Grace High School
Conference: 1AD1 High Desert Conference
Classification: 1A D1
Head Coach: Brandon Sanchez
Years as Head Coach: 1st Season
Previous Experience: 6 years at Rangely Middle School/High School as Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach.
2 years at Star Valley High School as Defensive Coordinator.
2 years at Big Piney Junior High School as Head Coach.
Record Last Year: 2-6
State Titles: None
Rick Porter, OL/DL
Jamie Holyoak, Defensive Consultant
Marlowe Mickelson, LB/RB/OL
Cody Spencer, DB/WR
Rob Sorensen, Junior High Head Coach
Chaysen Ostler, TB/DB, Senior
Matthew Gilbert, TE/DE, Senior
Tyler Mansfield, TB/LB, Senior
Austin Ruud, WR/CB, Junior
Jaron Pitcher, OL/DL, Senior
Paycen Jensen, QB/DB, Sophomore
Courtland Smith, OL/DE, Junior
Justin Partain, OL/DL, Sophomore
Garrett Kladis, OL/DL/LB, Sophomore
Kip Campbell, WR/DB, Senior
Landon Wheeler, OL/DE, Junior
Lincoln Skinner, FB/LB, Junior
Mark McGregor, LB/FB/DL, Junior
“Key Players” lost from last year:
Kade Jorgensen, QB/LB – 1st Team All-Conference
Andrew Simonson, RB/LB – 1st Team All-Conference
Wyatt Kendall, WR/DB – 1st Team All-Conference
Hayden Painter, OL – 1st Team All-Conference
Incoming “impact” players:
Written by: Matt Harris (@IdahoSportsMatt)
The Grace Grizzlies football program reached the 1A Division-I state championship game in 2010. Since that time, the program has regressed from their pinnacle, unable to find the on-field consistency they desired. And after a pair of 2-6 campaigns in 2013 and 2014, the Grizzlies decided to move in a new direction.
New head coach Brandon Sanchez takes over this season and hopes to re-energize the downtrodden program and lift the spirits of faithful football fans in the small Caribou County town. He’s also excited for the challenge ahead of him.
“There is a positive buzz in the air surrounding our program right now,” said Sanchez. “We’re heading into the season with 30-plus players having had a solid summer program, which are both exciting prospects. I’m most excited about the positive attitude that comes with bringing in a new program, focus, and philosophy.”
Sanchez is no newbie when it comes to football. He’s made a few different stops at schools in the Intermountain West, including six years at Rangely High School in Colorado as head coach and a pair of two-year stints as Star Valley High School’s defensive coordinator and Big Piney Junior High School’s head football coach, respectively.
“I haven’t been coaching football for a couple of years. I missed it,” said Sanchez to the Idaho State Journal. “I knew we had a good team coming back. I just really felt with my experience and passion for the game, I can change the attitude of the team.”
Grace returns 16 players to their squad this season, including seniors Chaysen Ostler, Jaron Pitcher, Kip Campbell, Matthew Gilbert, and Tyler Mansfield. They are joined by juniors Landon Wheeler, Courtland Smith, Mark McGregor, Austin Ruud, and Lincoln Skinner, whom Sanchez says could be a big-time player for the Grizzlies this year.
“Lincoln is going to play on both sides of the ball at fullback and middle linebacker,” he said. “He’s a strong, tough, aggressive athlete that should be a dominant force for us.”
In the sophomore class, they are led by second-year starting quarterback Paycen Jensen. He is joined by fellow sophomores Justin Partain, and Garrett Kladis. Sanchez said that as a freshman, Jensen had a greater impact on the defensive side of the ball.
“Paycen was the second leading tackler on defense last year at linebacker and safety,” he said. “We believe he will have an equally big impact at quarterback for us this year.”
Jensen is the younger brother of former Grizzlies quarterback Josh Jensen, who led Grace to that 2010 state championship game. The younger Jensen suffered a broken hand over the summer and was unable to participate in summer workouts.
Adding to the roster this year are two transfer players: senior Talon Nance of Declo and Perrin Gunderson of Bear River, Utah.
“Talon should help us on both sides of the ball and with special teams,” said Sanchez. “He has a tall frame, good hands, and a very positive attitude. As for Gunderson, he brings a lot of size and ability to the table.”
Sanchez has size on his squad this year. And he plans on using every inch and ounce of it to his advantage.
“Size to our offensive line will be a strength in developing our inside running game,” he said. “We also have a fair amount of speed at the skill positions.”
The new coach knows that even with a plethora of returning players, there are improvements that need to be made to the offense.
“We must improve on our blocking schemes and the athletes understanding their specific roles and responsibilities,” Sanchez said. “We also want to develop the passing game over the course of the year.”
Defensively, Sanchez said all of the pieces are in place to employ a tough defense – it’s just a matter of how you arrange those pieces.
“We have the necessary tools in place with talented and experienced defensive players,” he said. “But the test will be developing a new defensive philosophy under a new coaching staff. We have the potential of being fairly dominant on defense. Time will tell.”
He added that one of the key pieces in rolling out a new scheme is making sure the fundamentals are taken care of first.
“Tackling was a huge issue last year and something that has to remedied this year. Not allowing one player to beat us and developing an “attacking” mentality on defense factors in. We must be aggressive on defense this year and try to dictate what the offense will do by getting them into 3rd-and-long situations.”
When it comes to this year’s slate of games, Sanchez was not shy about pointing out the key games for his squad.
“North Gem is a must-see game of the year because of our geographical rivalry and both of the Challis and Butte County games because of our conference,” he said.”
It’s unusual in high school football to play a conference opponent more than once. That is normally reserved for sports like basketball, soccer, baseball and the like. However, in the District 5-6 High Desert Conference, the three conference members decided to play each other twice during the regular season, creating an even higher importance in those league games.
In those key conference games, Sanchez said having all weapons available personnel-wise will play a large role in determining the outcome of the conference champion.
“Staying healthy is key,” he said, “but also being able to rely on backup players to keep the same level of play and intensity on the field.”
Sanchez also stated that his team needs to break down a ‘mental wall’ that has plagued the team after struggling for a few years in the conference.
“Success will breed more success with this team,” he said.
But the Grace Grizzlies also have another weapon at their disposal. It’s not one that you will see on the field in full uniform. It’s the motivation that comes from dedicating their season to a player – a player whose life was taken too early.
“Our season is in honor of a fallen teammate, Peyton Rindlisbaker,” Sanchez said. “He was a promising freshman player who passed away suddenly in a motorcycle accident last March. In 8-man football, every talented athlete is key to a successful year and he will be greatly missed.”
The new coach said that the team plans on remembering and honoring Rindlisbaker by wearing stickers on their helmets and placing his unworn jersey on the sidelines as a constant reminder of their goals.
One of those goals – return the program to the days of perennial success.
They begin that trek on Aug. 28 on the road against archrival North Gem.