Calvin Griggs was head coach of the North Marion High School varsity football team for barely a year, but his mark on the program will last for generations.
On the eve of what would have been the official start of the 2020-21 fall sports season under normal circumstances, Griggs announced he was stepping down from his position with the Huskies, ending a short tenure that brought one of the most successful seasons in program history.
The 2019 4A Special District 2 Coach of the Year, Griggs expressed his desire to stay with the program, but cited commitments to his family on the East Coast in his letter of resignation to North Marion administration.
"I want to be clear, I wanted to stay at North Marion. My goal was to win a state title, and I know we were on the right track at North Marion," Griggs said. "With the COVID stuff happening, and I had a couple deaths in the family – it kept me from being focused and giving 100 percent. I had to come out here and be with family."
Griggs joined the Huskies in the spring of 2019 with a history of bringing the most out of underachieving teams. Prior to his stint at North Marion, Griggs coached for three years at then-3A Jefferson. A perennial struggling program, the Lions bounced back from an 0-9 season in 2017 to go 8-2 at the 2A level in 2018, finishing No. 7 overall in the final OSAA rankings and making a rare state playoff berth before bowing out in the first round.
When Griggs and his coaching staff moved up I-5 to North Marion, he saw a wealth of potential to make a similar run with the Huskies.
"When I first took that job over, I realized how many great athletes we had on that team that weren't being utilized correctly," Griggs said. "First thing my staff did is put the pieces together to put all the athletes on the field all at the same time."
Griggs said the team started to realize what kind of potential it had during 7-on-7 summer passing camps, with quarterback Sergio Jimenez connecting with offensive weapons such as receivers Tanner Saucedo, Johnny Page and Joe Torian, along with running backs David Page, Brady Hansen, Hunter Wierstra and Matthew Wheatcroft.
But after winning their opening game of the season against Stayton, the Huskies fell in back-to-back contests to go into their league schedule with a 2-1 record. Rather than dwelling on the losses, North Marion used the setbacks as motivation to go into the Special District 2 with renewed fervor.
"You would think that we would go in the tank and be depressed, but those two losses really defined our character and who we are as a team," Griggs said. "That was a defining moment for us, losing those two games. That's when I thought we really came together."
The Huskies proceeded to rip off an undefeated streak of five games against league opponents to win its first outright district title in a generation and followed with a 47-27 victory over the Stayton Eagles in the first round of the state playoffs to qualify for the quarterfinals for just the third time in school history — and first as a hosting team.
The historic run came to an end in a heartbreaking 28-21 loss to Marist that was decided in the final minute of play, but the journey to get there will live on at North Marion long after the sting of the loss has faded.
"The kids just played hard. When I came into the program, I had them understand that we had to believe in who we are and rise above," Griggs said. "That was our motto – they kind of carried that throughout the whole season."
With the 2020-21 football season delayed until the spring, North Marion High School administration stated in a press release that no decision on a new head coach has been made at this time. But Griggs has already put in his vote for defensive coordinator Grant Carmichael to take over the position.
"I'm hoping that he's able to fill my shoes and be able to do what we did to build that program," Griggs said. "Grant was my No. 1 guy. He knew my coaching style and he knew a lot of stuff that I was going to do before I would do it."
Carmichael and Griggs have coached together for years leading up to their partnership at North Marion. With Griggs moving back east, he feels it's time for his top assistant to get a shot at leading a program of his own.
"He's been coaching for a long time and I think he's ready to take over the program. He's a great defensive coordinator, who I think is one of the best in the state," Griggs said. "He works well with those kids and the kids really love him. I know they'll go out for him like they did for me."
In his final thoughts, Griggs wanted to express his gratitude to the North Marion community for coming together to make the 2019 season one to remember.
"I just want people to know that my time at North Marion was pretty amazing," Griggs said. "If circumstances were different and I didn't have COVID stuff going on in my family, I probably would have stayed and helped build that program."
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