Despite Small Rosters And Bigger Opponents, Grass Valley’s Bear River Sets A Gold Standard For Small Program Success In A Football-Rich Region •
Small school football is a little slice of Americana: small communities where everyone knows their neighbors and all cheer on the local school’s athletes. All of the stores in Lake of the Pines and the southern end of Grass Valley might not close every fall Friday night. Yet that doesn’t stop the community from flocking to support its Bear River High football team.
Many young Bruins are known as well off the field as on it.
“It’s cool that people know who you are,”senior Tre Maronic said of living and playing in a small foothill town, “but you have the responsibility of everyone knowing your name. So, when you are out, you have to know that people will know who you are and you represent your family, team and school.”
Bear River has battled much bigger schools in the past. The Bruins played in the Sierra Foothill League against the likes of Granite Bay, Del Oro-Loomis and Placer-Auburn when the school population reached its height of 1,200 students. Bear River has just 600 students now. Which means co-coaches Terry Logue and Scott Savoie have to do more with less.
“We are proud that we held our own in the SFL and other leagues where the schools were much bigger than us,” said Logue, who has been the Bruins’ coach since 1987, the school’s second year in existence. “Now we are playing schools our own size, which is why I think that we have been in four (Sac-Joaquin) Section title games in five years.”
Under the leadership of Logue and Savoie, the Bruins have had big success despite small numbers. Since Logue and Savoie joined forces in 1994, the team has had just one losing season (2016). Despite the decrease in population at the school, the Bruins continue to thrive.
This season should be no different. Bear River is expected to contend with rival Colfax for the Pioneer Valley League title. It was Colfax who dealt the Bruins their only two defeats of 2018. One of those losses came in the highly-charged River Bowl Rivalry, and the other in the SJS Div. V final.
“We only have 22 kids, but we’ve got 22 pretty good kids,” Savoie said. “We’ve got some good athletes in that group. We’ve got some speed, we’ve got some size and we’ve got some leadership.”
Maronic and fellow senior Colton Jenkins are the lone returning senior starters. They’re tasked with leading a group learning new positions and adjusting to the varsity game.
“As returning seniors, we can help younger players because we have played multiple positions and can teach and help them along with any position,” Jenkins said. “The younger guys have always looked up to the seniors. So we have to be leaders on and off the field.”
Versatility and athleticism are necessities when the roster is small, and the two senior leaders embody those traits. Maronic will move from halfback to quarterback this year, and can play almost anywhere on the field. He can throw, run, or catch on offense. Defensively, he can play as a man-up cornerback or as a safety. Jenkins will see time in the backfield as a runner. He’ll also line up in the slot where he is a threat as a pass-catcher or a runner on fly sweeps.
“Ever since Junior Bruins, the coaches have trained us to be used to playing on both sides of the ball, and needing to be versatile,” Jenkins said. “They work on our conditioning and tell us everyday to pour your heart out in every practice.
Both Maronic and Jenkins are not the first Bruin football players in their families. Toran Maronic was on the varsity roster in 2015 and 2016 before a concussion and brain injury cut short his football career. Logan Jenkins preceded younger brother Colton as a 2018 graduate. Additionally, both Logue and Savoie saw their own sons be a part of the Bruins’ small school football family.
“You can go to a 10-mile radius around here in the foothills, and you will find some of the best football programs in the state,” Logue said. “There are great programs up here and we’re one of those.
“We get tremendous support from our community and our school. There’s just something about when you come down that hill on Friday night. The kids line up out there, and they are playing the fight song. It’s so special to play at a school like this.”
Like a little slice of Americana.
BEST OF THE SJS—SMALL SCHOOLS
Names to know and teams to watch from Sac-Joaquin Section schools considered to be in the Division V-VII enrollment group.
TOP OFFENSIVE THREAT: Clayton Byer, QB/RB, Union Mine-El Dorado, Sr.
TOP DEFENSIVE TALENT: Jacob Walden, DE, Escalon, Sr.
BEST ARM (QB): Clayton Byer, Union Mine-El Dorado, Sr.
BEST BACK (RB): Javyn Drobnick, Big Valley Christian-Modesto, Sr.
BEST DEEP THREAT (WR): Kendall Allen, Vacaville Christian, Soph.
TOP ROAD GRADER (OL): Wiley Drummond, Colfax, Sr.
TOP RETURN THREAT: Izaiah Homa, Big Valley Christian, Sr.
BIGGEST LEG (P or PK): Dylan Garcia, Colfax, Sr.
TOP PASS RUSHER: Declan Van Vuren, LB, Ripon Christian, Sr.
TOP BALLHAWK (DB): Markus Martinez, Marysville, Sr.
TOP OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER: Travis Byrd, QB, Calaveras, Soph.
TOP DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER: Cole Bailey, SS, Hilmar, Jr.
BIGGEST TITLE FAVORITE: Escalon
TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Center-Antelope
BEST CHANCE TO SURPRISE: Union Mine-El Dorado
Visit our Football Preview Kickoff Week page to see more 2019 preseason coverage posting this week.