WEST VALLEY CITY — Even before Granger players showed up to participate in their first camps and practices under new head coach Doyle Holt, the winds of change were already blowing and driving the program in promising new directions.
Holt knew he had a pool of talented athletes to draw from in building a team. But he also understood filling out a roster would require a great deal of forethought and preparation. So Holt went to work identifying senior leaders, getting players back into the classroom and coordinating with fellow coaches to bring athletes from other sports into the football fold.
In a short time, he has made dramatic strides in changing the culture at Granger.
"The attitude is changing," senior Samson Faifili said. "Grades are picking up. A lot more people are eligible this year than last year. And Coach Holt is doing a lot more with getting our players names out there to D-I schools."
When Holt took on the job of rebuilding the Lancers into a contender, his biggest task did not involve teaching football skills as much as building traits like confidence, leadership and a strong work ethic in his players.
"We focused on things like responsibility, accountability and grades," Holt said. "We didn't come right out, throw a football at them and say, 'Let's get going.' We've tried to develop the whole individual."
Progress off the field has made the whole team feel excited what they can bring to the field in their return to the 5A ranks this season.
Granger returns several experienced lineman — including senior Manu Mulitalo. Big things will be expected from Mulitalo after he committed to play for BYU following his junior season. The Lancers also possess solid receivers in Xavier Daniels, Ian Mallory and Zach Buchanan. Buchanan, in particular, created some early buzz as the leading receiver in a camp at BYU earlier this summer.
On the downside, Granger is breaking in a new quarterback, Nico Meza. He has not taken a varsity snap. And the Lancers must also replace top rusher Manu Samani, who accounted for 1,306 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Holt's decision to implement a new spread offense in place of the Wing-T could complicate the learning curve — at least early in the season. But the team is excited about the possibilities operating from the spread offers.
"We think that the offense is going to work better this year, so we're pretty excited about that," Meza said. "It's a spread offense, so we're going to pass a lot more. Last year was a lot of running, running, running. This year it's balance. 50/50."
Meza's conversion from receiver to quarterback has gone smoothly. Holt likes how he has picked up on nuances in the offense and likes his understanding of what he needs to do to get critical yards and points.
"I don't need an all-star quarterback that's going to come in and be a game changer," Holt said. "I need somebody that's going to manage the game and be able to not make mistakes. That's what Niko brings to the table for us."
Defensively, Holt plans to utilize his best 11 players. What it means is a significant number of players will see time on both sides of the ball. Many people questioned the wisdom of moving Granger back to 5A when a litany of off-the-field issues made being competitive in 4A a chore. While plenty of doubters remain, the players and coaches themselves are confident good things lie ahead this fall.
"I do believe that this year is going to be our breakout year," Faifili said. "A lot of players are more dedicated to the program than they ever were."
Granger Lancers at a glance
Coach: After spending several years as an assistant at West, Cyprus and Kearns, Doyle Holt begins his 1st season with the Lancers.
Key Players: Besides breaking in a new offense, Granger will be breaking in a new quarterback in Nico Meza and a new running back in Samson Faifili. The Lancers do look strong on the line, however, with returning seniors Keelan Flynn, Jacob Tippets and Manu Mulitalo up front. With the team embracing a spread attack, look for receivers Xavier Daniels, Ian Mallory and Zach Buchanan to play important roles. Most players will see time both ways this season.
Strengths: It will help the Lancers to return several experienced lineman and senior receivers who were contributors in '08. That should help ease the transition from a traditional run offense to a spread attack. Confidence in the coaching staff and the program seems to be sky-high as well.
Concerns: Switching to a new offense will be complicating by breaking in a new quarterback and a new running back. There is also a lingering question of how well early confidence can hold up against a tough schedule that features a region opener versus Skyline and road games at West Jordan and Kearns before mid-September.
Predicted Region 2 finish: Fifth
Postseason Possibilities: There is no doubt a winning attitude is present in the Granger program. But this is also a team replacing its starting quarterback and top rusher from last season and switching to a radically different offense under a first-year coach. It doesn't help the team is moving up to 5A at the same time. The Lancers will likely do better than a year ago. But it might take another season before a playoff berth is in the cards.
Aug. 21 – at West Jordan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 – HUG, NEV., 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 – at Kearns, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 – SKYLINE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 – at Murray, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 – HUNTER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 – BYE
Oct. 9 – at Cyprus, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 – COTTONWOOD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 – at West, 7 p.m.