By Brandon Garside, correspondent
Senior linebacker Anthony Morales, along with Weber State University’s second-year head coach Jody Sears, spent July 15 and 16 at the annual Big Sky Football Media Day in Park City. Going into his senior year, Morales is only 32 tackles away from breaking into the all-time top-10 list in school history for career tackles.
While this achievement would be significant, the Oklahoma native has his focus elsewhere, on what he sees as a much higher achievement — a Big Sky Championship.
“It’s been a big goal for me to leave here with a Big Sky Championship, and it’s my last shot, so I got to leave it all on the table now,” Morales said.
The year Morales arrived at WSU, the football team was celebrating the previous season’s Big Sky Championship. The team received its rings, and Morales said the feeling it gave him has resonated with him ever since. Unfortunately for WSU, since 2010, Morales’ freshman year, the Wildcats have fallen well short of championship aspirations. They won only two games last season, neither of which came at home.
Morales said adapting to a new system isn’t fun or easy for anyone, but that’s what they had to do last season under new head coach Sears. It’s been a year since the new defensive system was introduced, and Morales said he has a brighter outlook on this season.
“We all know the system now, so I think we’ll be a lot more aggressive,” he said.
As a result of last season, out of 13 teams, WSU came in 12th and 11th place in the media and coaches’ polls, respectively. The optimistic Morales said he believes there is an upside to being the underdog.
“It’s actually good being on the outside looking in (for) the preseason, just because you can prove everyone wrong . . .” he said. “All we got to do is take one week at a time and win games.”
Morales said he is determined to lead his team by example on the field and that he’s going to do everything he can to help his team win. Through his example and hard work, Morales has worked to develop into a team leader both on and off the field.
“Off the field, I’m trying to just step up the leadership role, try to take in some of the younger guys and help them with advice,” he said.
However, he hasn’t limited his role to teaching fellow players about football. Morales said he wants to engender a feeling of trust and cohesion as a team.
“It’s not just a business or a work relationship,” Morales said. “These are guys we’re around all day. We hang out off the field as well as on the field. It’s a lot easier to trust someone when you get to know them personally.”
Morales said he believes the team has come together, and that it will benefit the Wildcats’ performance.
“I think we’ve done a good job of coming closer as a team, and it’ll pay off on the field as well as off,” he said.
Sears said he has noticed Morales’ leadership role and the effect it has had on the team.
“The guys look up to and follow him,” Sears said. “He’s a natural leader.”
Sears mentioned a moment after the team lost to California Polytechnic State University on Oct. 5 last year: Morales stood up in front of his teammates to express his love and appreciation for them and to let them know how proud he was of their effort in the game.
“It was a huge steppingstone for him in maturity and leadership,” Sears said.
Sears said he hopes that Morales’ leadership and maturity will help the Wildcats to a winning season this year.
The Wildcats will kick off their season on Aug. 31 at home against Stephen F. Austin State University.