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Grace High School

School Info
Conference: 1AD1 Snake River Conference
Classification: 1A D1

Head Coach: Brandon Sanchez

Years as Head Coach: 3rd Season

Previous Experience: Head Coach at Rangely, Colorado
Head Coach at Big Piney, Wyoming (Junior High)
Assistant Coach at Star Valley, Wyoming

Record Last Year: 5-4

State Titles: None

Assistant Coaches:
Rick Porter
Marlowe Mickelson
Cody Spencer
TJ Knutson

Returning Players:
Paycen Jensen, QB/OLB/S, 12
Raymond Stone, TB/WR/QB/OLB, 11
Bracken Anderson, QB/OLB/WR, 12
Camm Jorgensen, G/FB/MLB, 11
Daxx Jorgensen, FB/DE, 12
Gaston Smith, WR/DB, 10
Justin Partain, C/NT, 12
Connor Mickelson, TB/OLB, 10
Jordan Collins, OT/DE, 12
Payton Campbell, WR/DB, 12
Tanner Christensen, WR/DB, 12
Garrett Kladis, G/DT, 12

Returning Players with Honors:
Paycen Jensen – Second Team All-Conference QB
Tanner Christensen – Honorable Mention All-Conference WR

Key Players lost from last year:
Lincoln Skinner, FB
Landon Wheeler, OL
Bryce Matthews, DL

Incoming impact players:
Camm Jorgensen, G/FB/MLB, 11
Raymond Stone, TB/WR/QB/OLB, 11
Garrett Kladis, G/DT, 12
Bracken Anderson, QB/OLB/WR, 12
Connor Mickelson, TB/OLB, 10
Jaxton Crocket, TB/WR/DB, 11
Team Preview:
Written by: Matt Harris

Something special is looming in Grace.

As the hot summer days turn to crisp fall nights, the Grace Grizzlies know that this year will be their best opportunity yet to awaken the state of Idaho to a team not many have paid attention to in recent seasons. While consecutive 5-4 seasons are markers of a good team, in the tough Snake River Conference a 5-4 season gets you a pat on the back and no ticket to the state tournament.

However, that could certainly change this season if the chips fall in favor of the Grizzlies.

“There is a feeling in the locker room of the possibility of this being a very special season for Grace Grizzly football,” said head coach Brandon Sanchez, who is entering his third season at the helm of the program. “Playing for the second straight year in the Snake River Conference, which is arguably the strongest conference in the state, will prepare us as we face playoff caliber teams each week that will ultimately prepare us as we make a strong push this year for a deep playoff run.”

There’s no doubt about it. In Grace, it’s playoff of bust. There are no excuses and no other alternatives. The players know it. The coaches know it. The fans know it. But they all believe they have the tools to get the job done.

Sanchez said his players commitment to the offseason program has already paid dividends in fall camp.

“We’ve seen great team leadership and attitude, we have high expectations and a strong senior class and incoming freshman class,” he said. “They have shown commitment to the system and the upcoming changes and are just overall excited to play. They believe that this team could be something special this year. We just completed a very impressive two-a-day practice week and the season is looking very promising with marked improvements across the board at all positions. Our seniors unselfishly led the team throughout the entire week and we had a strong ISU team camp earlier in the summer.”

Plenty of talented players return to the Grizzlies squad in 2017, including senior starting quarterback Paycen Jensen, a three-year starter at the position. He’ll be joined in the backfield by senior fullback Daxx Jorgensen and junior fullback Camm Jorgensen, along with juniors Raymond Stone and Jaxton Crocket and sophomore Connor Mickelson all at tailback. The wide receiving corps includes seniors Bracken Anderson, Payton Campbell, and Tanner Christensen and sophomore Gaston Smith. Stone will also see time at wideout along with Crocket.

“We have a strong running game with Daxx and a strong core of young running backs,” said Sanchez. “Our quarterbacks and wide receivers had a very impressive week (during two-a-days). We are focusing on improving the passing game with Paycen and Tanner and our overall strong receiving core.”

Last season, Grace rushed for 2,389 yards and 35 touchdowns while also passing for 1,037 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Grizzlies will also be without the services of fullback Lincoln Skinner this season due to graduation. Skinner had 1,257 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns in 2016.

The coach also said that the state needs to take notice of Jensen’s abilities this season.

“Paycen will prove to most of the state that his is one of the best quarterbacks in 8-man football this year,” he said.

Sanchez would like to see more scoring from the pass game in 2017, adding that the linemen will play a big role in their success.

“Overall, we lost a lot of size in our line from the past two years,” he said. “However, our linemen are smaller and quicker this year which will help as we have good speed in all of the skill positions on both offense and defense. We aren’t as big, but we’re much quicker than past years.”

A plethora of seniors will anchor the line for the Grizzlies, including center Justin Partain, tackle Jordan Collins, and guard Garrett Kladis. Junior Camm Jorgensen will also see time at guard along with his fullback duties. Those players will look to fill the shoes of now-graduated lineman Landon Wheeler, who earned second team All-Conference honors a year ago.

The coach says that he wants to see improvement through the air and better play from the linemen this season.

“We want to improve our overall passing game and use the quickness of our linemen to get out in front and block on outside runs,” he said, adding that the special teams are very important to their success as well.

“Improving our overall special teams and winning the field position aspect of the game as well as adding more scoring opportunities because of our special teams. We also need a higher two-point conversion rate.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Grace returns five starters to the fold. They will have plenty of athleticism and speed to go around on defense. The defensive line will have the talents of several senior players, including defensive end Daxx Jorgensen, nose tackle Justin Partain, defensive end Jordan Collins, and defensive tackle Garrett Kladis.

In the linebacking corps, Paycen Jensen and Bracken Anderson will leady the way, along with Raymond Stone, Camm Jorgensen, and Connor Mickelson. The secondary will also have the talent of Jensen depending upon the situation, while Payton Campbell, Tanner Christensen, Gaston Smith, and Jaxton Crocket will all make that area of the defense their full-time home.

Having that experience and talent returning to the Grizzlies can only help the defensive unit which gave up 56, 66, and 70 points in three different games last season, all of which were losses.

“We should be able to contain the outside running game this year as well as defend the pass much better,” Sanchez said. “We’re focusing on dramatically lowering the amount of points scored against us and want to have a higher defensive takeaway percentage too. We feel we can limit opponents rushing yards and improve our pass defense by utilizing the speed and football IQ at our skill positions.”

The coach added that his team will miss the talents of defensive lineman Bryce Matthews, who graduated. Matthews earned second team All-Conference honors with 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries despite playing in only six games last year.

Grace will put their improvements to the test right off the bat in a key conference game to open the football season. The Grizzlies will play at defending state runner-up Oakley on Aug. 25 in Week 1 in a game that Sanchez says may be the must-see game of the year.

“Oakley will be one of, if not the, top ranked teams in the state as they return many starters from their runner-up team,” he said. “We are more of an ‘under the radar’ team right now and we should make a positive impression to the rest of the state that Grace is legit this year.”

Following their showdown in Oakley, the Grizzlies will hit the road again on Sept. 1 when they travel to Arco to face the Butte County Pirates, their old High Desert Conference nemesis, in a non-conference game. Grace then opens their home schedule on Sept. 8 when they take on the Watersprings Warriors.

The Snake River Conference schedule then kicks into high gear for the remainder of the season when the Grizzlies travel to Malta to face the defending 1A Division-I state champion Raft River Trojans on Sept. 15. The red-and-white will then return home to play Hagerman on Sept. 22, followed by a date against Shoshone on Sept. 29.

October opens with Grace hosting 2016 state semifinalist Glenns Ferry on Oct. 6. The Grizzlies will then take on Valley at home on Oct. 13 for senior night. Following a bye week on Oct. 20, the team finishes their regular season schedule on the road in Challis on Oct. 27 in another game that Sanchez says is one that the fans cannot miss.

“This game has the possibility of being one of those games where two teams are either battling for one or two playoff spots at the very end of the season or possibly battling for a higher playoff seed at the end of the season,” he said. “As always, this game will be intense and entertaining as these two former High Desert Conference foes go at each other for the last regular season game.”

With regards to the conference, Sanchez stated that you won’t find a more competitive league in the entire state.

“Last year, three of the top four teams from the conference reached the state semifinals. Two of them played for the title,” he said. “I think that Oakley will be the front-runner in the conference and I look for Valley to have another strong year and be one of the top teams, with Raft River included. Glenns Ferry has a new head coach and lost some very talented seniors and both Hagerman and Shoshone will be improved teams.”

The coach also said that their conference counterparts and teams around the state can’t sleep on Grace or Challis this season – both teams are ready to make a statement.

“I believe that those two teams will be the most improved teams overall in the conference and possibly take two of the three playoff spots,” he said. “Teams in our conference typically look past these two teams and this would be a serious mistake this season. We’ve played Challis one to two times a year over the past three years and I know more about that team than any other coach in the conference except for T.T. Cain himself (Challis head coach). I have seen them grow and improve each year under Coach Cain’s system and I firmly believe that they will surprise some teams in the conference and state.”

Sanchez also said that his group of seniors this year feel that they have unfinished business after missing their goal of making the playoffs last year.

“I’ve had high hopes and expectations each of the past two seasons. We went 5-4 last year and unfortunately came up short and missed the playoffs, but that has given the seniors a strong desire and hunger to make a deep run in the playoffs this year,” he said. “These hopes and expectations are at their highest levels since I began my tenure in Grace two years ago, and our coaching staff and players have very high but also very realistic goals for the season. These guys truly believe that they can be undefeated or a one or two loss team going into the playoffs this year.” He added that this year’s senior class went undefeated over the course of two years during their seventh and eighth grade years while playing many larger 1A, 2A, and 3A junior high teams.

The coach then said all of these plans and goals will hinge on two things: health and eligibility.

“If we can stay relatively healthy throughout the course of the regular season and limit injuries, especially serious season-ending injuries, and also have weekly eligibility of all of our players, Grace will be one of the top three teams in the conference playing and vying for a spot in the title game. We will do this if we can be healthy and be smart in all aspects of our lives.”

His focus on eligibility and ‘being smart’ also translates to the theme the team is trying to exemplify this season: “Play with Character, Win with Respect”. Sanchez says it is his job first and foremost to teach his players to be positive influences in society before he teaches them anything on the field related to football.

“I believe in teaching football players to become men of character that will benefit them during their high school years and for their entire lives,” he said. “We focus on the ‘Six Pillars of Character’ each week and, if nothing else, these young players will move into the world after high school as exciting men of character that will be very beneficial and strong assets to our communities and society. By learning these ‘Six Pillars or Character’ each week, we try to implement them into everything we do during the course of the season both on and off the field. As we focus on each characteristic of a great person and player, it begins to clearly show on the field. If we live our lives as men of character, we will play the game with great morals and character. In doing so, we will win each day, each week, each game with great respect for and from others. If I do nothing else in my career, I can instill these positive traits into our young men with very high payoffs in the end. So we will play with character each and every day of our lives and by doing so, we will win each and every day of our lives with respect – respect for those around us and for all things and, in turn, receiving that respect back from each player and coach on the team.”

The expectations are large, both on and off the field. But the Grizzlies feel they are attainable. It’s boom or bust for Grace in 2017. It’s win or go home. They are calling their shot right now.

Will we see Grace in the playoffs this year? Only time will tell.

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