SNOHOMISH — Since Glacier Peak opened in the fall of 2008, the Grizzlies’ football team hasn’t experienced a losing season and has never missed the playoffs.
They hope to keep that streak intact in 2016, but it will have to come with a new head coach and with the team competing in a new league. Rory Rosenbach, the only head coach in school history, resigned following the 2015 season to take the head coaching job at Union High School in Vancouver. Nick Bender, an assistant under Rosenbach for eight years, was named the Grizzlies’ new head coach. Bender will lead Glacier Peak as it moves up a classification and joins the Wesco 4A.
After three days of practice, so far the transition has been smooth.
“I think it’s been a good, easy change because he’s already been in the program and we already knew him,” senior wide receiver and linebacker Alex Garrett said. “The offense really stayed mostly kind of the same. It’s evolved more, but it still translates to stuff we already know.
“I think Bender is doing a good job of not changing too much right off the bat to where it’s all foreign to us, but also changing enough to where it’s kind of new and exciting.”
Bender joked that one of the biggest advantages he has, as opposed to many other new head coaches, is knowing his kids’ names. It may be a joke, but he also acknowledged it has helped in the early season practices.
“That does help greatly,” Bender said. “But also the relationships that I have with all these kids, whether it be they’re constantly around me in the weight room or the classroom or joking with them, I didn’t have to come in and earn anything from any of the kids, it was already there. The respect and the passion — they know how I talk and how I operate.”
If there is added excitement with Bender taking over it is reflected in the number of kids that turned out for football this season. With 171 players from freshman to seniors, it is the biggest group the Grizzlies have ever had.
As for the streak of playoff appearances, that’s just come to be expected.
“Of course every year you want to make the playoffs and make a run at making it to the (Tacoma) Dome, but it doesn’t stick in our head as we have a lot of pressure but something that is expected because we’ve always had the talent and we’re going to have the talent this year to do that again and make a run at the playoffs,” Garrett said. “We talk about that all the time. We’re going to go far this year. It’s not just a nine-game season, we’ve got 10-plus as we keep winning and winning. It’s kind of an expected thing and we’re looking forward to that.”
Prior to the 2014-15 school year, there was talk the Grizzlies might move up to 4A, but their enrollment numbers kept them in 3A. This time when the numbers were calculated for what will be a four-year cycle, Glacier Peak’s enrollment officially made them a 4A school for the first time in school history. That means the rivalries with schools like Edmonds-Woodway and Meadowdale will be replaced with rivalries with the likes of Lake Stevens and Monroe — at least for the next four years.
“I’m excited and I think a lot of us are,” senior offensive and defensive lineman Malakai Fifita said. “We’re going to have competition every week that is going to push us to not take any days off. We’re going to have a lot more elevated competition. I think it will help us as a team and really show how good we are.”
Much of the Grizzlies’ success this season will likely fall on the very young shoulders of sophomore quarterback Ayden Ziomas. Ziomas became the team’s starter last season and has established himself as the team’s signal-caller of the future. Though there were a few rough moments, Ziomas was largely impressive last year and helped lead the Grizzlies to a berth in the 3A state quarterfinals where they lost to perennial power Bellevue.
“We know the skill is there and we’re really excited for him to take control,” Fifita said of Ziomas. “I think we’re starting to respect him a lot more as a leader and we’re just kind of looking for him to bring the team together, especially on offense, and be the leader that a coach would expect a quarterback to be. But we’re excited about what he’ll bring to the table in terms of his skill, and now his leadership.”
Ziomas admits he didn’t expect to have the impact he had as a freshman, but knows the experience will help him this season.
“Knowing what I can do from last season, I set really high goals for myself,” Ziomas said. “My goal personally is to lead our league in touchdowns and yards. I think I can. We have a great team — really good receivers and a great playbook — I think it can happen. I set the bar really high for myself.
“I think having that experience is really going to help me a lot because now I know what it’s like and I’m going to be able to stay calm,” Ziomas added. “I don’t think any game will be too much pressure for me to handle. Last year’s Bellevue playoff game was probably the most nervous I’ve been for a football game in my whole playoff career, so I think after being able to play in that and see that I can do it it helped me a lot.”