Well, that was then, and this is now. And now is an age of greater prosperity for Centurion football under head coach Ryan Price’s regime, now in its third year. UCHS, for years, did have a program that was discounted by area opponents. And, a couple of years ago, when the sports facilities were made over, the Centurions apparently weren’t going to have other teams come in and treat them like low-lifes.
Jones, with light blue eyes and his long hair pulled back in a ponytail, is emblematic of the new spirit within the program. He’s a free spirit, evidently, but he also takes his quarterback-of-the-defense role seriously, and he’s willing to put in the work. As Price says, “He’s a great kid.”
“I have to learn every position on defense,” the 17-year-old senior says, “because I have to tell my teammates what they need to do. It’s a big commitment because it’s a lot of studying my position, as well as helping the other players.”
Jones allows as how he has “started a diet” only three days before. A visitor doesn’t know whether to take the statement seriously, or if this guy who is a near mountain range in himself is trying it on for shock value. But the former La Jolla resident clarifies, yes, “I’m trying to lose weight for quickness. I’m the weight of a lineman, but I’m playing linebacker.”
The son of Steve and Mary Jones, his dad is not tiny himself, at 6-foot-4-inches tall, a former football player at Southwest High (San Diego), his mom a former softball player and cross country runner in San Bernardino--at another point in the conversation allows as far as caloric intake, “When in doubt, buffet. It doesn’t matter. Everything except sushi.” He likes his steak medium, as well as chicken and pizza. “I’m going to try to eat better, healthier.”
As UCHS won its first three games this season, two by large margins, Jones helped lead the way with a high of 12 tackles, nine of those solos, in a 61-20 smashing at Scripps Ranch in week three. In the Centurions’ other big win, the season opener at home, the captain was unleashed for 10 tackles, six solo. Scoreboard: UC 47, Sweetwater 12. In week two, Jones made nine stops versus Monte Vista.
The senior, who has gotten interest from San Diego State and Fresno State for football, and Portland State for the throwing events in track, shot put and discus, self-describes as “outgoing, crazy, weird, spastic, energetic.” “My job is basically to get the team pumped up, keep them on task,” he relates.
“I think this year I’ve kind of been lacking the vocal part (of leadership),” says the three-year veteran of varsity. “But I realized if I get pumped up for no reason and the rest of the team gets pumped, then we end up playing better.”
So physical, as a 5-year-old, he says he “got kicked out” of youth soccer. But during an interview, he is calm, relational, and appreciative: “Coach Price picked me to be interviewed, so I must be doing something right.”
Looking back at the unglorious past of Centurion football, now in the rear-view mirror, Jones says, “I don’t think people in the community thought we were a football school. I got sick of hearing about it. We got no publicity. People scheduled us all the time for Homecoming. I didn’t do it alone (to change UC’s fortunes),” but under Price, the Centurions have begun to build a new tradition and want to recapture the spirit that led them to a 9-3 record in 2015, including a first-round 56-20 win over Santana in the CIF Division IV playoffs.
There was a bit of a drop-back last year, to 6-6. But UCHS started 2017 out on a torrid pace.
Another cog in the UCHS wheel is junior Casey Granfors. Price wouldn’t want to leave home without the ever-ready, versatile 6-foot-3-inches tall, 205-pounder. Granfors, who as a sophomore played both quarterback and wide receiver on offense, is focusing on receiving this year, while continuing to be another leader on defense at his strong safety spot.
In the first three games in 2017, he had 14 receptions for 256 yards and four touchdowns, all team-leading numbers among Centurion receivers. Meanwhile, at strong safety, he recorded 14 solo tackles and 10 assists for a total of 24 tackles. He also had three tackles for a loss. In UCHS’s 27-15 win over Monte Vista in week two, he recorded 17 tackles, 11 of those solo.
Price has banked on Granfors now for all three of his years at the helm at UCHS. Last year, as a sophomore, Casey completed 57 of 102 passes at quarterback, for 878 yards and eight touchdowns. When his own number was called, he carried the ball 34 times for 354 yards and five more TD’s. Switched to wide receiver, he grabbed 49 receptions for 620 yards and eight touchdowns. That was an impressive 1,852 total yards and 21 touchdowns for a guy who is obviously “all in” in Price’s program. On the defensive side of the ball, Granfors piled up 50 tackles, including 34 solos and 16 assisted.
What’s more, as a freshman playing on the varsity he made 31 catches for 434 yards, a notable two and a half seasons so far with more to come.
Another important piece of the machine, senior Dale Gerlt, plays both offensive and defensive line. At 6-feet-two-inches tall, 240 pounds, a weighty counterpart to Jones, he gets his mitts on a lot of opposing ball-carriers. He had 19 tackles, 12 of those solo, in the first trio of games. On offense, on the outside edge, he affords extra protection for the Centurions’ backs.
Jones, a mint chip ice cream enthusiast who says, “I’m a carnivore” in food tastes, “gets” the role of representing his team and school. “In the community, I’m a reflection on the school and the campus,” he acknowledges. He welcomes the media attention to his team: “I think it’s cool when people take an interest in your team.”
He acknowledges he relishes physical contact in football, and more: “Obviously, the sheer physicality of the sport. Also, the bond of brotherhood that we have.” Elaborating on the “physicality,” the captain says, “Brutal every play. I guess you could put it, on every play you’re getting knocked down or you’re knocking down.”
After discussing his preference for meat, then asked if he has any comments about vegans, he says smilingly, “No, sir. They can do it. I would die (on that diet).”
Among his siblings, two sisters, besides Amanda, who is older, Makenna, a junior at UCHS, serves as a student trainer for the Centurion athletic program. “She did competitive cheer before high school. My parents wanted her to do something after that. She tried track (but didn’t continue).”
“I play year-round sports,” he says. “I played basketball from age seven to freshman year at UC. In track, I went to CIF both my sophomore and junior years in both shot put and discus. In the eighth grade, I had the opportunity to go to the Junior Olympics but didn’t go.”
As far as his “crazy” nature, he explains, “Everyday, all day, yelling, screaming, jumping off stuff.”
His girlfriend, Julia Cowell, and he were junior prince and princess for Homecoming. Julia, she says, plays three sports: setter in volleyball, offense in soccer, and a sprinter in track.