GRANTS PASS — During the recent return to prominence for the Grants Pass football program, a key factor has been a steady group of seasoned offensive linemen with the size and strength to set the tone on most Friday nights.
This year, however, the Cavemen will insert five brand new faces into the starting lineup for a spread offensive scheme that requires a steady push to occupy defenders.
But instead of worrying about the front-line inexperience, GP head coach John Musser finds himself fairly optimistic entering the season after the group’s solid showing during summer scrimmages.
“Four of the five kids last year were two-year starters so we’re pretty baby-faced up front,” said Musser.
After a methodical spring in which the GP coaches were patient as the group slowly got up to speed, Musser said his offensive line proved to be a bright spot when it came time to go full speed.
Leading that charge has been right tackle Joe Johnson (6-foot, 215 pounds), right guard Andrew Prulhiere (6-0, 300), center Cadin Barker (5-9, 246), left guard Logan Vinyard (6-0, 260) and left tackle Peter Osipovich (6-0, 235). Of that group, only Johnson saw some starting varsity action last year, and that meant him moving from tight end to center.
With that boost in confidence from the summer, the Cavemen fully believe they have what it takes to compete for one of the top spots in the Southwest Conference this fall as they strive for a sixth straight winning season.
“I think we have a chance to compete for one of those top spots,” said Musser, “but we’ve got to stay healthy.”
Lacking overall depth, the Cavemen will have more two-way players this season than in years past, but the talent certainly is there to contend for their first conference title since 2014.
To maximize the team’s capabilities, Musser made the move to insert junior Chase Coyle into the starting quarterback position and will have two-year starting QB Blain Hobbs transition to the perimeter as a halfback/slot receiver for his senior season.
Coyle (6-2, 195) is a strong-armed QB with more ability to push the ball downfield, while the shifty Hobbs (5-8, 160) has been as elusive as any in the backfield and now gets a chance to show what he has in open territory.
“With Chase, his arm strength and accuracy is the big thing,” said Musser. “The way we’re built this year, I think most of our strength lies in our receivers. His ability to stretch the field vertically and horizontally is going to be huge.”
“And for Blain, when he can get the ball out in space and not have to get to that space by virtue of running through people, it’s been a big deal for us,” adds the 11th-year head coach.
A lot of offensive production will also rest on the capable, albeit injury-prone, legs of senior tailback Jaren Emptage (6-0, 187). Emptage boasts incredible speed and game-breaking ability, but he was lost for the season last year due to a torn hamstring during warmups for the season opener and tore his other hamstring during the track season.
“He’s as explosive of a kid we’ve had in a long time if he can stay healthy,” said Musser.
Junior Jake Henricks (5-11, 173) was the featured running back on JV last year and provides a nice downhill complement with his ability to see the hole, put a foot down and head north.
Three-year starter Korbin Lopez, a 6-3, 175-pound standout who was a second-team all-SWC pick in 2017, will be a featured playmaker at receiver and be flanked on the opposite edge by senior Randy Clark. In the slot opposite Hobbs will be junior Joel Valadez, with junior J.J. Watts supplying some added size (6-0, 178) as a security blanket from the tight end position.
Defensively, the Cavemen will be led by a stable of linebackers led by all-SWC seniors Jacob Hancock (5-11, 210) and Blake Sellers (5-11, 180) with Johnson and Henricks.
The defensive line is still in development but will rely on all-SWC senior end Corbin Anderson (6-1, 210) and senior nose guard Warren Stark (6-0, 243), but the secondary is in good hands with returners Clark and Valadez at cornerback and Lopez at free safety.
John Musser (11th year, 58-48).
Grants Pass has enjoyed winning seasons since 2013 but has only made it past the second round of the state playoffs once (2014) in that span.
ASSISTANTS: Matt Kennedy (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), John Tunick (defensive coordinator/defensive backs), Bub Marval (offensive line), Brian Richard (defensive line), Kyle Swanson (running backs), Tyler York (receivers), John Valadez (defensive backs/JV head coach), Jonah Musser (receivers), Robbie Zaina (JV), Nate Scott (JV), Stacy Morgan (freshman head coach), Jenner Yriarte (freshman), Jake Leair (freshman).
2017 LEAGUE RECORD: 4-2 (third, SWC).
2017 OVERALL RECORD: 6-4.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Third.
21South Medford 40
34North Medford 14
31South Eugene 0
OFFENSE (3): Halfback Blain Hobbs (5-8, 140, sr.), receiver Korbin Lopez (6-2, 165, sr.), center Joe Johnson (6-0, 215, sr.).
DEFENSE (5): Linebacker Jacob Hancock (5-11, 212, sr.), lineman Corbin Anderson (6-0, 210, sr.), linebacker Blake Sellers (5-11, 167, sr.), defensive back Randy Clark (5-11, 161, sr.), defensive back Korbin Lopez.
Quarterback Chase Coyle (6-2, 204, jr.), running back/cornerback Jaren Emptage (5-11, 180, sr.), receiver/defensive back Joel Valadez (5-10, 152, jr.), lineman Warren Stark (5-11, 218, sr.), lineman Peter Osipovich (6-0, 235, jr.), lineman Cadin Barker (5-9, 246, jr.), lineman Andrew Prulhiere (6-0, 300, so.), lineman Logan Vinyard (6-0, 260, so.), running back/linebacker Jake Henricks (5-10, 175, jr.), fullback/lineman Derek Seals (5-10, 185, sr.), receiver/linebacker J.J. Watts (6-0, 173, jr.), receiver/defensive back Orion Martin (6-0, 160, sr.), receiver/linebacker Scott Kelley (5-11, 177, sr.), receiver/linebacker Cody Amaral (5-10, 145, jr.), receiver/defensive back Andrew Medley (5-7, 153, jr.), lineman Aiden Kendall (6-2, 215, jr.), running back/linebacker Kristian Tucker (5-10, 176, sr.), running back/linebacker Kolby Bautista (5-7, 140, sr.), receiver/defensive back Cameron Decker (6-0, 166, jr.), receiver/defensive back Devik Chiang (6-1, 170, so.), receiver/defensive back Anthony Maravilla (6-1, 164, jr.), placekicker/punter Christian Pendleton (5-9, 192, sr.), lineman Aaron Weagel (5-10, 261, jr.), lineman Luke Cochrane (6-1, 222, jr.), lineman Tyson Dixon (6-4, 207, jr.).
Aug. 31OREGON CITY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7;at Summit, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14at Mt. View, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21SOUTHRIDGE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28at Roseburg, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5NORTH MEDFORD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12WESTVIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19SOUTH MEDFORD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26at Sheldon, 7 p.m.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry