The 9-1 Grand County football team enters its semifinal match-up against North Summit on Saturday, Nov. 9 confident that it can win the battle at the line of scrimmage, thanks to an experienced and athletic offensive line anchored by four seniors and a sophomore playing beyond his years.
Not only games, but championships are won in the trenches where the Red Devils boast returning First-Team All-State guard Edgar Gomez, Honorable Mention All-State tackle David Bentley and center Austin Day, senior tackle Justin Cresswell and sophomore guard Brandon Secrest. The offensive line has paved the way for the Red Devils to rank third in 2A in scoring. Grand boasts a trio of 500-yard rushers and has also passed for more than 1,000 yards as a team.
“The biggest difference between last year and this year is experience,” Red Devil offensive line coach Joe Day said. “They’re mostly seniors now with more year of maturity, size, strength and knowledge of the game.”
Joe Day said the Red Devils’ maturity enables them to find and correct mistakes.
“They want to improve. They know they have to improve,” he said. “They can’t afford to feel like they’ve arrived.”
It helps keep them humble and hungry that they still haven’t earned statewide credit and respect, Bentley said.
“It pumps us up to know that we’re picked to lose and we go out and prove people wrong,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling. I don’t like being picked to win.”
Joe Day said the Red Devil line has a swagger, although he wouldn’t go as far as to say they have a chip on their shoulder.
“They have attitude and come prepared,” he said. “They know who they are, know their ability and know they can get beat in any game when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do.
“All year long their focus has been on being the foundation of the team. A team is only as strong as its foundation and in games where they’ve cracked it’s affected the team immediately. The biggest crack is when they’ve had mental mistakes and penalties and another is when they don’t trust their teammates and try to do someone else’s job and not their own. We haven’t had a game where we’ve had the same problem the whole game. We’ve always been able to fix it. I’ve got a phrase that I tell them every day in practice: be totally unleashed, but with pinpoint focus and discipline.”
Austin Day has been honing his craft as a long snapper along with his duties as a senior leader. He currently ranks 13th in the nation among high school long snappers.
“It’s pretty cool to be one of the best in the country at something,” he said. “A lot of the guys I compete with – all they do is long snap.”
Austin Day said he has the attention of some colleges, but has yet to receive a scholarship offer.
“I have some looking at me and I’ve sent in some film,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Gomez, who leads the team in sacks on defense and along with Bentley is tied for second in tackles, said the Red Devils are playing harder with more confidence and dedication.
“We pick each other up,” he said. “We always try to let the whole team know we’re going to get it done.”
Cresswell said the Red Devil linemen take pride in the yardage they help the ball-handlers rack up.
“Our job is to make sure nobody gets through,” he said. “The more we keep guys off ’em, the more yards they get.”
Cresswell said he has never had any ambition of being a ball-handler himself.
“I can’t handle the ball at all,” he said. “The only time I’m touching the ball is on a fumble.”
Secrest, who Joe Day praised for being a strong, fast and aggressive up-and-comer fully capable of competing with seniors, said he used to play running back before becoming a lineman at the high school level, but doesn’t mind being in the trenches.
“Whatever position coach puts me at to help the team, I’ll be more than happy to play it,” he said.
The Red Devil line lost one of its own with the untimely death of sophomore Sam Woodruff onAugust 10, just weeks before the season opener, and the Red Devils haven’t forgotten.
“We still think about him, mention him in every practice and pray for him before every game,” Austin Day said. “Every practice our goal was and still is to get to state for him.”
Bentley especially said he draws a lot of pregame motivation from Woodruff’s memory.
“I go to his grave and visit him for awhile before every game,” he said. “He’s definitely still in our hearts.”
Gomez said he will be nervous Saturday, Nov. 9 at 11 a.m., when the Red Devils take the field against North Summit in the semifinals, but he knows he can succeed.
“If we play like we know how to play, we’ll do just fine he said.”
Joe Day and fellow assistant coaches Steve White and Mike Randall said they’re proud of this season’s crop of linemen.
“We love showing up and working with them everyday,” Joe Day said. “They’re respectful, they listen well and they work hard. They’re a coach’s dream.”