Galena looks to defend Northern 4A crown | NevadaAppeal.com

Galena looks to defend Northern 4A crown

RENO – After last season’s dramatic run to the NIAA 4A state football finals, the Galena Grizzlies have a huge target on their backs.

The Grizzlies had been the underdog the last few years, but last year they turned the corner and won the zone title en route to a 10-4 record.

“It’s something we’ve talked about quite a bit,” Galena coach Steve Struzyk said. “We have to come out ready to play. We are going to take everybody’s best shot.

“We lost our last game of the season, otherwise there might be a lot more to talk about last year.”

Depth is Struzyk’s main concern, and he said that experience is the team’s strength.

“We had 23 guys involved heavily last year,” Struzyk said. “They understand what it takes.

Recommended Stories For You

“We have to stay away from injuries. Size-wise our numbers are about the same. Last year I didn’t think we had a depth problem, this year we’ll see how things go. We’ll see who steps up and who is still a question mark.”

The Grizzlies have to defend their title without star running back Jimmy Sargent, who rushed for 2,067 yards and 23 TDs behind a talented offensive line led by James Durden. Also missing is talented defender Justin Gates.

The cupboard isn’t bare, however.

The Grizzlies return 22 seniors, including third-year starter Jacob Anderson, who passed for 1,522 yards and 20 touchdowns, and Jake Hess, who caught 15 passes for 166 yards and two scores. He also rushed for 346 yards and two scores. Hess, who rotated between tight end and running back, will play running back exclusively on offense.

“It’s always nice to have your quarterback for the third year in a row,” Struzyk said. “He had a great playoff run last year throwing the ball. The games against Reed, Manogue and Palo Verde he just took over.”

That’s because teams were concentrating so heavily on stopping Sargent, the left-handed Anderson found many more open spots in opposing defenses.

Anderson wants more of the responsibility of being a go-to guy.

“Me and the wide receivers have to step up this year,” Anderson said. “We have some good wide receivers.”

Anderson typically gets off to slow starts during the early stages of the season because he spends much of the summer working on his pitching, which he hopes will earn him a college scholarship.

Steve Blackhart (6-2, 185) and Jason Parkinson (6-1, 185), the starting wide receivers last year, are back. Blackhart caught 22 passes for 410 yards and six scores and Parkinson had 31 grabs for 380 yards and three scores. Neither has breakaway speed, but both have good hands.

Scott Underwood, Tanner Golliglee (1-30) and Chris Kurnik are the reserves.

P.J. Tomaino returns at tight end where he caught six passes for 105 yards and three scores. Kyle Griffin, a transfer from Ohio, also will see time there along with Luke Hess, who backs up Anderson at quarterback.

The Grizzlies will use a combination of speed and power to replace Sargent.

Senior Pete Lazzari (5-7, 145) rushed for 257 yards and two scores last season and will also be used as a slotback.

Struzyk said that Hess is a load to bring down, and that he expects it will take more than one tackler to bring him down. He expects the transition to be a smooth one.

“He will be solid in that role,” Struzyk said.

Center Max Landis (6-0, 220) and guard Levi Stafford (6-1, 230) are the returning starting offensive linemen. Matt Lucich (6-2, 200) is battling for the other guard spot, while Bear Wallace (6-3, 225) appears to be at one tackle. David Deal (6-1, 219) and Jeff Belle (5-11, 200) are battling for the other tackle slot.

This group has a lot to live up to. Last year’s group wasn’t the biggest around, but they were quick and strong, and continually opened holes for Sargent & Co. to storm through.

Galena’s defense allowed 16.9 points per game. It is a group that succeeds because of its ability to swarm the football. It forced 33 turnovers in 14 games last season.

“We really have to rely on our speed and quickness,” Struzyk said. “Size-wise, we’re not so big. We might be a little quicker than we were last year.”

The linebacking corp, according to Struzyk, is the team’s strength.

Billy Johnson has been moved from cornerback to outside linebacker in the Grizzlies’ 4-4-3 scheme. Tomaino is challenging for a starting spot on the outside. On the inside, Jake Hess, Griffin (6-3, 215) and Taylor Tatro (5-8, 172) are the top three candidates for the two starting spots.

Goose Robinson (5-11, 155) and Jake Mansfield (6-3, 165) are the starting cornerbacks. Lazzari is the starting safety. Anderson, Goliglee, Blackhart and Parkinson also have secondary experience.

Up front, the Grizzlies will rely on Michael Parker (6-0, 235) and Stafford at the tackles with sophomore Mick Johnson in a back-up role. The end spots are up for grabs, and the top candidates are Luke Hess and Griffin. Struzyk said he is also looking at a couple of younger players there, too.

•Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281