FULL CONTACT: High Country Grizzlies Are Bringing It

FULL CONTACT: High Country Grizzlies Are Bringing It
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By David Rogers. March 11, 2017. BOONE, NC — A few minutes into the High Country Grizzlies’ first full scrimmage before next week’s season opener and the new indoor football team’s debut in the National Arena League, a Tommy Lee Jones movie title from 2007 came to mind: “No Country For Old Men.”  Nor for adolescent boys, for that matter.

COVER IMAGE: Former Appalachian State star wide receiver Malachi Jones caught several passes during Saturday’s first full scrimmage, including a few long TDs like this one.

SLIDESHOW of images from the scrimmage is at the bottom of this article.

The bodies were flying in the first full contact scrimmage of the season. Here defensive back Azell Harshaw (26), puts the hurt on an unidentified WR

This was real, a level above college football and a level below the NFL. Black grains of rubber spewing skyward from the artificial turf as a defensive back intercepts a pass and cuts upfield on a “Pick 6” mission.  A gazelle-like wide receiver leaps over a would-be defender, then catches the ball in stride for a touchdown. Rocket-armed quarterbacks looping spirals — and perfect strikes — to fleet-of-foot WRs dashing by cornerbacks.  Loud grunts of toil as 300+ pounders meet faceguard to faceguard. Drops of sweat flying through the air to land almost comically as bubbles on the green grass of the Sofield Indoor Practice Facility at Appalachian State University. And of course, the unmistakable snap, crackle and pop of violent contact as helmets and shoulder pads come together with purpose: win a roster spot, because it just may be a ticket to the next level.

It is only March, but football season in the High Country is fast upon us.

It is only March, but football season in the High Country is fast upon us.

With a lot of contact in front of him, QB Reed Gurchiek (5), opts for the outside and picked up good yardage down the sideline.

The High Country Grizzlies open their inaugural 2017 season next Saturday in Albany, GA against the Georgia Firebirds.  Last year, 2016, was the first year of operations for the Firebirds as a member of the now defunct American Indoor Football league, ending the season with a 3-5 record, including a victory over the Savannah Steam (43-34) and two wins over the Myrtle Beach Freedom (49-20 and 56-43).  Like a lot of the indoor football franchises, the Firebirds currently list more than half of its roster of 36 athletes as rookies.

Tomorrow may be “Selection Sunday” for the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament, but this weekend is another kind of “March madness” for the High Country Grizzlies. General manager William Thompson indicated to Blowing Rock News last week that the final roster cuts will be made by tomorrow (Sunday), following Saturday’s scrimmage.

Stephen Panasuk (11) is an Arena football veteran, formerly with the Cleveland Gladiators and the Wichita Force

After next Saturday’s debut in Georgia, the Grizzlies have three consecutive home games at the Holmes Convocation Center in Boone.  On March 25th (7:00 pm), they host the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, a team that formed in 2011 and played in the AIF last year to a 3rd place finish, losing to West Michigan, 42-35, in the Northern Division championship game, so could be an early test for the Grizzlies development in their home opener.

On Saturday, April 1st, there will be no foolin’ around for the Grizzlies when they host the Dayton Wolfpack in another 7:00 pm encounter.  Dayton is the fourth charter team of the new National Arena League, joining the Grizzlies, Steelhawks and the Columbus Lions.  Without a home venue to call their own, Dayton will play all “away” games this season, including a March 27th encounter with new league member, the Monterrey Steel in Monterrey, Mexico.

The Grizzlies third home game of the season may well be the team’s sternest test as they host the Jacksonville Sharks, one of several teams to defect this year from the contracting “granddaddy” of indoor football, the Arena Football League.  A February news story out of Jacksonville announced the signing of veteran indoor football offensive lineman Dante Moses (6’3″, 315 lbs.).  Assuming he makes the roster, he joins a list of other OLs that average upwards of 330 lbs. That will be a lot of meat for the Grizzlies defenders to chew on in getting to the quarterback.

Season tickets for the Grizzlies’ six home games may be purchased HERE.

Single-game tickets may be purchased HERE.

SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

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