Aug. 22—The Grangeville football team missed the Idaho Class 2A state football playoffs for the first time in coach Jeff Adams' seven-year tenure last season after going 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the Central Idaho League.
The Bulldogs' struggles can be linked to a couple of factors, namely inexperience and a lack of overall numbers.
"Our graduating class was only about 40 kids," Adams said. "Which is well below average, and it's been like that for the last two years. Numbers help in small-school football, and I had 13 total varsity players last year, and that's tough when you play a hard 11-man schedule."
Grangeville's roster size has more than doubled this season, with 45 Bulldogs suiting up in 2023.
"The difference is night and day," Adams said. "It's a mix of some good experience and some great young kids to build on. We're a mature team for the first time in a while, and it's showing in practice — it really is."
The most experienced unit for the Bulldogs will be its offensive line, starting three juniors and two seniors along its front five.
"The O-line is our brightest spot," Adams said. "It's been a long time since we've had this high of football IQ, size and athletic talent on our offensive line. Playing those young guys early on and letting them get beat up a little bit paid off."
For the second year in a row, Talum Brown will get the start at center.
"Last year was a big learning curve for him," Adams said. "He's grown quite a bit and he's the brains of the operation."
Playing alongside Brown on the offensive line will be junior guards Beau Bruzas and Troy Benefield, who are weighing north of 220 pounds, and senior tackles Devin Morgan and Aaron Forsmann.
Grangeville's now-experienced unit will be tasked with protecting junior quarterback David Goicoa.
The three-year varsity player saw limited action under center last year, playing in two games.
With the limited experience from last year's group, Adams elected to save the junior for a better tomorrow.
"He's seen the highs and lows, and he's bigger," Adams said. "I don't think last year went as expected for anyone, and you can't just send a defenseless player out there, and the time for him is now. I'm excited to see him throw the ball."
Another possible catalyst for Grangeville's struggles last year was the expansion of the Central Idaho League.
The CIL consisted of the Bulldogs, Orofino and St. Maries for years, with Grangeville's football team dominating the league for a decade, earning seven league titles in that span. But in 2022, the league expanded, adding Priest River and the eventual league champion, Kellogg.
Both programs proved to be quality opponents, producing several Division I athletes.
"I enjoyed having four league games," Adams said. "It was a different style, and I really enjoyed playing Kellogg. We caught them when they were loaded with good kids."
Adams and his Bulldogs are no strangers to competition, as he usually schedules a rigorous nonleague schedule, and 2023 is no different.
Grangeville lost its season opener 42-21 to Idaho Class 3A Timberlake on Friday. The Bulldogs will also play 3A Parma on Sept. 1 and Washington Class 4A Rogers on Sept 8.
The Bulldogs' tough nonleague schedule paired with being in a quality league will make their bounce-back season tough. But for Adams, it's going to be a personal journey.
"We play up as much as we can," Adams said. "We'll play anyone at any time, it's just how it works out. ... To be low on numbers and go through what we did last year wasn't enjoyable for my kids or for Grangeville. I feel responsible for that, and we're going to turn it around."
3 things to watch
Grangeville said good bye to its leading rusher Colin Goeckner. But junior runner Cooper Poxlietner can more than make up for that loss according to Adams.
Senior Karl Spencer leads an experienced linebacker corps that features an all-conference outside backer in Jaden Lagretta and junior Tayden Wassmuth. Spencer has seen the most transformation throughout his football journey, starting out as a 4-foot-11 freshman to now being 6-1 and 185 pounds.
Grangeville's 45-man roster will make it easy for the Bulldogs to have two separate units. This will be a big help on defense, which Adams labeled as the team's strength. "We are very far ahead on defense," Adams said. "I love what we have going on that side of the ball. It has the making of an old school Grangeville defense back when Jeff Lindsley was running the defense."
COACH — Jeff Adams (seventh season)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD — 2-2 in Central Idaho League, 3-5 overall
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS — Carter Mundt, sr., Jaden Lagretta, sr., Cody Klement, sr., Aaron Forsmann, sr., Karl Spencer, sr., Devin Morgan, sr., Ray Holes, sr., Beau Bruzas, jr., Talum Brown, jr., Cooper Poxlietner, jr., David Goicoa, jr., Tayden Wassmuth, jr., Troy Benefield, jr.
8/19 — Timberlake, L 21-42
9/1 — at Parma, 7 p.m.
9/8 — Rogers (Wash), 7 p.m.
9/15 — at New Plymouth, 7 p.m.
9/29 — Orofino, 7 p.m.
10/6 — at St. Maries, 7 p.m.
10/13 — Kellogg, 7 p.m.
Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TreebTalks