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Every play counts

Although he always wanted to, Brandon Grissom wasn't allowed to play football until he was a seventh-grader at Grace Christian School.

Once he finally was able to put on the pads, though, expectations didn't meet reality.

"Actually, when I went out my first year, I really didn't like it," admits Grissom. "I didn't get to play much and kind of got beat on as a hitting dummy for the other kids. I was faster than most of them but smaller and didn't get to play."

These days, it's a minor miracle to see Grissom come off the field for the top-ranked Class 3A Challengers.

Whether it's on offense, defense, special teams "¦ you name it and Grissom fills a big role on the starting unit.

"That's the guy that you kind of build around," says Cascade Christian head coach Andy Maurer of the senior standout. "That's the one you want the ball in his hands all the time and you want him on the field all the time."

"I have my core of seniors and they don't come off the field," adds Maurer. "He does it all, and at the end of the day he's leading the cheers after the game. He's pretty unflappable and he's pretty committed."

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Grissom ranks second on his team in rushing as a wingback with 416 yards and six touchdowns on 37 carries, and he is also tied for the team lead with four receptions going for 48 yards and two scores.

Defensively, the outside linebacker is a leading tackler and has returned an interception for a TD. Last week, he added an 87-yard kickoff return for a score.

While the numbers may show Grissom's impact on the scoreboard, they pale in comparison to his impact on Cascade Christian's team, in general, as one of the team captains.

"We have a little practice field out there in front of the school," says Maurer, "and he's one of those guys that when you throw the ball out there, he'll dive in front of this car and dodge the electric post and catch the ball. The guy is relentless. He is focused and gives you everything that is available. We've got to get a bigger field just so he doesn't kill himself."

That all-out mentality has been widespread among the Challengers, who have been dominant in amassing a 6-0 record overall and a 4-0 mark in Sunset League play.

"You go 100 percent or don't play at all, that's kind of how I see it," says Grissom, 17. "If I'm not going to go out there and give everything I've got, then why am I out there? I love our team because we're a really tightknit group of guys and that's our whole mind-set."

Grissom credits quarterback Jake Gettman for providing the vocal leadership and inspiration on offense. Junior Tyler Stickler leads the Challengers' run-oriented attack with 722 yards and 11 TDs on 74 carries, while Gettman has efficiently thrown for 10 scores and 357 yards on 17 of 27 passing.

On defense, Grissom says middle linebacker Cameron Tooker has been key in making sure everyone is in position, while defensive end Colton Cochran and safety Ben Joffer have solidified a defense that's allowing nine points and 121 yards per game.

"It definitely makes my job a lot easier knowing that I have all those guys around me," says Grissom.

Those numbers might be even better but the Challengers have been so far ahead at halftime in most cases that the starting unit has been relegated to the sidelines early in the second half.

That doesn't figure to be the case for this Saturday's game, when the Challengers play host to sixth-ranked Gold Beach at 7 p.m. at Dutch Meyer Field in Central Point. The Panthers (5-1, 4-0 Sunset) have won the past two meetings, which ultimately determined the Sunset champion, and went on to win the 3A title in 2007 and finish as runner-up in '08.

"It's the biggest lesson that we'll have learned as we test the team to see whether it has the mettle to go very deep in the playoffs," says Maurer. "We think we're ready for it, but you just don't know until you're there."

Cascade Christian last beat the Panthers in 2006, when the Challengers went on to claim the 2A state title and Gold Beach lost in the 3A semifinals.

"So far this week in practice, everyone's been working their hardest," says Grissom. "We know what this means for the No. 1 spot in league and to show everybody we can beat a real team. I'm really looking forward to it."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Cascade Christian's Brandon Grissom didn't play tackle football until he was in seventh grade. Now, the senior starter on offense, defense and special teams rarely exits the field. - Jim Craven