Heading into this season, the Bishop Gorman High School football team had some questions to answer with eight players who received Division I scholarships gone from last year’s undefeated state championship squad.
Many of those departures came from the defensive side of the ball, leaving coach Tony Sanchez with some big holes.
“We had talented guys to fill them,” Sanchez says, “but what we needed was that calming support, and that was Jalen.”
Jalen Grimble has provided senior leadership for a defense that has started as many as six sophomores at times this year. Despite the unit’s relative youth, Gorman has shut out seven opponents, including a 56-0 rout of Shadow Ridge on Nov. 11 in the first round of the playoffs. The Gaels (10-2) have allowed just 12 points in nine games against in-state rivals as they eye their third state title in four years.
“I knew our defense was going to be strong,” Grimble says. “It was just a matter of getting the younger guys going.”
Grimble, rated as the fourth-best defensive end in the nation by Scout.com, gave a verbal commitment to USC this spring and has had at least 23 scholarship offers from other national powers such as Florida, LSU, Nebraska and Alabama. But despite not being able to sign an official National Letter of Intent until Feb. 2, he is not wavering in his commitment to USC, where he will join cousin and former Gorman tight end Xavier Grimble.
“I’m a Trojan all the way,” he says. “I haven’t changed my mind.”
Grimble, at 6 feet 3 inches and 255 pounds, is a terror on the field, but the star defensive end is not the type of person who seeks the spotlight. It is that attitude that helped him get elected one of the Gaels’ captains by his teammates.
“Jalen’s a quiet leader,” Sanchez says. “He’s not going to really be a vocal guy, yelling and screaming, but he’s going to show up every day and he just leads by example.”
Making Grimble’s accomplishments all the more impressive is the fact that he won’t turn 18 until August, when he’ll be preparing for life at USC, and has been starting on Gorman’s defensive line since he was a 15-year-old sophomore.
Grimble has been dominant this season, blowing up ballcarriers, sacking quarterbacks, blocking punts and kicks, drawing double teams and rushing QBs into bad throws while playing much of the season with mild tendinitis in his right hip, which caused him to miss the Gaels’ 63-0 victory over Bonanza on Oct. 28.
“It bothers me, but it’s nothing serious,” he says. “It’s to the point where I’m used to the pain now.”
Sanchez says he’s not concerned about his defensive star aggravating the injury as the Gaels prepare to host Arbor View on Nov. 19 in the second round of the playoffs.
“Everybody’s banged up and has nicks and bruises,” Sanchez says. “Hey, next year he’s going to be playing at USC and he’s going to have to play with a hip like that, and go and play against Oregon and some pretty darn good schools. So it’s good for these guys to go through that and to be able to tough it out.”
When asked how he keeps his intensity at a high level despite playing in mostly one-sided games, Grimble says he doesn’t take anything for granted as he attempts to finish his prep football career with another state championship.
“The main thing is we’re not playing against an opponent, we’re playing against ourselves,” he says. “And we play to maintain our reputation. It’s more about keeping up what we have to do on the field and not playing down to another team’s level.
“I see every team as a challenge. But knowing what I have on my team, I’ll take any of these guys any day of the week, and I don’t see any team putting up a fight against us.”
Acclaimed California coach tells how to beat the Gaels
As the prep football playoffs progress toward the state title game on Dec. 4, the big question is, can Bishop Gorman be beaten? The Gaels have outscored their opponents 575-77 in 12 games this season, including a 506-12 point differential in going 9-0 against in-state rivals. One of two teams to beat the Gaels this year, 28-14 on Sept. 25, is De La Salle of Concord, Calif., which is ranked No. 5 in the nation by USA Today. De La Salle coach Bob Ladouceur, who led his team to 151 consecutive wins from 1992-2003, provides some tips on how to keep the Gaels from steamrolling their way to another state championship.
1. Focus on Shaquille Powell: Ladouceur called the junior running back “one of the best players I’ve ever played against as a coach.” Teams should try to keep Powell from getting to the outside, out-quick Gorman’s huge offensive linemen and force Gaels quarterback Jarrett Solomon to make plays with his arm. Also keep the ball away from Powell on kick and punt returns.
2. Stick with the running game: Even though yards are going to be hard to come by against the Gaels’ defense, teams must commit to the ground game in an attempt to shorten the game and keep Gorman’s offense off the field. Ladouceur advises play-action passes to keep the Gaels off balance, double-teaming lineman Jalen Grimble and throwing away from Powell, who also plays defensive back.
3. Make Gorman work: The Gaels led De La Salle, 14-7, at halftime before the Spartans rallied in the second half, something Ladouceur attributed to his team’s conditioning. Since most of Gorman’s games have quickly become blowouts, its players might not be accustomed to playing for four quarters. – Sean DeFrank