It’s been a season of tumult in the B.C. high school football world.
Yet despite the complexities of its final chapter being played out against the conditions of our ever-changing world, it still has the ability to lift and inspire us from its very grassroots level.
When the B.C. High School AA Provincial All-Star team was released last week, the player named as the tier’s Defensive MVP didn’t cause any kind of stir or grab all the headlines.
In fact unless you’re a member of the Vernon Panthers football team, or an opposition foe this season tasked with figuring out how to stop the team’s most unique rush end, you might not know anything at all about a special senior named Grayson Statham.
“But I think if you’re a kid in Grade 8 or 9, and you’re under-sized, and you’re wondering if you should even play football, then I think that Grayson is the perfect kind of kid for you to look up to,” says Panthers’ head coach Sean Smith.
If you count the COVID-cancelled season of 2020, then Statham is only now finishing his third season of any kind of football at all.
Then, you factor in the most amazing part of all: Statham, the 2021 B.C. Double-A Defensive MVP is a 6-foot-, 160-pound rush end.
“To put it simply, I am beyond grateful, because I have had the advantage of having great people, coaches and teammates, in my corner who have supported me, helped me improve, and take my game up to the next level,” said Statham, 17, who had never played the game until his family moved to Vernon from Kelowna prior to his Grade 10 season in the fall of 2019.
On Friday (7 p.m.), Statham — who tied for the team lead in tackles (52) with fellow all-star Roan Reid — plays the final game of his all-too-brief high school career when the Panthers play host to the Kelowna Owls in the Subway Bowl B.C. Interior/Northern championship final at Greater Vernon Athletic Park.
“We run a three-man front, and it takes advantage of his quickness and his ability to shoot a gap,” adds Smith. “In one game he had 10 tackles, in another 11, and he was in the backfield before they could even get a hand on him or wrap him up.
“One-hundred-and-sixty pounds is pretty light for a junior, let alone a senior, but this is a guy who gets out of himself every ounce of what he has,” Smith marvels. “He works his tail off, and then after practice he is at the gym here in town hitting the weight room. He has seen the results of his hard work.”
As a Dr. Knox Middle School student during his days in Kelowna, Statham would have been playing for Friday’s opposition Owls had his family not moved.
And as he came to a new high school, he felt more and more the urge to become a part of something bigger than himself.
I just really liked the idea of people all putting in effort and improving themselves and then it showing on the field together,” he said.
Statham had played hockey and soccer throughout his younger years, but once he got to eighth grade, he decided to instead become a boxer.
“To put it bluntly, it toughened me up,” Statham says of what he took from the sweet science to the gridiron. “It showed me how to use aggression to my advantage.”
Smith could sense just how willing a student of the game Statham was when, back in 2019, he approached the head coach and asked if there was a chance he could accompany and dress for games with the senior varsity as the Panthers made their run to capture the Subway Bowl B.C. AA title.
“He got down to the semifinals and the finals,” remembers Smith of Statham, who didn’t just dress, but actually got into both games late in the fourth quarter— respective wins over Ballenas and Langley — where he was able to line up as a rush end.
“I thought it was so neat that he came up to me and asked if he could just dress for the games,” said Smith, channeling his own inner-Rudy. “He just wanted to see how everything worked (before a Subway Bowl game under the dome), from the pre-game right through. And then he took all of that into last year, and I know it inspired him to just keep working harder.”
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