"This is brand new," Murtha said, showing the tattoo at a recent practice. "It's mainly for my family and my heritage."
Murtha did not play like just a boy his sophomore year, when the Orange Coast League Offensive Player of the Year rushed for a school-single-season-record 1,679 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year on the varsity. He even earned All-CIF Southern Section honors as a punter, helping the Eagles excel in special teams.
The fact Murtha is back for his junior year excites fifth-year coach Mike Bargas. Bargas also gets back senior left tackle Zach Bateman, who also earned All-CIF honors and shared the league's Lineman of the Year honors.
Add in junior running back Deionte Haywood, who shined for the undefeated junior varsity a year ago, and Bargas has reasons for optimism. But he's aiming at breaking a streak that's lasted even longer than the outright league title drought — Estancia has not won a CIF playoff game since 1980.
"I'll be honest with you, Beckman took it to us," Bargas said of last year's 56-22 home loss in the first round of the CIF Southern Division playoffs. "We thought going into that playoff game that we might be able to do some things, and they spanked us pretty good. But instead of lingering on it, the kids look at that as a challenge. We got to play the team that made it to the final. [The Patriots] didn't win in the final, but they had to go through our door to get there. They just kind of shattered the door on us. But if you want to be the best, you've got to play the best."
Bargas has ensured that with his team's nonleague schedule. Estancia even scrimmages at a bigger school — Irvine — on Friday at 10 a.m. before opening its regular season at Bolsa Grande on Sept. 9.
And, for the second straight year, Estancia will play three traditionally tough Irvine teams — University (Sept. 23), Northwood (Sept. 29) and Beckman (Oct. 6) —in a row. This time, at least the games are all at Jim Scott Stadium.