Scroll to bottom of story to see Granger Felt's Facts
Note: Granger finished with a 6-4 overall record and was fifth in Region 2 with a 2-3 record in 2011. It did not qualify for the 5A playoffs.
WEST VALLEY CITY — According to the players who've worn the Granger uniform the last few years, the program has struggled, not because it lacked talent, but because it lacked leadership.
That changed when coach Alex Gerke took over last year and the team proved that something was different as it started the season 4-0.
"Granger has always had the talent," said senior linebacker Vino Leha'uli. "We just didn't have the coaches to take us there. We wanted to win; we just didn't know how to do it. These coaches are getting us there."
It seems it would be problematic that Gerke opted to take a college job just before the season started, but the players said they got lucky when former Cottonwood head coach Cecil Thomas was willing to leave coaching at Weber State to take over the Lancer program.
The players said Thomas has picked up where Gerke left off and it feels very similar.
The biggest difference, they said, is that there is discipline and accountability.
"We just thought no one cared until he came and made a difference," Marshall Auvaa, a junior outside linebacker, said of Gerke. "Now the program is making us better young men — no more violence and just keeping us in the classroom, getting better grades."
T. J. Pututau, a junior, said the coaches' leadership will help them show the rest of the state what Granger is capable of accomplishing.
"They care, and they brought this team together," Pututau said.
Thomas said he felt the players were open to his leadership when he took over a few weeks ago.
"They were very receptive," he said. "The transition was really good. They are familiar with me because I recruited this school for Weber. ... I feel good about where we're at." Thomas believes that Granger is much better than the preseason predictions might indicate.
"It's wide open for us," he said. "I like our chances. If we keep believing in ourselves, keep playing with swagger and get some wins under our belts, this thing could be dangerous."
He said Granger is a program on the verge of a breakthrough. They have the talent, and apparently the coaches have helped the players find the desire.
"I think we're going to continue to keep moving forward," said Thomas. "In my mind, we should be a playoff team. We've still got to pull it together, but these are great kids; they've worked hard from Day 1."
He said the most important thing Gerke did was change the expectations inside and around the program.
The players said the discipline has extended from their fitness level to their study habits.
"We're putting in the work every day," said Khyiris Luavai, a junior tight end. "We've actually started hanging out as a brotherhood. Everyone has an opportunity; no one is singled out."
Senior offensive guard Feleti Mulitalo said it isn't just that the coaches care — it's that they know how to teach the players the game.
"We have a coach coming in who knows what he's doing," he said. "We've learned to work hard, but also taking lessons in our life — things like not showing up late, not missing practice and always working hard."
"I still feel like we're underestimated," added Mulitalo. "But this year could change that."
"We're going to make a name for ourselves," said Luavai.
Thomas and his players said making the playoffs is an important next step.
"It would be huge for the team, the school and the community," said Thomas.
Added Pututau, "It would mean a lot. It would mean proving everybody wrong."
Mulitalo echoed that sentiment, "It would mean a great deal. Maybe it would even bring back those players who left for other programs."
The secret to the changes isn't much of a secret.
"Work hard," said Pututau. "Work hard every day."
Granger Lancers at a glance
Coach: Cecil Thomas coached at Cottonwood for three seasons (2007-09) and posted a 31-7 record. His 2007 squad played for the 4A state title and was a contender every season. Before that, he was an assistant at Cottonwood for four years. He had been at Weber State coaching the offensive line for the last two seasons.
(4 returning starters; Power-I offense)
The team lost the bulk of its starters, but senior offensive linemen Feleti Mulitalo and Chris Shell will provide experience at the line of scrimmage. Junior running back Soatani Leha'uli and senior fullback Solomone Latu will help the team grind out yardage on the ground. Kyhiris Luavai, a junior, will start at tight end and help open up the field for the Lancers.
(5 returning starters)
The Lancer defense is big and athletic. The group is led by Marshall Auva'a, a junior linebacker, Solomone Latu, a senior linebacker and Vino Lehauli, a senior linebacker. SoaTani Leha'uli, a junior defensive back, will help stop the passing attack, but the real question mark is the team's defensive line. With 19 seniors having graduated, there are lots of holes to fill on both sides of the ball.
Bottom line: The team is replacing a lot of experience — 19 seniors — and dealing with another new coach. Thomas' style is similar to Gerke's, so the student athletes say they're adjusting easily to Thomas' leadership. They're not alone in dealing with a new coach and changes to the offense, so that should level the playing field.
Coach’s preseason Region 8 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 8 prediction: Fourth
Fri. Aug. 17 — PAYSON, 7 p.m.
Fri. Aug. 24 — MURRAY, 7 p.m.
Fri. Aug. 31 — at Cyprus, 7 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 7 — JUDGE MEMORIAL, 7 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 14 — JUAN DIEGO, 7 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 21 — at Viewmont, 7 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 28 — at Hunter, 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 5 — TAYLORSVILLE, 7 p.m.
Thu. Oct. 11 — WEST, 7 p.m.
Wed. Oct. 17 — at Kearns, 7 p.m.
Felts Facts for Granger High School
All-time record: 242-283-5 (54 years)
Region championships: 9 (1967, 1976 co, 1977 co, 1985, 1987 co, 1988, 1989 co, 1995, 1999 co)
Playoff appearances: 25
All-time playoff record: 13-25
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-0
Most played rivalry: 44 meetings with Cyprus dating back to 1958. Granger leads 24-19-1. Meet on Aug. 31.
Felt’s Factoids: Granger combined with Highland to set a state record for the most points in the shortest time: 33 points in just 55 seconds of game time (5 touchdowns and 3 PATs in the last 0:55 of the third quarter) in 1996. ... Lancer Fahu Tahi holds the career rushing yard record, 5,663 set from 1996-98.
Granger coaching history
2012 — Cecil Thomas
2011 — Alex Gehrke (6-4)
2009-2010 — Doyle Holt (4-16)
2007-2008 — Johnny Matich (4-16)
2004-2006 — Richard Grosh (8-25)
2000-2003 — Dan Eckert (11-30)
1990-1999 — Ray Groth (55-71)
1982-1989 — Mike Fraser (57-21)
1980-1981 — Gordon Hanks (8-12)
1974-1979 — Unknown (30-31)
1973 — Perry Gillette (1-9)
1967-1972 — Ken Griener (32-21)
1964-1966 — Jay Rasmussen (12-12)
1962-1963 — Carl Ebert (2-16)
1958-1961 — Don Rydalch (12-21)Comment on this story
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Twitter: adonsports email: email@example.com