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  • Lezlie Sterling /

    Parents and other supporters give the Granite Bay High School football team an emotional farewell in the school's parking lot Thursday morning.

  • Lezlie Sterling /

    Granite Bay football players board two buses early Thursday. The Grizzlies, who have won five section titles, will make their first appearance in a state bowl game.

Granite Bay's 16-game football season takes toll

Published: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 7C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 - 12:18 pm

When Granite Bay plays Long Beach Poly tonight in the CIF State Bowl Division I championship in Carson, both teams will break new ground.

It will be the 16th game of the season for each, the result of a much-debated decision by the CIF to extend the playoffs an additional week by adding Northern California and Southern California Regional championships.

Many opposed to the idea cited the physical and mental toll an additional game would have on teenagers playing what amounts to an NFL-length schedule.

Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper admits that even with all the hoopla and excitement of playing in a state bowl game, the season is a grind at this point.

"It was a long week of practice," Cooper said shortly after the Grizzlies beat St. Ignatius of San Francisco 45-17 in Friday's inaugural NorCal Division I title game at Sacramento State. "In the old days, you'd win a section championship, and the next day your feet are up on the table, and you're saying, 'I'm done. I don't have to go to practice.'

"So on Saturday when we were watching film of (the St. Ignatius game), there was that excitement, but there also was that, 'Oh, man alive, we're tired.' "

Granite Bay played 14 games last season while winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship. With 16 games this year, the Grizzlies' seniors will have played the equivalent of three regular seasons in two years.

Through the years, Cooper has learned to make accommodations to keep his players as fresh and healthy as possible.

Midway through league play, he reduces contact from three days to two days per week. By the start of the playoffs, they are hitting in pads only on Tuesdays, "because the bodies can't take it if you do it more," Cooper said.

Cooper also thinks platooning players has helped his teams handle longer seasons.

"We have 22 starters," Cooper said. "But our goal actually is to start 44 guys because we like to platoon on special teams, too. Now sometimes we get there and sometimes we don't, but that's our goal.

"That's how you build morale, and I think it's kept our numbers up through the years, which is huge for practice."

It helps that his players keep their sense of humor through what has turned into a nearly five-month season counting the start of fall practice.

During the on-field celebration after Granite Bay beat St. Ignatius, the biggest cheer Cooper heard was when he announced, "Next week is the last week of practice."

Players then started riffing in unison, "Practice, practice," mimicking Allen Iverson's famous rant that went viral when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Whenever I tell them we have another big practice, they'll have a little fun with it by doing that Allen Iverson thing," Cooper said.

The bottom line, though, is that Granite Bay isn't limping into its last game.

"I think our bodies have another game in them," Cooper said. "I believe we'll play at a high level."

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Read more articles by Bill Paterson

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