JOHN DAY - Experience and numbers are the key words for the Grant Union High School football team as the Prospectors prepare for the 2004 season.
The Prospectors have 57 players out for the team, the most ever in Monty Nash's seven years as head coach.
"Of that number, 19 are freshmen and 16 are sophomores. The only problem I have is finding enough equipment for everyone," Nash said. "We've got it, it's just a matter of finding the right stuff for the right kids, particularly in helmet sizes. I've had to order a few extra things."
Last year, Grant Union won its second straight Wapiti League title, finishing 6-0 in league games and 7-3 overall, advancing to the state Class 2A playoffs, where they lost 33-10 to a strong Regis team in the opening round.
With eight starting players coming back on the defensive side of the ball, along with a number of all-league and all-state performers at other positions, enthusiasm at Three Flags Field is running high.
"We've had a lot of leadership from our seniors and juniors. They're coming out, jumping in and just getting things done," Nash said. "This is probably as good a three days of practice we've ever had, partly because of the weather and partly because of the attitude and leadership. If there is a down side to having a large number of players, it's having to teach a lot of kids skills but that's okay."
Returning players who are expected to make an impact this season include senior quarterback Bo Thunell, who was named a first-team all-league defensive back and second-team all-league quarterback last year, and senior lineman Sam Stinnett, who was a second team all-league offensive player.
Joining the group is senior running back and defensive back Toby Thomas, who was named a first-team all-league punter and kicker and also a second team all-league offensive and defensive back. In addition, he received honorable mention all-state honors as a kicker.
Running back Sterling Horn, who was a second-team all-league linebacker in 2003, is also back for his senior year, as is senior running back Bryce Bartlett, who was an honorable mention all-league defensive back last year.
Senior honorable mention all-league lineman Isaac Moore is back to anchor the offensive front, as is senior lineman and linebacker Dillon Pendleton.
Rounding out the senior corps are running back and defensive back Trey Mascall, wide receiver and defensive back Joel Silva and center and defensive lineman Ben Hyde, who had some varsity playing time last year.
Returning juniors include linemen Sean Tacy, Kevin Moles, Adrian Reed and Ben Holland, tight ends Travis Heiple and Gus Stiner, wide receiver Nolin Page, and running backs Justin Bartlett and Chance Johns.
The team is deeper on the line than it's been in the past few years, Nash said.
The Wapiti League has undergone some changes in 2004, with Imbler and Joseph now competing in the Old Oregon League at the 1A level and Vale returning to the 2A ranks.
"The league looks a little different with two teams gone and it's more compact now with only six teams," Nash said. "Within that, I think its even more competitive with Vale coming in. Once again, Nyssa is going to be tough and I think Elgin and Union should be much improved teams. The only one I have any doubts about is Enterprise. I just don't think they're going to have the horses this year."
The Prospectors are planning on throwing the ball a little more this year to balance the offensive attack.
"With the experience we're bringing back, we'd like to throw the ball more," Nash said. "Last year we were young in our receiving corps with Bo (Thunell) throwing the ball. We've got Trey Mascall backing Bo up at quarterback and they're competing pretty hard."
The Prospectors have a tough preseason schedule playing against some 3A schools.
"Stanfield (a Class 2A team) improved a lot last year and they have a lot of kids coming back," Nash said. "Madras should be a good test for us in our third game which is on the road and then we play at Burns. After that, we have a week off before opening league play on the road at Enterprise."
Grant Union opens the season on Friday hosting La Grande in a non- league game. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Three Flags Field.