Phil Grams’ first year at Ripon Christian may not have been ideal because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he doesn’t regret returning to Northern California and making himself at home in the community.
A Sacramento-area resident for nearly three decades, Grams served as offensive coordinator at NCAA Division III Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc. for three years before accepting the job at RC.
Grams is the sixth head football coach in school history but the first to have an on-campus position. He is assistant athletic director to Kevin Tameling, works with the facilities department and has two periods of weight lifting.
“Being at this school is great,” he said as the team was wrapping up a weightlifting session on July 8. “When I got hired I said this is a community that lives what they say they believe in. The whole community rallied around all the COVID sports seasons and are very supportive of the football program. It’s great to work with people who have like beliefs.
“The program has a great foundation and (the school) is comminuted to continue building the program,” he added. “Having an on-campus coach is a good step.”
Ripon Christian has developed into one of the top small-school programs in the Sac-Joaquin Section but still doesn’t have a postseason championship to show for it. Grams led Sacramento power Capital Christian to the Division VI crown in 2014 when he was also named MaxPreps Northern California Small School Coach of the Year.
Ripon Christian opted not to participate in the five-week spring season that would have pitted the Knights against the much larger schools of the rugged Valley Oak League. Much of the athletes instead played club football with Knights Outdoor Fitness & Skillz Academy, coached by Grams.
This summer, the high school team is playing catch-up.
“When the guys were done with club football they all went to different sports and I didn’t make the weight room mandatory or anything,” Grams said. “It’s a little tight for us trying to figure out the weight room but I think we’ll be in good shape when we get back on the 26th (of July). I think we’ve done a good job in that short period of time.”
The Knights have continued physical conditioning with the SJS Dead Period beginning this week. Teams are not allowed to hold on-field practices with sports-specific equipment at this time. Official practices begin on July 26.
The club season allowed Grams to introduce the Fly Offense to his players, though much of them have graduated. He said all starting spots at the skill positions are up for grabs but looks to senior linemen Zach Brouwer and Jay Hoekstra to provide leadership.
“Great group of kids,” Grams said. “We’re never going to have a giant roster here but we’re always going to have kids that are easy to work with and kids who want to learn. When you have kids that buy into what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing, you’re going to be able to accomplish great things with them and that’s what we have here.”
The team will tune-up for a challenging pre-league schedule with a scrimmage against visiting Linden.
Ripon Christian will have its first official game under Grams on Aug. 20 when the Knights travel to Galt. They’ll then host Northern Section small-school heavyweight East Nicolaus and wrap-up non-league play at Calaveras.