Galena has a solid nucleus |

Galena has a solid nucleus

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Defense wins championships. It’s an age-old saying that football coaches will forever use, and in this case, it happens to be true.

When you look back at Galena High’s defense in 2005, you saw a scrappy, undersized group that attacked offenses with a vengeance. The Grizzlies were a plus-6 in the takeaway/giveaway department and allowed only 18 points a game en route to a 7-4 overall record, 4-2 in the High Desert League.

Steve Struzyk, the Grizzlies’ fourth-year head coach, doesn’t expect that to change.

“That shouldn’t stop, especially with the guys we have up front,” Struzyk said of the Grizzlies’ swarming defense. “We have four guys – Jesse Snodgrass, Jimmy Sargent, Justin Gates and Billy Durden – that have to put the team on their shoulders and lead them on both sides of the ball. I’m expecting big things from them, and not just on the field.”

Gates (6-3, 240) will start at one defensive end, and Tyler Thompson (6-2, 162), Austin Hever (6-4, 190) and Grant Cummings (6-4, 231) will battle for the other slot. Durden (6-1, 211) and Mike Parker (5-11, 250) are the starting tackles in the Grizzlies’ 4-4 scheme.

Gates is a difference maker. He’s an excellent pass rusher off the edge, and if he can play under control at all times, the opposition is in big trouble.

Jake Hess (6-0, 216) and Snodgrass (6-2, 210) are the starters at inside linebacker, and Sargent (5-8, 180) and P.J. Tomaino (6-0, 190) will start on the outside.

The secondary is Struzyk’s biggest concern. Gone are all three starters – Justin Arnold, Zach Shannon and Tony Fritsche. Chris Ewald (5-9, 165) and T.J. Latino are the apparent starters at cornerback and Pete Lazzari (5-7, 145), a transfer from Wooster, and Travis Gibson (5-10, 170) are battling for the safety spot.

Struzyk also has been impressed with the secondary play of Jake Mansfield (6-2, 156) and Billy Johnson (5-9, 164).

On offense, the Grizzlies will have to replace some key components from a unit that averaged more than 300 yards a game and 30.9 points per contest.

The biggest loss is running back Ryan Krueger, who rushed for 1,559 yards and 17 scores. Arnold (15 catches, 225 yards, 5 TDs) and Fritsche (16-340-4) also graduated.

The good news is that quarterback Jacob Anderson (6-2, 185), who completed 58 of 140 for 843 yards and 11 touchdowns, is back. The lefty, only a junior, needs to pass for a better percentage this season.

Backing up Anderson are sophomore Luke Hess (5-11, 185) and Jason Parkinson (6-0, 173), who quarterbacked the JV squad last year. Parkinson also will play a lot at wide receiver. Struzyk said that Hess could be moved down to JV.

“We’ll keep Luke with us as long as we can, before we make that decision,” Struzyk said. “We’ll probably decide after the Shadow Ridge game (today).”

Replacing Krueger at running back are Sargent, who rushed for 653 yards and three scores, and also caught five passes for 95 yards and a score. Lazzari and Dave Demeritt (5-8, 152) are the back-ups. Demeritt rushed 11 times for 17 yards in spot duty a year ago.

“It’s going to be tough to replace Krueger,” Struzyk said. “Jimmy is a good running back. If we needed a guy to carry the ball 30 or 35 times a game, Jimmy could do it. He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever had in the program. He gets stronger as the game goes on. He’ll be the staple back for us. We had a good 1-2 punch last season. Right now, we’re trying to see who the No. 2 guy will be.”

Sargent will run behind a line anchored by Gates at tackle and Durden at guard. Max Landis (6-1, 208) will start at center and Levi Stafford (5-11, 215) has nailed down the other guard spot. The other tackle slot is between Grant Cummings and Bear Wallace (6-2, 221).

Also in the mix are Cory Metoyer (6-2, 221) and Rick Rolfs (5-10, 206), neither of whom played last year.

Gates played some offensive tackle last year, but will be counted on tremendously on the offensive side of the ball this year.

“We lost some good guys up front, but we do have some depth there; guys that saw some time last season,” Struzyk said. “We have four pretty decent offensive linemen.

“Gates worked really hard in the off-season. Defensive end is where he’ll play at the next level. He understands how important it is to go both ways this year. He sees it as a challenge.”

The wide receiver jobs are up for grabs, according to Struzyk.

“It’s a coin toss,” the Galena coach said. “We’ve got four good junior receivers really pushing the seniors.”

The senior receivers are Ryan Spinuzzi (6-2, 165), Bryan Arcinega (5-10, 155) and Jordan Campbell (6-1, 179). The junior group includes Parkinson, Steve Blackart (6-2, 175), Tanner Golliglee (5-11, 153) and Scott Underwood (6-0, 150).

Struzyk said that the program turned a corner last year, and two games come to mind. Both were against McQueen, but in both instances the Grizzlies came up on the short end. Ask McQueen coach Ken Dalton, and he’ll tell you those were two of the most physical games he was in all year.

“We have a lot to build on,” Struzyk said. “You never want to lose. There are no more moral victories in this program. We expect to go out and win each week.

“We have guys out here that want to be out here. In the past, we had guys out here for other reasons, and it may not have been their own. This is a good group to be around.”