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Defense the big question for the Grizzlies

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A pack of Grizzlies bring down Joseph Villanueva during a special teams drill at practice this week. Sunnyside opens the season Friday night against Grandview.

The chemistry of a football team is one of the most important aspects in terms of success. This year, the chemistry of the Grizzlies' defensive unit is one of the concerns of Sunnyside High School football coach Mark Marro.

Sunnyside enters its 2005 campaign fresh off a 4-6 mark. The Grizzlies lost such key players as Tony Cantu, Noe Zamarron, Greg Gilleland, Joe Schwartz and Chris Guevara to graduation.

The Grizzlies have a strong turnout this season, with 65 players making up the varsity and junior varsity squads, which includes 21 seniors. The freshmen team is carrying 23 players.

Marro started a program this past summer that showed him first-hand the dedication of some of the players. About 70 percent of this year's group took part in a weightlifting program.

"I am real proud of the kids," said Marro.

The players who took part in the program signed a contract, committing to participate in at least 30 weightlifting sessions to be eligible to participate in the first game of the season this Friday night at home against Grandview.

"They did a good job," said Marro of his players. "Hopefully it pays off."

There is a real battle brewing at the quarterback spot between Jaime Sambrano and Adrian Cantu.

"They have both played real well," said Marro.

Marro gave the starting nod to Sambrano for this Friday.

"Jaime has worked hard in the off-season," said Marro. "He sees the field a bit better right now."

Marro said Cantu is nipping at Sambrano's heels, as the two quarterbacks are really close in skill level. Marro said Cantu has a strong arm that can help Sunnyside's passing attack.

Leading the way for the Grizzlies in the backfield will be the trio of Michael Graham, B.J. Miller and Joseph Villanueva. Marro said Graham will clear the way a lot of the time for either Miller or Villanueva to run the ball.

The receiving core of the Grizzlies will be anchored by Brandon Coleman.

"He catches the ball really well," said Marro.

Sunnyside will also benefit from the play of Prosser transfer Eric Garza, and from Nathan Cornelius. Other players Marro is expecting good things from in the receiving slot are tight end Kyle Tyler and Joel Zakahi.

The key for the Grizzlies this season on the offensive side of the ball will be to keep a good balance of passing and running. This will be a hard task for the Grizzlies, who are primarily known as a running team.

"We threw the ball pretty well at camp," said Marro. "We have to keep teams honest."

The running game of the Grizzlies is one of the main strengths for Sunnyside this year.

"We run the ball real well," said Marro. "If we can just sustain a drive we should be in good shape."

Tyler is expected to anchor the defense at middle linebacker. Lucas Ramos, Casey Smith and Zach Marquez are expected to be the heart of the defensive line this season. Marro is also expecting a big season from Coleman at safety.

Marro said one of the biggest question marks he has is how well his defensive unit will gel together this season. Marro said that chemistry on the defensive side will be crucial. He said the key for his defensive line will be staying healthy this season.

Special teams should be solid this season, said Marro, with one big exception.

"We struggle kicking. We don't kick the ball deep real well," said Marro. "Our special teams are going to be containing a lot."

While every game is important, Marro feels a key match-up will be a Sept. 16 game at home against Eastside Catholic.

"We have to be really gelling by the time Eastside Catholic comes around," said Marro.

Prosser is expected to once again set the bar in the Mid-Valley League this season. Marro said, though, the rest of the field is wide open.

"The big question mark is Hanford," said Marro. The Falcons, who have a quality football program, will be led by a new coach this season.

This Friday's home game against Grandview will tell a lot about where the Grizzly football program is heading, said Marro.

"We are going to find out real fast Friday night how we are," said Marro. "We are going to see who can play and who needs another year."

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