South Summit Wildcats wrap up an undefeated season
Mike Grajek, head coach of the South Summit High School football team, said it didn’t matter who the team faced in Saturday’s Class 2A championship game. As far as Grajek was concerned, the Wildcats’ only opponents were themselves.
“People would say, ‘Do you want Delta or Beaver?’ We didn’t really care, we just knew we had to take care of ourselves,” he said. “That’s what we’ve said all year, is ‘The only one who can beat us is ourselves.’”
It helps when you have a class of strong returning players, but like any team, Grajek said their success would depend largely on whether they bought in and played as a team. In the end, they did, and the Wildcats beat Beaver 38-10, securing the 2A state championship and the school’s first ever undefeated season. Working toward that goal, Grajek said the team put in countless hours in practice (he specifically thanked the parents for their patience), and even had a series of speakers visit them along the way.
“Had a professional bullfighter come in,” Grajek said. “A lot of the kids would say ‘Hey, be like a bullfighter, protect your brother.’ We also had a marine come in and talk to us, and then we dedicated our season to Ava Woodward.”
Woodward is 8 and was undergoing chemotherapy for a tumor in her spinal cord during the season. Grajek, whose son, Parker, used to babysit Ava, essentially made her a symbol of the team. The Wildcats held a gold-out night, where everyone dressed in gold in Ava’s honor and signed a jersey for her.
“Right now the kids are designing rings and want to put ‘Ava’s Army’ on the inside,” Grajek said.
Having such inspirational people around the team helped them stay motivated, but more importantly, Grajek said it kept them grounded, and showed them the importance of having strong values that extend beyond football.
“They are just a bunch of great guys,” he said, telling the story of how two players initiated a project in which the floriculture class made a flower arrangement for a student whose dog had recently died.
“I think we’ve got a good shot at making sure these kids aren’t the stereotypical football players, and care about each other and care about others,” he said.
Nevertheless, they were unstoppable on the gridiron.
They defeated San Juan High School in the quarterfinals 40-12, then cruised past Grand, 47-9, in a game that Grajek said showcased the team’s linemen.
“Our line was the best in the state,” he said. “I think we found that out against Grand. Everyone said it would be like playing a junior college line and we held them to one touchdown.”
After that win, the Wildcats faced Beaver, a 2A rival that beat them for the state title last season. But the Wildcats had also beaten Beaver earlier this season at home.
When asked if there was a moment he knew his team would win, Grajek said “you never know for sure.”
But he remembers when it tipped in the Wildcats’ favor.
“We were up 14-7 with just about two minutes left (in the half) and we came down to a fourth-and-2,” Grajek recalled. “I always like to think about those plays a little longer. We were on our side of the field. Typically you punt it.”
But Grajek saw another option.
“We went to wristbands for the last two games of the season to alleviate other teams (reading) our plays,” he said. “I’m going to call a no-play and see if we can jump them off sides and if they don’t jump off then we can call a timeout and evaluate it.”
So Grajek looks at the play sheet and signals.
“I called the wrong number,” he said.
Grajek watched in horror as the quarterback said ‘Hut’ then, instead of trying to force the other team offside, snapped the ball.
“You can either call it divine intervention or what, but it’s a slant and it goes right to my son and so he catches it and we get the first down,” Grajek said. “We proceed to go down and score right before half and go into halftime 21-7. It was a huge mistake, or divine intervention depending on how you see it. Even though the game was not over, it was huge to go into halftime up 14 points.”
After that, the ‘Cats continued to rack up touchdowns, helping most of the team’s skill players earn spots as Class 2A leaders.
Quarterback Kael Atkinson led 2A in passing with 2,959 yards – more than 1,000 yards more than his closest competitor. Not surprisingly, Keagan Stracher, one of South Summit’s receivers, led the state in receiving yards with 1,319. He was followed by Jared Dansie and Parker Grajek, who both play for the Wildcats and earned more than 600 yards each.
Stracher also led the state in total points and total touchdowns, with Dansie following in third in points and fourth in touchdowns. South Summit’s Alex Johnson led the state in sacks with 14.
“What was sweet was, everyone shook hands, then a bunch of the student body came onto the field,” Grajek said. “We get presented the trophy, then we all get grouped up for a picture and here comes little Ava. She just got back from a screening and she’s cancer free right now. So the kids were fired up. She gets in the picture with the kids, it was just awesome.”
Grajek said it brought the season full circle, with a reminder about what’s important.
“I think that’s the whole goal, is to teach these kids to prepare to be good fathers and good husbands,” he said. “Even though we went undefeated and won the state championships, true success is seeing these players 10 years from now and seeing how they are and how their families are. I think we’ve built these kids to be successful in life and everything they do.”
Next season, Grajek will start all over again.
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