap so often,” Richards said. “That’s what we hung our hat on because it was working.”
The Govenors hope it works again this week when they take on a Highland team they beat 28-0 Sept. 7. A lot has happened to the Governors since that first matchups: A two-game losing streak, a change in the game plan and a few players having to, as Richards said, “man up” after being suspended. But the most important change for Morton may have been realizing they had to go to their go-to guy, even if it meant changing their entire offense. So far, so good, because it has changed (and saved) Morton’s entire season.
“We wouldn’t play anybody who we couldn’t trust with what we have and Alfredo is very trustworthy,” Richards said. “He’s an incredibly hard worker and very responsible. He comes from an old-world Mexican family that teaches you to get up in the morning and do a great job everyday and make the world a better place. His parents are fantastic people.”
“There’s no way you can replace a kid like that.”