Building a better football program
A group of North Marion freshmen line up opposite each other during summer football camp in pads and helmets, striking each other, pushing each other, fighting for position and slapping their hands away.
Minutes earlier, the players were tentative, afraid to hit each other, but if new North Marion Head Coach Calvin Griggs hopes to be successful this upcoming season, he knows he's got to get his future linemen ready for life in the trenches.
"You are the engine that runs this team," Griggs exclaims to the players after hand exercises and before sending the players off for a water break.
Griggs has been up and down the Oregon high school football scene, spending a large stint of his time as offensive coordinator at Central Catholic, while also coaching at big schools such as Parkrose, Grant and Lakeridge.
Three years ago, he took the plunge into the head coaching circle, taking over a struggling Jefferson program that was coming off a 2-7 year. In three years, Griggs turned the Lions around, producing an 8-2 season and its first state playoff berth in four decades.
Now at North Marion, he sees a lot of similarities between the 4A school and his former 2A school.
"It's almost identical," Griggs said. "It's pretty much the same thing."
The biggest difference the North Marion coach sees between the 6A teams he used to coach and the smaller schools largely comes in the size of its players. With a student body of more than 1,500, it's a lot easier to find big players looking to make a living on the offensive and defensive line.
At the smaller schools like North Marion and Jefferson, often times the lineman are the same size, if not smaller, than the running backs and receivers looking to score the ball.
"When you have a small school like this, it's difficult," Griggs explains. "Your lineman are 160 pounds."
But when it comes to the skill positions, Griggs sees a lot of similarities. A receiver is the same size at any level of the game, and he sees a lot of potential in the athletes that are looking to fill out the backfield for North Marion this fall.
"Skill-wise, I have some great kids on my team," Griggs said. "I have four or five kids who can play at the next level. I was telling them this before, the skill positions I don't see a difference (between 6A and 4A)."
With as much athleticism as the Huskies boast on the offensive side of the ball and with a relatively small offensive line to work with, Griggs feels the best way to take advantage of the team's natural strengths is to move away from the trenches and let his players work in the open field.
"These guys haven't passed the ball in 10 years. It's been double-wing, double wing, double wing," Griggs said. "I'm a spread guy. So when I come out, we throw the ball."
That doesn't mean abandoning the line, it just means refocusing their efforts in pass protection, putting in time with footwork and precision rather than attempting to plow forward three yards at a time.
"I'm coming out trying to teach kids how to stand, run routes, make the proper steps, it's a little different," Griggs said. "I've got my work cut out, but I've got some great athletes. Once I get those guys dialed in, I'll be fine."
Outside of the X's and O's of the game, Griggs is excited to be a part of the Husky athletic culture the school has built over the generations.
"I just felt at home," Griggs said. "It was a great opportunity for me, see if I can come over here and make a difference."
When he came to North Marion in the spring, the Huskies were in peak baseball season, introducing Griggs to the culture and awe surrounding the sport. He wants to harness that love, that commitment and translate it to the football field 50 yards to the west of the baseball stadium.
"From what I've been told, it's a baseball school," Griggs said. "I'm trying to get football as one of those priority things that the community is going to love, come and watch and see to make this a football school as well.
"I really love this community. It's very supportive."
Griggs is seeing that support at the player level as well. He understands that with a new coaching staff comes new trust that has to be built, and in order to build North Marion into a better football program, he needs to build his relationships with the players and earn their trust and respect.
"That's my biggest concern. Trying to build a program takes years, and if you come in right away and the kids believe in what you're doing and what you're saying, you've won half the battle," Griggs said. "Then it's just teaching them.
"What I've noticed is that these guys are like sponges. They absorb everything I'm saying and they all have bought in."