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Grizzlies find new culture, building blocks for next year

New head coach, strong group of juniors prompt optimism


ThunderRidge football players huddled for 20 minutes on the turf at Shea Stadium following a 41-6 Mount Cameron League loss to league champion Columbine on Oct. 2.

The loss ended the season for the Grizzlies and first-year head coach Doug Nisenson, who commended his team for battling throughout the season to change the culture of ThunderRidge football.

Nisenson knows all about the culture of ThunderRidge football.

He played on two Grizzlies Class 4A state championship teams in 2004 and 2005. He was an assistant coach from 2013-16 and was named head coach for this season, after Joe Johnson departed for Cherokee Trail.

ThunderRidge finished the 2017 season with a 3-7 record, which was the fewest wins for a Grizzlies team in 12 seasons.

Nisenson told his team to keep their fingers crossed to see if they could get help from other teams in the final RPI rankings but the Grizzlies finished 23rd and out of the state playoffs.

He said all games this season were learning experiences and pointed out the foundation was laid this year to help ThunderRidge rebound from three losing campaigns in the past four seasons.

“This team changed the culture of the program,” Nisenson said. “We will be better off next season. We were in the game against Columbine but made too many mistakes. We could have won two or three more games this season without mistakes.”

Returning players will provide Nisenson and his coaching staff with a nucleus.

Running back Spencer Lambert, a 5-9 junior, led the Grizzlies in rushing this season with 1,265 yards and averaged 160 all-purpose yards a game.

Junior linebacker Ethan Frasier was the top tackler on the team and in the state with 114 tackles and junior defensive end Sam Motzkus will return to shore up the defensive line. He had three sacks this season and juniors had three of the team's five interceptions.

Junior return specialist Jake Porter averaged 19.3 yards on kickoff returns and 19.7 on punt returns.


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