Grizzlies look for more in '02

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Now that they've had a taste of success, the Galena Grizzlies are looking for more as they head into the 2002 football season. They now expect to be in the playoffs, which is exactly what Greg Sakelaris had in mind when he took over as the school's head coach in 1998.

"We wanted to try and establish some traditions. Last year we turned the corner and we want to continue with those traditions," Sakelaris said. "We have playoff experience, we never want to go back where we were, so that's a goal every year now, just to continue to get better."

The Grizzlies made it to the playoffs for the first time ever in 2000, then last year, went 7-4 overall, 3-2 for third-place in the High Desert League and advanced to the semifinals of the Northern 4A playoffs. Furthermore, during the 2001 regular season, the Grizzlies led Elko in the second half before losing 20-10 and then lost in the final week to McQueen 7-0 on a touchdown with 1:10 remaining to play. Elko defeated Galena in the second round of the playoffs, 23-3.

The Grizzlies hope to carry that momentum over into the new season in which they open Saturday, Sept. 7 at Wooster.

"We're not the biggest, fastest team but we hope to be quick and tough and fundamentally sound," said Sakelaris, whose record at Galena is 13-25. "We've got some senior leadership and we've got some playoff experience and I think those are going to be some of our strengths. But again we graduated a lot of our size and some of our speed and we're going to do the best we can with what we have. I think this is going to be a good group."

Galena has seven returning starters back, including guards T.J. Mills (6-0, 211) and Brandon Henning (6-0, 220), center Stephen Cummings (6-0, 195), tight end Tre Rager (5-11, 197), quarterback Pat Flynn (6-0, 170), fullback Brandon Hendrix (5-9, 205) and wide receiver Brandon Morales (6-1, 167).

Flynn, who passed for more than 900 yards last year, is a welcome returnee.

"We're returning a starting a starting quarterback for the first time since Chad Satterwhite five years ago," Sakelaris said. "It's always a plus to have a senior playing quarterback."

Hendrix, who rushed for seven touchdowns last season, returns to lead a backfield that figures to spread the ball around to compensate for the loss of senior star Luke Penrose, an all-region running back and defensive back now listed on the Plebe roster at Navy. The group trying to fill that void in the offensive backfield includes Hunter Mulhall, Warren Whitley, Hendrix and Mike Murry.

"We have some kids ready to step in," Sakelaris said. "We're going to do some shuffling, to try and keep these guys fresh, spread the ball around kind of by committee.

"Personnel-wise, we're a little bit different from last year. We're going to try and adjust what we're doing to the kids we have instead of making the kids adjust to what the coaches do."

Barrett Young was one of the leaders for Galena's state championship boys track and field squad back in May -- he was a silver medalist in the 110 high hurdles and 300 intermediate hurdles -- and now looms as a threat from the slot or wide receiver positions.

"Barrett can run. We've got some kids who can run coming off that state track team. We've got some kids who can do some things," Sakelaris said.

Looking at Galena's 4-4 defense, senior Jake Norris (6-3, 213) was a second-team all-league tackle last season and joins with returning linebackers Matt Fry, Barrett Young and Rager to form the nucleus of a continuation of a defensive tradition. Fry earned first-team all-region honors last year and Young was a second-team all-league selection. Rager returned an interception for a touchdown in a regular season game against Hug.

Galena's defense, known as the "Yellow Brick Wall," allowed 83 points in nine regular season games last year, including two shutouts.

"The Yellow Brick Wall, they coined that phrase their freshman year and that's got to be the mentality of the kids coming into this year, too," Sakelaris said. "I think in this league you've got to have a good defense and those guys are going to have to set the tone. We lost some size on the line and we have a whole new secondary, but this is a good group of defensively fundamentally sound players who are pretty quick and tough."

The High Desert League race should be highly competitive once again, with McQueen and Elko looming as the standards to shoot for.

"We've got McQueen coming back, and they're senior dominated; and Elko didn't lose everything like everybody thinks, so they're going to reload," Sakelaris said. "I think the league is wide open this year. You throw into the mix Spanish Springs and you never know about Reed, Sparks and Fallon. It's going to be tough. Everybody wants to get better and everybody is going to be better."

Coming so close against McQueen and Elko last year has left the Grizzlies with the feeling of wanting more.

"The end of our season was in Elko and that was a long bus ride home and a long off season to think about what it is we're going to do. They've worked real hard and they realized today that they need to work even harder; no one is going to hand us anything because we were good last year," Sakelaris said.


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