The GW Graham football program has existed for eight years, and in each of those seasons a Grizzlies team has made a playoff appearance at B.C. Place Stadium.
It’s a run of success few programs can match, and it’s likely to continue this fall. GW Graham’s senior varsity squad is a title contender again, thanks to an influx of players who led the Grizzlies to a junior varsity championship in 2018.
But new head coach Luke Acheson is keeping his team focused on the present and not worrying much about a ninth straight year at the Dome.
“On paper, the senior team now looks pretty talented and pretty deep, so we’ll see what they do with that,” says Acheson, who officially ascended into the top job over the summer, taking the baton from Laurie Smith after unofficially handing head coach duties the last few seasons. “If we take care of the everyday things — drills, attitude, checking your ego, leading and following one another — if we can continue to get better every single day, some of those things down the road will take care of themselves.”
This week, that means a few more practices and then a trip to Vernon to face the defending AA senior varsity champion Panthers.
They’ll have three more road exhibition games after that, at New Westminster (Sept. 13), at Kelly Road (Prince George, Sept. 21) and at Centralia (Washington State, Sept. 21).
Then it’s into regular season play in the tough Eastern conference.
Logan Buchwitz, who had an astounding seven touchdowns in last November’s title game wipeout of the Windsor Dukes, gives GWG a true game changer.
And while opposing coaches scheme up ways to stop him, or maybe just slow him down, the Grizzlies have other players that can cause problems.
“Liam Dallas plays receiver for us, inside and outside,” Acheson says. “He’s put a ton of work in during the offseason and it shows in a lot of ways. His speed. His focus. His leadership. He has really stepped it up this year and I’m looking for big things from him.
Colby Bessette is another receiving weapon for GW Graham quarterback Grayson Frick.
Acheson says he is a big target and his talent has flashed in practises.
Then there’s Mason Murphy, a mountain-sized teenager who towers over some of his teammates.
He’ll be tasked with anchoring the GWG offensive line, starting in the right tackle spot while also playing nose tackle on D.
Running back Jaiden Claassen will be running behind Murphy and the O-line. A physical runner with the strength to go through defenders and the speed to go around them, Claassen likes what he sees from the offence.
“Our line is coming together,” he says. “They’re big. They’re fast, strong and smart. They give me places to go and all of them are very encouraging.
“We don’t really have any weak spots on our offence. We’re a family and we have chemistry with each other. That’s what I see.”
Claassen is one of several players who will be playing on both sides of the football, and he believes the GWG defence may be just as formidable as the offence.
“We’re going to be big, strong, fast, smart and hit hard,” he said. “We’ll be good stopping the run and we’re going to rush the passer hard, so it’s going to be hard to throw against us too. We’re just ballers.”
Brent Bilodeau is new to the GWG program, coming to Chilliwack from Sherwood Park, Alberta.
He’s a player Acheson is excited to see.
“He looks the part, looks as advertised,” Acheson says of the Grade 11 student. “He’s very fast and rangy. He’s a big body and he likes to hit. He’s a thumper and he’s just chomping at the bit to get at it.”
Andrew Smith is a big kid with the strength to match.
“I was standing beside him the other day and I couldn’t believe how big he is,” Acheson says. “He’s not Mason Murphy big, but he is built and he’ll be a real force on the D line for us. When he knows what he’s doing he is really hard to stop.”
Just like last year, the Grizzlies will call some junior varsity players up to the senior squad, including Grade 10 student Josh Caverly.
“He’s a real talented young man and we have a need at cornerback,” Acheson notes. “I don’t know if we’re expecting great things during the season, but we are expecting a heated competition at one of those corner spots where Josh is going to push someone who’s older than him for playing time.”
SEPT 6 – at Vernon (preseason)
SEPT 13 – at New Westminster (preseason)
SEPT 21 – at Kelly Road (Prince George, preseason)
SEPT 27 – at Centralia (Washington State, preseason)
OCT 5 – Home versus Frank Hurt (regular season) with 7 p.m. start at Exhibition Stadium
OCT 11 – Home versus Holy Cross (regular season) with 7 p.m. start at Exhibition Stadium
OCT 18 – Home versus Langley (regular season)
NOV 1 – at Robert Bateman (regular season)