Note: Granger finished with a 1-9 overall record in 2010 and a 0-6 record in Region 2. It did not qualify for the playoffs.
WEST VALLEY CITY — Alex Gehrke's attitude more so than his resume might be just what Granger's football team needs.
Inheriting a football program without a winning season in nine years would seem daunting to most, but Gehrke doesn't see it that way.
"This is easy. It's pretty mellow if you ask me," said Gehrke, whose been an assistant coach for the past 13 years at a variety of colleges, most recently at Utah State under Gary Anderson the past two years.
Gehrke was originally hired by Granger as an assistant coach in late May, but when head coach Doyle Holt resigned a few weeks later, Gehrke was promoted to the first head coaching job of his career. He takes over a program that went 1-9 last year, but he doesn't concern himself with the past.
He and his assistant coaches, which includes former Hunter coach Dustin Pearce, are committed to changing the culture of losing at Granger.
"If I was a parent, and the way they ran this program and the way this thing was set up before, I wouldn't send my kids here. No structure, no discipline. We're just trying to bring a foundation to these young mean," said Gehrke.
He said it starts with being fit and disciplined.
"If they do those two things they'll give themselves an opportunity," said Gehrke.
So far the players are embracing the change.
"He's been tough, totally opposite from last year. It's the coach we needed, and it's the perfect chance for us," said running back Joseph Tonga.
Granger will be playing on a brand new turf football field this year, the first completed phase of the new Granger High School. Between a coach with collegiate experience, a new attitude and the new football stadium, there's a buzz around the program that hasn't been there since Granger's last winning season (7-4) in 2001.
"I think now there's a little different feel in the community and people are excited to see what type of product we can put out with these guys," said Gehrke.
It will definitely look different than what people saw the past two years. Gehrke was quick to ditch the spread offense used by Holt in favor of the more traditional I-formation offense. Pearce will run the offense and he has some quality athletes to work with on the line and at running back.
Asi Vakalahi will be the primary ball carrier, while fullback Tonga will be his primary blocker. Gehrke, who was a line coach at Utah State, really likes the potential of Price Vainuku and Nic Nai on the offensive line.
Gehrke said the importance of having a coach like Pearce on staff has made the transition for everyone very smooth.
"It really takes a lot of burden off myself. He and myself are on the same page with what we want to do offensively," said Gehrke.
Quarterback Jordan Hernandez won't be called upon to do nearly as much as he was in the spread offense last year, but his experience will be a big bonus nonetheless. Like Tonga, Hernandez is thrilled with the mentality of the new coaching staff.
"He knows what he wants done, and we get it done that way. Everything is set in stone. There's no ifs and or buts. There's no grey area," said Hernandez.
Unlike most people, Gehrke doesn't see Granger a huge rebuilding project. He believes the youth teams and even the sophomore teams at Granger have been good through the years. The problem was once they got to the varsity level, everyone else was outworking them.
That's where the "be fit, be disciplined" mentality comes in.
His players have bought into his demands so far, and if that continues the Lancers will no longer be the West side pushovers.
Granger Lancers at a glance
Coach: Alex Gehrke is entering is first season as a high school football head coach. He's been an assistant coach at various colleges for the past 13 years, most recently as an assistant coach to Gary Anderson at Utah State the past two years. His last high school stint was as an assistant coach at Hunter High School from 1995-97.
Offense (I-formation offense)
Granger is shifting back to a more ball-control offense this year after the spread produced just one victory last year. Leading the way is QB Hernandez, a veteran player whose leadership will be very important. Vakalahi will be the primary tailback, but coach Gehrke expects Tani Leha'uli and James Elkins to receive plenty of carries as well. Elmer Pauni will be a dangerous weapon at tight end, while Taylor Pili is a quality receiver as well.
Granger's defense was one of the worst in 5A last year, but the new coaching staff expects much more this year with more emphasis put on fitness. The defensive front could be the strength with Nai at nose guard and Pauni and Vainuku at the ends. The linebacking core will be led by Tonga, Vino Leha'uli and Mikey Laumua. Zach Buchanan is a quality corner back in the secondary, and big things are expected from Pili as well at safety.
Coaches preseason Region 2 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 2 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: There's a renewed excitement in the program with the arrival of a new head coach. He's demanding much more of his players in terms of fitness and discipline, but he's only been in charge for two months. It will likely take much longer to completely change the culture of a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2001. The preseason schedule is set up nicely for the Lancers to generate some momentum heading into region play, but they'll be underdogs in just about every Region 2 game and securing a playoff spot seems unlikely.
Aug. 19 — PAYSON, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — at Murray, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — CYPRUS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Judge Memorial, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Juan Diego, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — VIEWMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — HUNTER, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Taylorsville, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — at West, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — KEARNS, 7 p.m.