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It's a senior circuit for Granite Bay football

Grizzlies are loaded with experience as they tackle heavyweight schedule
By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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It would be easy to look at Granite Bay High School’s football roster and immediately think the Grizzlies would be down after winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship last season.

Graduate a three-year starting quarterback in Brendan Keeney and a mountain of a presence on the offensive line in Gavin Andrews, and yes, those are noticeable losses.

And while the Grizzlies are starting a different quarterback and don’t have a 6-foot-7, 330-pound bearded lineman, they do have 41 seniors, 35 of whom have been in the program all four years.

“That’s a pretty good group,” head coach Ernie Cooper said. “I wouldn’t take on this schedule with some other teams.”

The schedule starts Saturday with the Battle for Veterans at Del Oro, as the Grizzlies play Westlake Village-Westlake, ranked No. 4 in the state by www.maxpreps.com. No. 5 Westlake Village-Oaks Christian is next on the schedule, followed by Northern California powers Vacaville, Pittsburg and Stockton-Lincoln before the start of Sierra Foothill League play.

The Grizzlies will put several new starters on the field Saturday night, but they appear to be solid from sideline to sideline.

Beau Hershberger (6-foot-2½, 235 pounds) is, in today’s teen language, a “beast.” J.R. Calton (6-2, 210), a first-team All-SFL selection last season, gives the Grizzlies bookend defensive ends. Both are seniors.

Cooper describes Hershberger as “very explosive,” while Calton is more technical and good at reading offenses. Hershberger, a second-team All-SFL pick in 2011, gave Granite Bay’s offense fits early in training camp.

“We couldn’t block him,” Cooper said.

Granite Bay also has bookend senior cornerbacks in Aaron Knapp (5-10, 165) and Nick Grace (5-11, 160). Knapp was league MVP for the baseball team last spring. Senior Mason Conen (6-2, 205) is a “tough, blue-collar guy” who Cooper said is a perfect fit to play strong-side inside linebacker.

“That’s the start of a good defense,” Cooper said. “Our goal is to be the best tackling team on the field and the best pursuing team on the field.”

On offense, senior Grant Caraway (6-1, 190) takes over at quarterback for Keeney. Caraway was the quarterback on his freshman and sophomore teams and had “a real nice scrimmage” against Bella Vista on Saturday, according to Cooper.

Third-year varsity fullback Taft Partridge (6-1, 210) is 10 pounds heavier than last season, when he had to hit Pleasant Grove’s inside linebackers “about 25 or 30 times” in the section title game.

“He’s the guy,” Cooper said. “When he says something, the guys jump. He’s as tough as nails.”

Weapons include senior H back Johnny Cooley (5-10, 185), who recognizes holes, cutbacks and bounces; fly backs Tony Ellison (6-0, 170), Andrew Towery (5-10, 170) and Brigdon York (5-8, 160); and speedy X receiver Ty Serna (5-11, 180). Steven Graber (6-5, 220) is the starting tight end. Ellison is the lone junior, but he played varsity last season.

The only returning offensive lineman is guard Justin Ramirez (6-0, 220), but all five starters are seniors.

“Four of them are starting for the first time,” Cooper said. “That’s a heck of a way to go, starting against Westlake for your first game.”

GRANITE BAY GRIZZLIES

Date        Opponent
Saturday   Vs. Westlake Village-Westlake at Del Oro
Sept. 1     At Westlake Village-Oaks Christian
Sept. 7     Idle
Sept. 14   VACAVILLE
Sept. 21   PITTSBURG
Sept. 28   STOCKTON-LINCOLN
Oct. 5      ROSEVILLE (SFL)
Oct. 12    At Rocklin (SFL)
Oct. 19    DEL ORO (SFL)
Oct. 26    At Woodcreek (SFL)
Nov. 2     At Nevada Union (SFL)
Varsity games are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s opponent: Westlake Village is coming off a 14-1 season in which it lost to national power Concord-De La Salle 35-0 in the CIF Open State Bowl Game. The Warriors are ranked No. 4 in the state and No. 17 in the nation, according to www.maxpreps.com. Quarterback Justin Moore and running back Dashon Hunt return for their senior seasons. Moore accounted for 3,582 yards and 40 touchdowns rushing and passing last season. Hunt rushed for 1,274 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also had 63 tackles and six interceptions. Moore had three interceptions.

Granite Bay head coach Ernie Cooper said the teams are similar in many ways: Both are public schools with a tradition of winning, have had the same coaching staffs for several years and run basically the same systems every year. “We’re mirror images. We’re playing us,” he said, adding, “(Westlake) probably has a little more speed than us. That’s a great equalizer, so that has us a little nervous. You can’t emulate Dashon Hunt in practice, so we gotta go back to pursuit, angles, good tackling habits. We have to do it in game number one.”

BATTLE FOR VETERANS

Saturday’s schedule: Roseville vs. Bradshaw Christian, USA Football (Midgets), 9 a.m.; Lincoln vs. Antelope (Midgets), 11 a.m.; Granite Bay vs. Elk Grove (Midgets), 2 p.m.; Nevada County Sheriff’s vs. Placer County Sheriff’s (Battle of the Badges), 5 p.m.; parachute jump team/fly by/honor festivities, 7 p.m.; Granite Bay vs. Westlake, 7:30 p.m.

Information: www.battleforveterans.org.

Grizzlies on TV: Granite Bay will play host to Stockton-Lincoln on Sept. 28, and the game will be televised at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, on the Comcast Hometown Network (Channel 104). Comcast will televise 21 games this season.