Murrieta Mesa Leaves Mainland for Opener in Hawaii

Murrieta Mesa running back McKinley Ross, shown here in a game last year, rushed for 1,002 yards in 2014. Murrieta 24/7 photo: David Stov...

Murrieta Mesa running back McKinley Ross, shown here in a game last year, rushed for 1,002 yards in 2014.
Murrieta 24/7 photo: David Stovall

Talk about a road trip...

The Murrieta Mesa High School football team boards a charter bus to LAX Wednesday morning to fly to Hawaii for its season opener against St. Francis High of Honolulu on Friday, Aug. 28. In a trip that coach Justin Schaeffer says has been on his "coaching bucket list," the Rams will become one of the few California teams that have had the privilege to play a regular-season game on the island.

"Teams have done this before," said Schaeffer, who welcomes back key skill players from a team that was 4-6 last season. "St. John Bosco did it last year and Mission Viejo did it last week. It's a game, but it's a team trip where we spend the whole time together. We're looking forward to it."

Mesa's opening-week opponent was supposed to be Indian Springs, which the Rams hosted last year. That agreement was cancelled, however, leaving Schaeffer with an opening for a road game and the chance to set up the game in Hawaii. It figures to be a stiff challenge for the Rams. St. Francis already is 2-1 this season, including wins over island teams 'Anuenue (62-0) and Honoka'a (46-6).

"They're a two-back team that likes to pound the football," Schaeffer said. "I'm sure they'll have some big kids out there and they're probably not very willing to submit to a mainland team."

Murrieta Mesa will counter with a team that returns its starting quarterback, Peyton Uhl (left), who passed for 1,738 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. But he will also see action at wide receiver, running back and safety because of the talent of backup quarterbacks Connor Saludares and Jeff Miller.

"Peyton is a very versatile athlete we can use in a lot of spots," Schaeffer said.

Senior running back McKinley Ross rushed for 1,002 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.

"McKinley had knee surgery in June and he's ready to go," Schaeffer said.

Also returning is senior wide receiver Austen Salcedo, who was leading the league in receiving before getting hurt last year. In addition, three starting linebackers return, as does talented placekicker Mateo Thompson, who was named to the all-state team after kicking two 53-yard field goals, one from 52 yards, and making 31 of 31 PAT attempts.

Schaeffer's primary concern is the line, where his players will go both ways. Team co-captain Nathan Smith (6-7, 273) returns for his senior season, but the other linemen will be new starters.

Schaeffer is excited about the arrival of transfer student Carl Bates (6-5, 231), who will play offensive tackle and defensive end.

Friday's game will begin at 9:30 p.m. Pacific time and can be streamed on the Internet by visiting this website.

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