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Another Blanchard takes over at Grants Pass

Junior quarterback Jace Blanchard set to guide Cavemen back to playoffs

GRANTS PASS — Great things have happened at Grants Pass High with a Blanchard at quarterback, and that’s precisely what Cavemen head coach John Mussser hopes will continue to be in store.

From the heralded run of Tom Blanchard, who went on to play QB at the University of Oregon and had an 11-year NFL career as a punter, to his sons Tommy and Jimmy, each decorated college QBs in their own right, Grants Pass has enjoyed some of its best seasons with a Blanchard behind center.

The next generation is set to make its mark as junior Jace Blanchard, son of Tommy, takes the reins this year after a promising JV campaign in the spring.

“That’s always fun when you have another member of a long lineage at quarterback,” said Musser. “The Blanchards are kind of Grants Pass’ version of the Mannings, so here comes Jace and he gets his turn to do something that his dad and his grandpa and his uncle did. That’s going to be pretty cool to see how he takes command of the offense. He’s done a great job all through the summer and doubles so we’re really excited.”

Tommy Blanchard still ranks fifth on the all-time passing leaders list (5,182 yards, 39 TDs) at Lewis & Clark College, where he was a three-year starter, while Jimmy Blanchard is in the Portland State Hall of Fame after finishing his Vikings career ranked second only to Neil Lomax in career passing yards (8,455), passing touchdowns (63) and pass completions (618).

Those may seem like big shoes to fill, but Musser said the latest Blanchard has what it takes to get the job done, even at 5-foot-11, 157 pounds.

“He’s a fierce competitor and he’ll get after you,” said Musser. “Anything we do, he competes. He’s a little undersized — skinny for sure — but he’s got tremendous arm strength. You look at him and think, gosh, this kid couldn’t throw the ball 20 yards but he can grip and rip the football with the best of them. He’s got a real whip on the ball.”

Blanchard will have an athletic offensive line to work behind, led by senior tackle Kain Robinson (6-2 238), and a nice security blanket in converted receiver Asher Yriarte (5-10, 173) next to him in the backfield at tailback.

Yriarte, son of former SOU standout Jenner Yriarte, has been one of GP’s top defensive backs and his all-around athleticism has led to a natural conversion to running back.

“He really gives us a nice dimension that we haven’t had in our backfield probably since Jaren Emptage a handful of years ago with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield but also be able to block and run both the inside game and outside game,” said Musser.

Trevor Reeves (5-11, 167) and Gage Blay (5-10, 167) also expect to get carries for an offense that expects to be extremely versatile this season.

“Our whole offense is going to be predicated on guys at the most maybe getting 10 touches,” said Musser. “We’re going to spread the ball around and on any given Friday night I could see 10 or maybe 12 kids touching the football.”

The tight end group, led by senior Josh Hart (6-5, 180), is one of the most complete Musser has had and could lead to GP putting three tight ends on the field at one time to take advantage of that depth.

“We’re not going to be in a lot of traditional tight end sets where the tight end will be connected to the line of scrimmage and have a hand in the dirt,” said Musser. “They’ll be more flexed out or playing as wings, but they’re long, athletic kids and that’s exciting to me.”

Junior receiver Jackson Tunick (6-0, 165) may well be the most dynamic player for the Cavemen and leads a core group of outside targets for Blanchard that includes converted QB Troy Osborne (6-3, 182) and Jayce Jordan (6-2, 170).

Defensively, the Cavemen plan to move from their traditional 4-2 alignment to a 4-3 look that, although schematically similar, will add another linebacker and give GP more size to help stop running attacks.

Senior Braeden Lesina (6-0, 203) started every game in the spring and returns as the team’s second-leading tackler at middle linebacker. Musser calls Lesina an “old-school Mike linebacker who can fit tackle to tackle in the box” and is “tougher than nails.”

“He kind of sets the tone defensively with his toughness and his intelligence,” said Musser.

Osborne and senior Bug Galli (6-0, 201) complement at linebacker, along with North Valley senior transfer Chase Comyford (6-1, 185).

Up front, GP has considerable size on the line in junior Parker Jarvis (6-3, 300) and senior Tholo Vainuku-Johnson (6-0, 233).

The Cavemen haven’t missed the playoffs since 2009 and suffered only two losses in the spring, both in heartbreak fashion to North Medford (27-20) and South Medford (56-55 3OT).

CAVEMEN

HEAD COACH

John Musser (14th year, 72-60)

GENERAL INFORMATION

ASSISTANTS: Matt Kennedy (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), John Tunick (special teams/defensive backs), Bub Marval (offensive line), Jameson Davis (defensive line), Kyle Swanson (running backs), John Valadez (wide receivers), Robbie Zaina (JV head coach/defensive coordinator/linebackers), Jonah Musser (JV offensive coordinator/receivers), Nate Scott (JV), Jeret Musser (JV), Brian Richard (freshman head coach), Gannon Schroder (freshmen), Tyler Amaral (freshmen), David Zauher (freshmen), Tom McGowan (freshmen).

2020-21 OVERALL RECORD: 4-2.

PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Fourth.

2019 RESULTS

Grants Pass Opponents

39 Oregon City 41

12 Summit 7

49 Mountain View 43

36 Southridge 56

42 Roseburg 21

27 North Medford 34

21 Westview 15

14 South Medford 19

32 Sheldon 42

State Playoffs

33 Lake Oswego 55

2020-21 RESULTS

Grants Pass Opponents

20 North Medford 27

21 Crater 13

45 Roseburg 6

55 South Medford 56 (30T)

49 Eagle Point 24

42 North Bend 13

RETURNING STARTERS

OFFENSE (2): Tackle Kain Robinson (6-2, 238, sr.), running back Asher Yriarte (5-10, 173, sr.).

DEFENSE (4): Linebacker Braeden Lesina (6-0, 203, sr.), end Taholo Vainuku-Johnson (6-0, 233, sr.), tackle Parker Jarvis (6-3, 300, jr.), defensive back Asher Yriarte.

OTHER NOTABLES

Quarterback Jace Blanchard (5-11, 157, jr.), placekicker Miles Anderson (6-0, 176, sr.), receiver/cornerback Jackson Tunick (6-0, 165, jr.), receiver/linebacker Troy Osborne (6-3, 182, so.), tight end/defensive line Josh Hart (6-5, 180, sr.), tight end/defensive line JT Davis (6-2, 180, jr.), tight end/linebacker Gabe Calabro (6-1, 184, sr.), receiver/free safety Jayce Jordan (6-2, 170, sr.), receiver/cornerback Malachi Kinyon (5-8, 151, jr.), running back/linebacker Chase Comyford (6-1, 185, sr.), running back/defensive back Trevor Reeves (5-11, 176, jr.), receiver/linebacker Niko Madamba (5-7, 165, jr.), running back/linebacker Gage Blay (5-10, 167, so.), receiver/linebacker Bug Galli (6-0, 201, sr.), lineman Jacob Dorner (6-2, 222, sr.), lineman Ari Huber-Kantola (5-11, 255, jr.), lineman Kaleb Davis (5-10, 261, sr.).

2021 SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 at Bend, 7 p.m.

Sept. 10 WEST SALEM, 7 p.m.

Sept. 17 at McNary, 7 p.m.

Sept. 24 SHASTA (CA.), 7 p.m.

Oct. 1 ROSEBURG, 7 p.m.

Oct. 8 at South Medford, 7 p.m.

Oct. 15 at Beaverton, 7 p.m.

Oct. 22 at North Medford, 7 p.m.

Oct. 29 SHELDON, 7 p.m.

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Junior Jace Blanchard will continue the long family legacy at the quarterback position for Grants Pass this season. Photo by Eric Taylor / for the Mail Tribune