Valley Christian’s J.P. Grako is not your typical 2A Conference linebacker. There’s his size: While a number of 2A linebackers weigh in at about 170 pounds, Grako is 6-foot and 220 pounds.
What truly sets him apart, however, is what’s under his helmet.
"He’s a student of the game, which you love," Valley Christian defensive coordinator Greg Patrick said. "He wants to sit and learn as much as he can watching film. He’ll sit with me and learn about the other team and learn not just what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it."
Grako’s combination of size and speed has drawn attention from Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Brown. Grako attended Harvard’s football camp last summer, coming away with the camp’s top fullback award.
"I’ll play either fullback or linebacker, as long I’m playing," Grako said. "I like to be on the field."
Having Grako on the field is vital for the Valley Christian defense.
Patrick calls Grako the quarterback of the unit because the defensive calls come into Grako and he is charged with making sure all 10 of his defensive teammates are where they are supposed to be.
"He’s making calls, he’s adjusting our front and he does a lot of things for us out there that make us successful," said Patrick, whose defense has pitched two shutouts this season. "Just getting everybody lined up in the right spot is about 90 percent of our defense."
Grako began his high school career as a defensive lineman. Last year was his first as a linebacker and it was an educational experience.
"I learned that you have to read the plays and it’s a lot harder to read where the ball is going," he said. "It was a lot more fun though."
Grako is hoping to have six more games of fun before he begins thinking about a possible Ivy League education. His main goal is to finish what the Trojans started last year when they went 12-0 before losing in the state title game to rival Phoenix Christian, the team the Trojans face tonight.
"We want to play 13 games, but win the last one," Grako said. "This is just one step along the way to winning that 13th game, but it’s a big one for us."