Grape Creek Eagles Look To Increase Altitude in 2017
GRAPE CREEK, TX— The year 2016 saw the Grape Creek Eagles enter the playoffs for just the second time in school history. Now, 2017 will bring a new buffet of challenges for the Eagles to overcome.
Late in the spring of this year, former Athletic Director and Head Coach Kyle Atwood resigned to take the same position at Alice, in south Texas. Grape Creek then hired White Oak Offensive Coordinator Justin Mueller as their Head Coach. Mueller, a native of Stamford, brings a proven offensive scheme back to his native west Texas. Over the course of the last three years, White Oak's offense averaged 36 points per game under Mueller's tutelage, with the Roughnecks averaging 44 points per game in 2016.
"The kids are going to work hard like we did in White Oak," Mueller said. "I think this can be a good place."
Mueller would have no trouble taking this team to the next level, if it weren't for the transfer of quarterback Austin Barron to Central. Last year, Barron contributed 3,221 all purpose yards and 32 total touchdowns. His presence will be sorely missed in an offense that returns all of it's skill players.
Taking snaps now for Grape Creek will be senior Jesse Jio. Last year, Jio saw limited time at quarterback with Barron putting up video game numbers. "He needs reps and he needs confidence," Mueller said. "He had that swagger and that confidence as a receiver, now he needs to bring that to quarterback." Jio has the arm strength of a good quarterback, but he needs to find a rhythm with his receivers to be successful.
Another challenge facing the Eagles is the fact they lost four of their five starting linemen to graduation. Solidifying the trenches this year for the Eagles will be 6-foot-2, 330-pound senior offensive and defensive lineman Collin Fontenot. His leadership will be leaned upon heavily in order to help mature an inexperienced offensive line, and quickly. "We found a couple of kids who hadn't played football in a couple of years, some kids who are strong and need to be playing football," Mueller said.
Like most buffets, the one staring at Grape Creek also comes with it's sweets. The Eagles get their speedy running back Austin Ortegon back for his senior year following a 1,251 yard campaign in 2016. "Ortegon has been here most of the summer," Mueller said. "He's a kid, as a senior, that we're going to be able to rely on in the ground game." During the spring, Ortegon clocked a 4.5 second 40-yard dash. With a new offensive line, however, Ortegon may have to make some plays on his own in the Grape Creek ground game.
An entirely new staff at Grape Creek means a brand new defensive scheme. Mueller's staff brings a 4-2-5 scheme to the field. Senior safety Brady Preston and senior linebacker Tony Valdez could have breakout season's in this new defense for the Eagles. In 2016, Preston recorded 31 tackles and two interceptions. Valdez makes the move from defensive line to linebacker in 2017. This suits the 195-pound senior best.
Justin Mueller is a coach with a winning way etched into his being. He can take Grape Creek to a higher level a couple of years down the road, if not this year. A fairly uncomplicated non-district schedule will work in the favor of Grape Creek, however and the Eagles will go 7-3 overall in 2017 with a 2-2 record in district 2-3A D1. The Eagles take on Alpine at home on September 1 at 7:30 p.m. to kick off the 2017 season.