WEST VALLEY CITY Entrenched in the sports tradition at Granger High is a time when the football program was a force in its region and in the state. The Lancers are only a decade removed from their glory days under former coach Ray Groth, when playoff appearances were expected and they often pounded opponents on the field.
Second-year Lancers coach Jonny Matich played against those teams. He is convinced that his current crop of players can restore that winning tradition and perhaps ascend even higher.
"This year's team can be better than any of the teams in the '90s," Matich said.
Granger is still keeping its aspirations realistic. There is no talk of claiming region or state titles. The Lancers are not taking measurements for a new trophy case. For now, their focus is on taking small steps.
It starts with getting three or four victories in region play and a middle-of-the-pack finish. If all goes well, a playoff berth will follow.
Matich has already accomplished one important goal. He has his players finally believing Granger can be competitive again. The Lancers don't own an attitude you would expect from a program that has struggled so much since its glory days.
"I feel like we've made a whole new different team," senior lineman Tyrone Fina'i said. "Just completely different. We don't have anybody bringing anyone down. Everybody is helping each other out."
In their quest to become more of a factor in Region 6, the Lancers also have experience on their side. Thirteen starters return from a year ago some whom made important contributions on both sides of the ball.
Meili Valele anchors the line on both sides of the ball and is an athletic player whom Matich considers one of the best in the state at his position. Manu Mulitalo and Fina'i add further senior leadership and a solid physical presence.
In the backfield, Samani could be poised for a breakout year as Granger's featured back after showing some promise in limited minutes last fall.
Quarterback duties will fall on the shoulders of newcomer Brentt Phillips. Phillips is only a sophomore, but he is already impressing teammates and coaches with his leadership in practice.
"He's extremely poised for being a young kid," Matich said. "He does the right things and works hard. I think he's going to be awesome. I'm excited to have him for three years."
Defensively, the Lancers return nine starters. Matich is looking for bigger strides from that group. He wants to see more stinginess in the red zone and a much stronger secondary.
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Granger Lancers 2008
COACH: Jonny Matich (2nd year)
KEY PLAYERS: The Granger line is the team's strength. Meili Valele (OL/DL), Manu Mulitalo (OL/DL) and Tyrone Fina'i (OL/DL) will be a force up front. Manu Samani (FB) will anchor the running game, and Brentt Phillips (QB) will be the youthful leader on offense.
QUESTION MARK: The Lancers have plenty of returning starters on offense and defense. Will experience equal victories this season? How well will Granger score points with an untested sophomore at quarterback?
PREDICTED REGION 6 FINISH: Seventh.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: A positive attitude should go a long way toward making Granger more competitive. But the Lancers are in too tough of a region to expect to make much upward mobility. If things go just right, they could slide into the last playoff spot from Region 6. A more realistic scenario has them just missing out once again.