G.W. Graham’s Sam Mannes carries the ball against the St. Thomas More Knights in a recent senior varsity preseason football game. G.W.G.’s Grizzlies prevailed 14-12. (JT Hew photo)

G.W. Graham’s Sam Mannes carries the ball against the St. Thomas More Knights in a recent senior varsity preseason football game. G.W.G.’s Grizzlies prevailed 14-12. (JT Hew photo)

GW Graham football Grizzlies ranked among best in B.C. and Canada

Head coach Luke Acheson said the team celebrated the good news, then quickly got back to work

High school football is back, and the G.W. Graham Grizzlies are viewed as one of the best of the best, not just in B.C. but in the entire country.

Preseason rankings came out this week, with the Grizz making history.

Following a 14-12 road win over the St. Thomas More Knights (Burnaby) last weekend, G.W. Graham slides into the AAA ‘Big Five’ for the first time in school history. They are ranked No. 5 behind Vancouver’s Notre Dame Jugglers (No. 4), Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers (No. 3), Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Rams (No. 2) and the top-ranked Vancouver College Fighting Irish.

St. Thomas More previously held down the No. 5 spot. Hours later, the canadafootballchat.com CFC50 list came out, ranking the top 50 high school teams in the country.

The Grizzlies checked in at No. 50, ninth among nine B.C. teams making the grade.

Vancouver College was the top-ranked B.C. squad at No. 5 followed by Lord Tweedsmuir (No. 18), Notre Dame (No. 19), the South Delta Sun Devils (No. 20), Mt. Douglas (No. 28), St, Thomas More (No. 41), the New Westminster Hyacks (No. 42) and the Kelowna Owls (No. 43).

“I think the rankings are great and it’s a humbling honour to be mentioned in the same conversations as some of these legendary programs across the country,” said G.W.G. head coach Luke Acheson. “I’m most happy for all the people behind the scenes who have massive hearts for our student athletes and put in so much work year after year to help our program take steps in a positive direction.

“We have always had an unbelievably supportive admin team led by our principal, Mr. (Chuck) Lawson, athletic director Mr. (Jake) Mouritzen, amazing parent groups, outstanding volunteer coaches, trainers, and always some of the most talented and driven young men in the province. It is the cumulative work all these people and players over the years that has contributed to the success and recognition we are seeing now.”

Acheson said having everything shut down last year makes it challenging to rank programs this year. He thinks the midseason rankings will tell a more accurate story, and he’s confident his crew will still be in that mix.

“Going into this season we weren’t quite sure what kind of teams we were going to have at the junior/senior varsity levels,” he noted. “We are still learning on a daily and weekly basis what kind of skill sets our new athletes are bringing to the party and it’s a fun process.”

Making the full leap to AAA status this year, Acheson’s Grizzlies will be going head-to-head with true historical heavyweights, and he expected G.W.G. to be underestimated early on.

The element of surprise may now be out the window and he also has work to do to keep his team grounded.

“Our group understands how early in the process this is and how much work there is between now and the other side where our goals are waiting for us,” he said “With the move to AAA comes a sense that every game is going to be a major challenge and I think our players get that.”

The Grizzlies visit Kelowna’s Owls Sept. 24 in their regular season opener. It’s now a game between two projected powerhouses, adding extra excitement to the matchup.

“We are definitely excited about our game with Kelowna in a couple of weeks, but we honestly haven’t had time think about it,” Acheson said. “We are focused on the very hungry, talented and well coached Vernon team that is coming to our house on Friday.

“We feel like getting a W each week is very important and we don’t really consider the ranking of our opponent. The ranking of our opponent doesn’t affect the process of our preparation but it could and should play out in the emotion and intensity of the game. Only time will tell.”

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