Note: Grand finished with a 7-5 overall record in 2009 and a 2-3 record in 2A East. The Red Devils lost to South Summit, 17-6, in the 2A semifinals.
After starting this past decade in shambles, winning just one game between 2000-2002, and never more than three in a season, the Grand Red Devils climbed to the top of the heap in 2005, edging San Juan for the state championship.
Since 2005, Grand has fluctuated between winning and losing seasons without great consistency. However, this year the Red Devils have a senior-laden team — 24 of them in all — with several key starters returning. And hopes are high in Moab about what this team can accomplish.
"I expect us to be competitive. We're in it to win it, just like every year," Grand coach Dennis Wells said. "South Summit and San Juan are both going to be really good and they're going to be the two to beat. We've been working hard all this offseason to compete with those teams, though."
Senior Billy Keddington will step up to single-handedly man Grand's quarterbacking duties after splitting time with graduate Trevor Robertson last season. Wells encourages his team to both run and gun on offense, and has hopes that Keddington will make it happen with his feet (he rushed for over 1,100 yards last season) as much as his arm.
Perhaps most importantly, senior Beto Nelson will bring both his size (6-foot-5) and strength back to Grand's offensive and defensive lines. Nelson, along with junior nose guard/offensive guard Kevin Ballard, will nicely shore up both lines for Grand, opening up options offensively and closing things down for the Red Devils on defense.
The Red Devils will miss Dallen Dalton's consistency in the backfield, but returning seniors Sean Black and Rory Stewart should fill the void nicely. With two different styles of play, Black and Stewart will bring both quickness and power to Grand's backfield. Black and Stewart will also be anchoring the team defensively as linebackers.
With such a senior-heavy team, the Red Devils could reap the benefits of having athletes who have played together for years and who also know that they need to make it happen now or not at all.
"It's all about chemistry. If the team gels good together, it's going to be a good team. Some years, my teams have really looked great on paper, but it doesn't turn out good because of chemistry," Wells said. "I'm anxious to see, once we start playing the games, how they come together and what will happen."
Barring any unexpected injuries, Wells expects his team to be able to make a run at the 2A state title.
"If they gel like they should, and they've been working really hard together in the offseason to compete, then it could be a great season, " Wells said. "Our goal is the state championship, and that's what we've been working to make happen."
Grand Red Devils at a glance
Coach: Dennis Wells was born and raised in Grand County, graduated from Grand High School, and this will be his ninth season as head coach for the Red Devils. He has tallied a 38-46 record and has won one state championship during his tenure.
(6 returning starters; spread offense)
Grand likes to mix things up offensively, rushing and passing almost equally throughout the game, with maybe a little more emphasis on the running game. Keddington should open the field up even more for the Red Devils, with his talent for rushing the ball opening up the passing lanes down field for returning wide receiver Joseph Hawks. Black and Stewart will share Grand's backfield, while Ballard and Nelson will anchor the offensive line.
(6 returning starters)
Michael Engleby will round out the linebacker trio with Black and Stewart, while Keddington will be playing both ways as a safety on defense and Hawks will also put in time as a defensive back. Wells places the most emphasis on Nelson and Ballard on the defensive line, with the expectation that his line will be able to shut down the lanes. Grand's defense only allowed an average of 16.5 points per game last year, and only gave up more than 20 points in four games. The Red Devils will need to continue to be consistent on defense this season to give their team a chance to win.
Coaches preseason 2A East straw poll: Third
Deseret News 2A East prediction: Third
Bottom line: The Red Devils will have to get through the South Summit/San Juan tandem to make their state championship goal happen, but seeing both those teams during region play should only help Grand once the state playoffs roll around. If the Red Devils can stay healthy and put together the team chemistry that Wells is hoping for, then Grand should be back in the 2A semifinals, if not the championship.
Aug. 20 – at Richfield, 7 p.m.
Aug. 27 – at Monticello, 7 p.m.
Sept. 3 – CARBON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 – MILLARD, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 – at North Summit, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 – SAN JUAN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 – at North Sevier, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 – at Gunnison, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 – SOUTH SUMMIT, 7 p.m.