On Monday, we started Varsity Letters’ preseason Big 5 Double A football rankings by introducing the No. 5-ranked Samuel Robertson Technical Titans of Maple Ridge.
We’ll count down the Triple A Big 5 next week, but today, we stay at Double A with our No. 4-ranked team.
CHILLIWACK — It’s a measure of just how deep an impact they’ve made within their eastern Fraser Valley high school sports culture that Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies are even in the discussion this season among the Big Five B.C. Double A high school football teams.
After back-to-back Subway Bowl Final Four appearances fueled by explosive running back Von Richardson and a mountainous but mobile crew of linemen, the Grizz are looking for a new identity in 2018.
That’s to be expected when your top five running backs, top six receivers, both quarterbacks and top eight tacklers from a season ago all depart via graduation.
Yet rival coaches from across the tier aren’t resting on head coach Laurie Smith’s group which will feature just enough rising senior talent to get a new stew cooking, one which will add more than a sprinkle of talent from a rising group of junior varsity players.
“I do think we’re going to be competitive once again,” said Smith, whose team comes into the season ranked No. 4 in the Varsity Letters Big 5 B.C. Double A rankings. “But I also think we’re on the verge of a new group that can be even better.”
Include this coming season, and the window may well be as many as three seasons of upward progress, based on the fact that Football Canada Western Under-16 select Logan Buchwitz, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound rising Grade 10 receiver/linebacker, is ready to make his senior varsity debut while also helping to lead the school’s junior varsity team.
“He is the kind of guy that reminds you of how dominant Chase Claypool was,” says Smith of the current Notre Dame star who through the earliest stages of his youth career in Abbotsford simply overwhelmed his opposition.
Buchwitz has had similar success and is now on the verge of testing that talent for the first time within the senior varsity realm.
The rest of the puzzle?
With Richardson’s absolute domination out of the offensive backfield (he rushed for 3,398 yards and 29 TDs over 17 Grade 11-12 games) there wasn’t much sense in bringing up an underclassmen.
Now, however, it’s time for rising Grade 11 Jaiden Klaassen to get his carries.
Klaassen and rising Grade 11 quarterback Colby Bessette will bring more of a balance to the offence in 2018, and that means not only game-breaking plays on the ground but a legitimate ability to stretch the field through the air.
Last season, the Grizz passed for just over 600 yards and four touchdowns over the course of the regular season, so the move towards a more balanced approach is good news for a dependable receiving core led by Ashton Young and fellow rising senior Ryan Brady.
Cooper Middleton returns as the senior leader in the trenches.
And up front, he’ll be joined by behemoth Mason Murphy, a rising Grade 11 stalwart.
“Cooper is the last of that great group of linemen,” says Smith, “and Mason Murphy is a big rig, a kid who could be one of our most disruptive pass rushers.”
And while Richardson’s impact is always first measured on the offensive side of the ball, he was AA football’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 where he starred at linebacker and led the Grizz in tackles.
Now out of the shadows, rising senior middle linebacker Andrew Locke will get his chance to become a leader at the heart of the team’s defence.
“His whole career, he’s always been playing (behind) someone,” adds Smith. “Now he is the starter. He is fast, thick, stocky. He’s a kid who just hits so hard.”
With a junior varsity team that is also expected to be a contender, the Grizzlies program finds itself in unique place.
In back-to-back years its has graduated one of B.C.’s best quarterbacks (UBC’s Gabe Olivares) and best running backs (Von Richardson).
And now, just over the near horizon, there are new, program-defining players ready to give G.W. Graham Grizzlies football a new identity in 2019 and beyond.
Yet the best programs always find a way to bring a level of consistency, even in those seasons when the full measure of their team DNA is not yet fully installed.
Carrying through to the late days of November with an opportunity to live up to a No. 4 ranking would be the surest sign yet that the Grizzlies have arrived as one of their tier’s top programs. And of course, it seems clear they’re not about to settle for anything less than the top prize.
(Coming Wednesday, June 13th: Double A No. 3)
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