JOHN DAY - Returning to the Class 2A Wapiti League after playing for eight years in the Class 3A Greater Oregon League, the 2002 Grant Union football team is eager to take on the challenge of facing entirely new opponents this season.
Last year Grant Union finished with a record of 3-4 in GOL games and 3-6 overall, but the Prospectors are anticipating a big turn around this season.
In his fifth year as head coach of the Prospectors, Monty Nash said there are 36 players on the roster so far and he anticipates several others to be coming out before school starts.
"I know of a couple of other young kids who expressed an interest in playing that I haven't seen yet, so we will leave things open for a while," Nash said. "Once school starts, it may be too late for players to catch up if they wait that long to come out for the team."
Currently there are 11 seniors on the team and Nash said he is looking for a lot of leadership from these players.
"We have a lot of young kids out for the team this year who haven't played a lot, but a third of our kids are seniors and that's going to help us out," Nash said.
Senior mainstays include quarterback Trevor Simmons who was named a first-team, all-league performer last season.
He was the second leading rusher on the team in 2001, gaining a total of 276 yards on 103 attempts and scored five touchdowns.
Simmons also passed for a total of 1,389 yards, good for 11 touchdowns.
On defense, he was named a second-team, all-league player at defensive back.
Brandon Hueckman is another player who Nash is relying on to have a good year.
Last season, Hueckman scored four touchdowns and rushed for 226 yards on 50 carries. He also caught 21 passes for an additional 271 yards.
Seth Thissell will be one of the Prospectors Nash will be hoping to build a re-vamped line around in 2002.
Last year, the 5-10, 210 pound Thissell was named as honorable mention, all-league player.
"Our offensive and defensive lines are going to be a concern," Nash said. "We lost a number of players off last year's team due to graduation, and some of the younger players are going to have to step up and fill the gaps."
Nash said senior Travis Harper will be taking care of the center position this season and will also be playing outside linebacker on defense, and senior Geoff Brown will be stepping in at the tight end and defensive end positions.
Senior Taylor Schmadeka is returning at wide receiver, as is senior Billy Colson at offensive end and defensive back.
"Taylor has some experience and caught about 30 balls last year. He has grown a little taller and he should do a good job for us. Billy is also a good player who also saw a lot of action last year," Nash said.
Senior Zane Rookstool returns at one of the linebacker positions and will also be used as a backup fullback.
"Zane had some knee problems last year, but he is healed up and ready to play," Nash commented.
Justin Cernazanu will be playing one of the defensive back positions and will also see time at wide receiver during his senior season, and senior Anthony Harper is ready to go at wide receiver and strong safety.
"Anthony is a tough little guy who really enjoys playing the game," Nash said.
Rounding out the seniors is Tyler Page.
"Tyler hasn't played for a couple of years, but he has good skills and we are planning on using him at the wide receiver and defensive back positions," said Nash.
Juniors who should have an impact this season include Cody Frazier, who started at linebacker last year and also played fullback, Devin Burril, who will play offensive and defensive tackle, and Mitch Prophet who will be used as a backup running back and as a starter at outside linebacker or strong safety on defense.
"All in all, the kids are excited and ready to play some football," Nash said. "Playing in a new league will present many challenges for us. Maybe not to the degree of what the GOL was, but the kids realize that they will still have to work at it if they want to be successful."
Grant Union opens the 2002 season hosting Nampa Christian on Friday, Sept. 6, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.