By Mike finnerty (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Thursday, December 13 - Day 1 - Road to Carson, California with Granite Bay Grizzlies football team
Yesterday's trip to Carson began with a team send off from Granite Bay High School at 7:00am.
Parents, students, media, and administration were on all hand to wish the team well as they boarded the two buses headed to Carson.
Head coach Ernie Cooper and the offense rode on one bus, and the the defense and it's coaches were in another bus.
Two stops were made along the way, one at the Firebaugh exit and another in the grapevine. Team bus arrived at the Holiday Inn in Torrance at approximately 2:30pm.
Last night, the team practiced at the South West Community College of Los Angeles from 6pm - 7:45pm, and then had dinner at the Marriott Courtyard in Torrance afterward.
NOTE: We interviewed several players from the defensive side this week. We talked with guys like Beau Hershberger, Tyler Arneson, Cameron Smith, Mason Konen to name just a few. We'll look to catch up with them today as well, but those interviews will air on SureWest Sports Show No. 198, our "Road to Carson" episode, that will air Tuesday, December 18th, online at SureWestSports.com.
What we learned in talking to some of the offensive players and coaches on the bus ride during Day 1
Grant Caraway (quarterback) - Caraway is not only a great quarterback, but an outstanding student with a grade point average of 4.5. Would love to continue his football career in college, perhaps at any Ivy League school, if that opportunity should present itself. If not, Caraway would like to be a student at Cal Poly or UCLA.
What's Caraway do on the bus? Well, he's got a seat of his own plus an empty seat next to him and he sits at the front of the bus, and in that nice spot he plays video games and reads "Lord of the Rings".
John Cooley (running back) - Cooley is quiet, admires his mohawk hairstyle, and rides with fellow senior, and tight end Bryan Mantell. At one point, while back up quarterback Josh Neal had his shoe stolen on the bus, the shoe made it's way to Cooley who hid the show, but he could not hide his smile as Neal found the shoe with Cooley.
Kevin Blank and Justin Ramirez (offensive linemen) - Blank (6'2", 250) slept, talked, and took up not only his two seats, but did his best to rest his feet on the seats near by. As for Ramirez, no one was more outgoing on the bus than this 6'0", 200 lb. guard. Ramirez, while fun and playful, was good to chat with an when I asked him about his boundless energy he replied, "What until game day."
Taft Partridge (running back) - on right in photo - Partridge, a senior captain, sits near the middle of the bus and he too gets one of those rare empty seats next to him. The luxury of being a senior captain. In our chat, Partridge is the third of three boys to play football for the Jr. Grizzlies program as well as the for the varsity program. His brother Will graduated in 2005, Judd in 2007, and Clark in 2008. Taft and Clark still debate over which Granite Bay team was the better one.
Partridge has not received any college offers, but is open to the idea of going to a junior college and converting from a fullback to a running back. My trimming down and honing his skills. One thing Partridge was sure to mention is that his team will not be intimidated by Long Beach Poly.
Tony Ellison (fly back) on left in photo - Ellison, only a junior, has already been a part of two Division I section championships and Granite Bay Athletic Director Tim Healy calls Ellison the best all around athlete at Granite Bay.
Ellison is quiet on the bus, and even a gentleman when he asked me if I needed help with my bags and luggage when we arrived at the hotel.
What I learned about this speedy fly back in Mr. Ellison is that he has a brother in the 6th grade and another in the 8th grade, both play for the Jr. Grizzlies, and the youngest brother will be a ball boy on the field for the big game. Ellison started playing playing flag football in the 2nd grade back in Idaho, and as a quarterback for his team, the Incredible Acorns, they played in the championship game on the blue turf at Boise State.....and they won, capping off a 20-0 season. He's clearly a winner.
His dream.....to play Division I college football.
Ernie Cooper (head coach) - Cooper has been gracious and helpful in my effort to embed with the team. When I approached Coach Cooper at the first rest stop to let him know I would sit with him for a quick interview he said, "Sure, but I'm working on plays to figure out how we can score inside the 20." Sure enough, he was. Cooper slept on the bus for a very short time, other than that he talked to no one in his front row seat and he had his nose buried in the playbook. A perfectionist as always.
Common theme amongst players and assistant coaches - UNANIMOUS praise and respect for Coach Cooper.
Mike Lynch (assistant coach/offensive line) - on right in photo - Funny story about Coach Lynch is that he was my driver's ed teacher back in 1984 when I was a sophomore at Oakmont High School. We reminisced about the people we knew back then at Oakmont, top wrestlers, football players, etc. As I sat next to Brian Alvarez, one of Granite Bay's trainers and EMT's, he was shocked to learn that Lynch was a driver's ed teacher back in the day. His response, "What?! Driver's ed teacher?! That guy drives like a maniac!"
Another side bar story for Lynch, who has been a football coach since his teaching days at Jackson High School in 1972, then to Oakmont (81-95), and at Granite Bay (96-current), has one thrilling weekend ahead. Lynch will be coaching his offensive linemen in this Division I state championship, then on Sunday he'll be at the Packers at Bears game, and then on Monday he'll meet his first grandchild, Madison, who is just one-month old.
Russ Towne (assistant coach/running back coordinator) - this 13-year football coach was called up to the varsity last year so he has been with this particular group of players since their freshmen season, so he is especially close to this group. Towne praises Cooper for teaching him the ins and outs of coaching and coaching the Granite Bay way. Towne's son played football for Cooper a few years back.
John Roza (defensive coordinator) - Roza is also in his second year with the varsity team. Roza, kind and very engaging, is thrilled for this bowl game opportunity and feels confident that his defense is ready to go.
Brian Alvarez (sidelines coordinator/trainer/EMT) - Alvarez has been a volunteer for the football team for about seven years. Alvarez has done everything from game photography a few years back, to now taping ankles and fixing helmets, to providing first aid. Alvarez is an FBI agent during the day, a military veteran always, and strong supporter of all things Granite Bay. Alvarez' son Chad gradated from Granite Bay last year and, and has a son who is a freshman at Granite Bay now.
Alvarez will have his usual spot on the sidelines filling in many roles, and with no kids in the football program anymore, but still at every game, including the big state championship, he response was simple, "I wouldn't miss this for anything. I get emotional even thinking about it."