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RC completes 1st ‘normal’ offseason under Grams
Ripon Christian summer football
Trey Fasani lets it fly as coach Phil Grams watches the play develop during Ripon Christian’s 7-on-7 scrimmage with visiting Sonora on June 22. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Phil Grams is happy to have finally had his first “normal” offseason program as Ripon Christian coach.

It’s his third summer leading the Knights football program after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges in the first two. Now, he looks forward to a full regular season without canceled games and, if they qualify, a playoff run.

“It is nice to have a full offseason in between seasons,” he said. “It’s nice to get the normal time off and do normal things over the summer, like going on vacations. Going through our regular offseason program with lifting and running was definitely easier than it was the last couple of years.”

Grams was hired just a few weeks before the statewide shutdown caused by coronavirus. With no season that fall, he helped spearhead a club football league that had games in the spring of 2021.

California Interscholastic Federation, with guidance from the California Department of Public Health, allowed its members schools to participate in abbreviated seasons. The Sac-Joaquin Section threatened to sanction schools involved with club football and ultimately suspended Ripon Christian and two others from postseason play for 2022 and 2023.

Ripon Christian went 7-3 last year and would have been a top two seed in the SJS Division VII playoffs. The Section has since lifted the two-year ban, and the Knights are again eligible to go after their first SJS championship in the sport.  

They’ll go into their first practice on July 25 with high hopes thanks to their experienced cast of talent at the skill positions. Led by senior quarterback Trey Fasani, 6-foot-8 tight end Thys Van der Hoek and 6-5 wide receiver Griffin de Abreu, Ripon Christian shined in passing scrimmages against Central Catholic, Bear Creek, Ripon and Sonora last month. The Knights also have running backs Brady Grondz and Grant Sonke returning after they stood out as sophomores in Grams’ fly offense.

“We have good senior leadership,” Grams said, giving a nod to captains Fasani and Jacob Kowes, the team’s lone returning offensive lineman. “The challenge is getting the offensive linemen up to speed with the skill positions. That’s small-school football, but it’s fun trying to figure out all the pieces.”

Grams anticipate the team bring up two sophomores to fill out his 22-man varsity roster. That would leave the JV with 24, which is believed to the largest lower-level team in program history.

Grams will put his small roster to the test leading up to the Southern Athletic League schedule. The Knights start with reigning Central Section Division III champion Central Valley Christian at home on Aug. 19. The Cavaliers of Visalia also won the NorCal regional Division IV-AA title.

Ripon Christian travels to Sonoma County to face Cloverdale the following week before welcoming Calaveras, a traditional powerhouse from the Mother Lode.

“It’s always good to play up before the league season, but it’s a little risky with a 22-man roster,” Grams said “But I feel like the kids will be battle tested from it.”