The Grand County High School football team after a scrimmage during football camp held earlier this month. Back row left to right: David Bentley, Sam Woodruff, Wade Kemmsies, Stephen Messick, Koi Cook, Brandon Secrest, Edgar Gomez, Jacob Francis, Justin Cresswell, Austin Day. Middle row from left to right: Layton Call, Andy Bathemess, Adam Flanders, Adam Gardner and Justin Beason. Middle row from left to right: Justin Grawet, Nolan Beeman, Cameron Taylor, Sydney Shumway, Ronnie Dolphin, Matt Bridenbaker, Dylan Valerio, Taylor Horton, Gage Moore, Kayden Cresswell and Jason. Front left to right: Josh Stalpes, Tanner White, Joseph Shumway and Qordale Tsosie. [Courtesy photo by Joe Day]

The Grand County Red Devils football team bonded as a group and sharpened their skills at camp this week in preparation for the upcoming season.

Camp started with a morning practice on Tuesday, July 8 before the Red Devils trekked to Duchesne to continue. Grand and Duchesne competed in a scrimmage on Wednesday, July 9 where the Red Devils hung tough with the three-time defending 1A champs despite missing a large portion of the roster, including about seven key contributors, coach Dennis Wells said.

“We hung with a team on a 34-game winning streak – if they win their first three games this season, they’ll break the state record – while we were missing a lot of our guys,” he said. “It’s kind of scary how good our team could be if we had everyone there.”

Among the missing contributors were most of the linemen and senior Cameron Taylor, who made the trip, but sat out most of camp after injuring his hamstring. Taylor didn’t mince words about the injury ruining his week.

“Honestly it was terrible,” he said. “Any football athlete can tell you that watching from the sidelines is one of the hardest things to do. However, it gave me a good opportunity to watch the team and help in other areas as much as I could.”

Wells said the Red Devils bonded during camp and could be one of the most tight-knit units he’s ever been around. He said both the offense and defense looked good.

“It was a great team-building experience,” senior lineman Austin Day said. “We got out of our comfort zone being in another town and even though we were missing a bunch of guys, we had younger guys fill in in their spots and they really showed their willingness to contribute.”

Senior Kiel Schraft, who didn’t play in 2012 as a junior after playing as a freshman and sophomore, said he feels like the team has a lot of chemistry.

“(With) the connection that every player has with one another, the team is a real family this year,” he said.”

The Red Devils lost eight seniors in 2012, but many of them were smaller guys or didn’t get a lot of playing time, Wells said. The seniors this year, who were the core of the team as juniors in 2012, make for an older, more experienced team.

Those seniors include starting quarterback Jacob Francis, running backs Taylor and Koi Cook, tight end Layton Call and linemen Day, Edgar Gomez, and David Bentley. Other seniors Schraft, Trae Downard and Matt Bridenbaker are also expected to help the team.

Day said the team is strong at every position and has strong senior leadership.

“Most of the seniors have been leading 7-on-7 and weightlifting, and have been good role models for the younger guys – building a foundation for years to come,” Day said.

Underclassmen expected to step up into expanded varsity roles in 2013 include juniors Koby Sobremesana and Ronnie Dolphin, who saw significant varsity time in 2012 as sophomores, junior Tanner White, who Wells said will play a lot of varsity tight end and outside linebacker, and sophomores Brandon Secrest and Dalton McElhaney. Wells said he also expects North Sanpete transfer Jasen Christensen to help the team, particularly at middle linebacker. Christensen was listed on North Sanpete’s 2012 roster as a 6’2, 200-pound offensive and defensive lineman.

Thanks to a 2012 season in which Grand shocked much of the state with a 7-4 record and a berth in the state semifinals and the fact that most of the varsity squad from that breakout season is still intact, the Red Devils enter the 2013 season with much higher expectations and more respect on a state level.

“Last year we took a lot of coaches by surprise,” Wells said. “Honestly I hope they don’t respect us this year because I enjoy being the underdog. I haven’t seen any preseason polls, but I expect that we’ll be ranked highly when they come out.”

Taylor said the Red Devils expect to be state champions this year.

“Our exceptions are very high this year, we expect to make it all the way,” he said. “I believe that’s a good thing, but it will be up to the leaders to keep our focus on the upcoming game and not get too far ahead of ourselves”

Taylor’s personal goal is to post a season good enough to be able to move on to college ball, which he said he would achieve by doing whatever it takes for the team to win and take state and Day’s goal is first to help the team and second be a better center and defensive tackle than he was last year.

The quest for state began with seven-on-seven drills a few weeks ago followed by camp this week. Seven-on-seven drills continue until July 29 along with normal lifting this week and conditioning next week. Regular practice begins the 29 with full contact beginning on Aug. 10, the first day of “Hell Week.” Wells said the Red Devils will a play a Red-White game on Aug. 17 at the conclusion of Hell Week, probably around 8 p.m., with the community welcome to attend.

The Red Devils open the season with three consecutive home games, Aug. 23 against Carbon, Aug. 30 against Emery and Sept. 6 against region-foe North Sevier. Wells said getting off to a good start will be important and the Red Devils will get a good idea of where they stand based on their performance in the Emery game. After opening with the three straight home games, the Red Devils go on the road for four of their remaining six regular season games. Each of the three home games is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.