Photo By Steve Conner - #4 Marcus Barinaga
Written By: Will Hoenike
Late November 2018 had a little different feel than it usually does.
That’s because, for one of the rare times in the past decade, the Fruitland Grizzlies were not playing in the championship game. But it almost did. And, by almost, we mean … one play away. Kimberly scored as time expired in the 3A semifinals to defeat Fruitland in one of the games of the year – at any level – that night to end the Grizzlies season.
Now the question becomes, can Fruitland reload yet again? Head coach Ryan Tracy and his staff will be looking to replace 12 departed seniors, including quarterback Cole Eiguren and talented two-way playmaker Jonathan Fagen, but there are a host of talented players ready to step in for the Grizzlies.
Leading the way is senior Zack Ziegler. The 190-pounder ran for 115 yards and two scores in Fruitland’s playoff win over Kellogg, one of several productive games he had last fall.
“(Zack) runs very hard, he’s a smart football player,” Tracy noted. “He’s very fast, very physical.”
From the outside looking in, it’s unclear who will be playing quarterback this fall in Fruitland. Last year’s starter, Cole Eiguren, graduated and was the only quarterback listed on the team’s roster. If Tracy knows who his signal-caller will be, he’s playing it close to the vest.
Part of that is the scheme. Fruitland has long employed a bevy of ballcarriers to do most of the work. Besides Ziegler, fans should see the ball in Marcus Barinaga’s hands a fair amount. He was on the receiving end of two big touchdowns in the dramatic loss to Kimberly in the quarterfinals, but he’s a playmaker. Senior Brayden Kelley will start the season on the shelf with an injury, so perhaps junior Jacob Walker sees an increased role this fall.
Josh Henggler returns for his senior season after being the primary pass-catching target last fall. The 6-foot-3 receiver caught nine passes for over 200 yards in a season-opening win over South Fremont last fall, so he’ll provide a nice security blanket for the Fruitland passers this fall.
Ziegler and Walker return at linebacker for the Grizzlies, Walker had two fumble recoveries in a key Snake River Valley Conference win over Weiser last season. Junior Weston Jeffries will clog the middle along the defensive line while Barinaga and Henggler will fill roles in the Fruitland secondary.
The 3A SRV has the look of a strong conference in 2019. Weiser and Homedale both have big goals and Fruitland will play those two teams in back-to-back weeks in the middle of the season, hosting Homedale on September 27 and going up the road to Weiser the following Friday, October 4. Then, after a tough non-conference home game against defending 2A state champion Declo, the Grizzlies round out the regular season by traveling to SRV rival Parma before hosting neighboring Payette, both programs that are expected to improve after tough 2018 campaigns.
History tells us that Fruitland will be a strong, competitive team in 2019. There is a lot of history, a lot of expectations, and a lot of talent in the program. Is it enough to ascend back to the top of the 3A ladder? Time will tell but, if the team can take care of the football and avoid key injuries, no one should be surprised if Fruitland finds itself back in the classification’s “final four” in November.