Eagles' Murtha does whatever it takes

Robert Murtha said he has the words "Whatever it takes" tattooed on his upper right arm. You don't need to be able to read in Filipino to understand that Murtha pours his heart and soul on the football field for Estancia High.

The junior is a workhorse. Sure, he uses his legs to run with the ball, his arms to break through tackles during games.

After practice, Coach Mike Bargas appreciates what Murtha's legs and arms do.

"Robert is one of the guys at the end of practice that … packs away all the equipment," Bargas said. "When they're willing to be the custodian of the program, it means a lot to me. We're looking for the complete package, not the fact that he's our running back, but the fact that he's willing to stay and pick up trash.

"You just can't be the guy that shows up Friday night and kicks butt."

The star on a team isn't the player you see breaking down bags. Murtha does all the dirty work and never complains.

When the lights on game day are on, you see Murtha's workmanlike ethic in his running style. He's not afraid to run in between the tackles and run over would-be tacklers.

Forty-two times, Murtha carried the ball against Laguna Beach last week. Bargas said he didn't know his 5-foot-9, 180-pound tailback ran so much.

"You don't count [carries] like you do [pitches] in baseball," Bargas said. "It just happened to work out [that way]. He got banged up. His abdominal injury kicked in a little bit there, but he's a competitor. He's one of those guys that doesn't ever want to leave the football field, which is good. You want a guy that you got to literally kick off the football field."

When it was time for Murtha to exit the game at Laguna Beach, he pounded the Breakers for 269 yards and three touchdowns.

The performance turned out to be Murtha's best of the year. The effort came at a good time, as the Eagles opened their Orange Coast League title defense with a 35-14 win.

With Estancia's best receiving threat, Ben Beck, out with a foot injury, Laguna Beach stacked the box, trying to slow down Murtha. What happened is Estancia's offensive line had its way with the smaller Breakers.

"They were just bulldozing," said Murtha, giving credit to left tackle Zach Bateman, left guard Givraan Gutierrez, center Alejandro Lopez, right guard Adahir Aguilera, right tackle Alvaro Alejandre and fullback Deionte Haywood for opening up holes.

Murtha shot right through them, handing the Breakers their first loss and outshining their standout tailback.

The more-talked-about running back going into the contest wasn't Murtha. Laguna Beach's Drake Martinez was off to a better start. Plus, he is the younger brother of Taylor Martinez, who is the quarterback at Nebraska.

Drake went into the matchup averaging 172.2 yards and close to three touchdowns per game on the ground. The Eagles held the junior to 93 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.

The Eagles fed Murtha and controlled the clock, keeping the Breakers' explosive offense on the sideline.

"They were averaging [53.4] points a game and we held them to 14," Murtha said.

"It was just a great team effort."

In Murtha's second year starting on varsity, Bargas wants to get more players involved in the offense.

The move has worked as the Eagles (4-2, 1-0 in league), ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division, are more balanced. If the Eagles defeat Godinez (3-3, 0-1) Friday, they will be off to their best start in Bargas' five years at the helm.

Last year, Murtha carried the load and set an Estancia single-season rushing record with 1,679 yards. Murtha will still get his touches, as he has totaled 886 yards and eight touchdowns through six games.

But Bargas said Murtha has learned to be more patient this year.

"With the maturity, he understands what the game plan is," Bargas said. "Last year, we heavily relied on him and some teams exposed us for that. Then this year, he's not being a selfish player. He's realizing that we got to throw the ball more to take some heat off of him. Guys have stepped up. [Quarterback] Brad [Wilson's] stepped up. The wide receivers as a whole have stepped up.

"He's a marked man. He's taken it in stride. He's been really selfless about it."

Murtha wears the attitude on his right arm, "Whatever it takes" to win.

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Robert Murtha

Born: Jan. 30, 1995

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5-foot-9

Weight: 180 pounds

Sport: Football

Position: Running back, kick returner, punter

Coach: Mike Bargas

Favorite food: Chicken

Favorite movie: "Gridiron Gang"

Favorite athletic moment: "Scoring my first varsity touchdown last year."

Week in review: Murtha rushed for 269 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries in the Eagles' 35-14 victory at Laguna Beach in an Orange Coast League opener.

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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