Team chemistry was one of several elements that helped push the Grant Union Prospector football team into the post-season last year.
Head coach Jason Miller and the team hope to make a comeback.
Miller, in his 11th year leading the team, said another factor in last year’s success was the players, though young, “all wanted to fight for each other.”
“As coaches, we kept it simple and let them get really good at a few things,” he said.
Miller said this year’s team is also young, but all the boys are back, except two graduating seniors, including quarterback Garrett Lenz.
“Our running game is strong, and our defense is stout,” Miller said, adding they have some talented wide receivers as well, some of whom will help out the junior varsity team.
Working on the quarterback position are sophomore Maverick Miller and junior Devon Stokes.
Stokes said, because last year’s team was young (the 2017-18 team graduated several seniors), some people didn’t believe they would go far.
“I think we have a lot of potential this year,” he said, adding their goal is to take it at least one step further this year.
Grant Union finished second in the 2A Special District 6 last season, behind Heppner, making it to the state playoffs, where the Prospectors fell to the Monroe Dragons 49-0 in the first round. Grant Union ended the season with a 5-5 overall record, 3-1 in league.
The Dragons continued to the semifinals, falling to Santiam 44-13, and Kennedy won the championship title over Santiam 31-20.
Miller is assisted by defensive coordinator Andy Lusco and Tucker Wright, who works with linebackers and special teams. Wright was on the 2013-14 Prospector football team, led by Miller, that won the 2A state title.
There are 28 out for the team this season, including six seniors, six juniors, seven sophomores and nine freshmen.
Miller will have a junior varsity team this season after being without one last year, due to lack of numbers. He said they’ll play nine-man football against some of the teams on the JV schedule.
The six seniors are among the returning players, including starter Drew Lusco, who was named an all-state lineman his previous three years on the varsity team. He was recognized for first team all-state offensive line and second team all-state defensive line last year.
Drew Lusco also earned second place at the OSAA wrestling state championships last February in the 285-pound bracket and was the district champion.
“He’s a mountain,” said coach Miller.
Other returning senior starters are Russell Hodge (tailback), Taylor Hunt (linebacker and fullback) and Frank Douglass (defensive lineman). Senior Cinch Anderson is a returning offensive lineman, and senior Mason Gerry is back after a stint with the Prospector cross country team last season. He’s a 6-foot-4 wide receiver and defensive back.
Also back after starting last season are freshman Justin Hodge (defensive back and slot back), junior Peyton Neault (offensive and defensive line) Quentin Hallgarth (linebacker and tight end) and Jordan Hall (receiver).
Miller said he’s excited to have all but one of his returning starters back, and said he’s also seen improvements from Maverick Miller, sophomore Tanler Fuller and freshman Eli Wright.
Russell Hodge said his goals include doing his job right and being a leader for the team.
“I want to bring everybody up and be that person that makes everybody better,” he said.
Douglass said he feels the support of the entire team and said his teammates are confident.
“I know it’s going to be a good season,” he said.
Hunt said he’s looking forward to seeing the younger players grow throughout the season and fill their roles.
The seniors have a long history together, playing football with each other since third grade, said Drew Lusco.
He said he’s glad there are a few more guys out for football this year.
“It’s going to be a young team again,” he said. “The freshmen this year are tougher and harder working than they’ve been in the past.”
Lusco said his personal goal is to make first team all-state for the offensive and defensive line again this year.
“It’ll take hard work and preparation,” he said.
The Prospectors have a tough schedule ahead.
“We run the 2A gauntlet,” Miller said.
In the 2A Special District 6, Grant Union will face the Heppner Mustangs, Riverside Pirates, Stanfield Tigers and Weston-McEwen Tigerscots in the last four games of the regular season.
“Stanfield and Weston-McEwen are in the running, and Riverside — you never know,” Miller said. “Heppner will be our toughest opponent in the league.”
Heppner has been led by head coach Greg Grant for more than 20 years.
“They always have good numbers, with 35-40 kids over the years — good athletes, good coaches and good numbers,” Miller said.
Besides their league opponents, Grant Union will also face Knappa in the Prospectors’ home opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6.
Knappa also made it to the first round playoffs at state last year, falling 48-42 to Glide. Heppner fell 34-0 in the first round to Kennedy.
Grant Union will face Monroe on the road Sept. 13 for the Prospectors’ second game of the season. Grant Union will host Kennedy on Oct. 4.
“We play five of the top 10 teams in 2A,” Miller said.
This includes Knappa, Monroe, Lost River, Heppner and Kennedy.
“It’s a tough schedule, but I think we’ll hold our own,” he said.
Grant Union football schedule
Sept. 6: vs. Knappa at 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: @ Monroe at 6 p.m.
Sept. 21: @ Lost River at Summit High School in Bend at 5 p.m.
Sept. 27: @ Umatilla at 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: vs. Kennedy at 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: vs. Stanfield at 7 p.m.
Oct. 18: @ Riverside at 7 p.m.
Oct. 25: vs. Heppner at 7 p.m.
Nov. 1: @ Weston-McEwen at 7 p.m.
Nov. 9: First round state, TBD
Nov. 16: Quarterfinal playoffs, TBD
Nov. 23: Semifinals, TBD
Nov. 30: Championship, TBD