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Gray molds the up-and-comers

Auburn resident coaches football at all levels
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s Note: Sports reporter Sara Seyydin caught up with Placer High freshman football coach Jim Gray, of Auburn, to interview him about his years as a football coach for Placer and the Junior Hillmen. Highlights of their conversation follows. Name: Jim Gray Current Coaching Position: Freshman coach at Placer High School, assists with coaching in the Junior Hillmen program Profession: Supervising Probation Officer for the Sacramento County Probation Department. Substitute teacher in the Placer Unified School District for 15 years. Fun Fact: Gray, a former linebacker, got a full-ride scholarship to South Dakota State University. In the early 80s he went on to play in the United States Football League for the Arizona Wranglers. Steve Young also played in the USFL. George Allen, who coached the Washington Redskins to the playoffs in 1971, was one of Gray’s coaches. Gray spent two weeks as a free agent for the Miami Dolphins. Q: What teams have you coached in Auburn? A: I’ve coached in the Junior Hillmen program since 1998. Junior peewees, peewees, junior midgets, midgets. I have also been the freshmen coach at Placer since 2008. Q: What do you enjoy the most about coaching? A: I think most guys will tell you, ‘because it was so much a part of my life.’ I just like being a part of the game itself. I enjoy the atmosphere. I enjoy being with kids and other coaches when they are getting fired up. You’ll always see me on the 30-yard line at home games. I will be rooting for the guys I used to have who are on varsity now. A lot of them I had as 8 and 9 year olds. It’s like they are all my sons and you kind of want to root for them. They will run over and give me a high five or chest slap on a good play. I think if you talk to any coach they will tell you they like the camaraderie of the whole thing. Q: What is different about coaching at the Junior Hillmen level versus the high school level? A: The younger kids haven’t been set in their ways yet. They are all eyes wide open and listen to everything you have to say. There is so many ways for them to learn their positions now, with special coaches for each position. It is not they way it used to be. When you are a teacher in elementary school you teach all the subjects. As you get older you only become specialized. It is the same way in football. Q: How does the Junior Hillmen program impact the high school program at Placer? A: We are really big working with (Coach) Joey (Montoya), running the Wing-T Offense. We’ve been running it at the lower levels, just like he wants it run. It makes a big difference. At the freshman level we do well against the bigger schools. We are more rehearsed and prepped because the kids have been running it for a few years. They come out to freshman practice, warm up on their own because they already know how I run things and are ready to go. You have primed them for so many years, ‘you want to play for Placer, Placer, Placer.’ It has made it a brotherhood of the football program from the time you are 7 to 18. If you watch the midgets play at 5, you would not be able to tell so much a difference in the way they play, except for their size. Q: What is one of your proudest moments as a coach? A: The high school graduating class of ‘09, when they were eighth graders, we made it to the midget championships against Granite Bay. Granite Bay had not been scored against all year. It was at Oakmont and the stands were packed out. We came back to four minutes left. We didn’t win, but Granite Bay couldn’t believe it. That ‘09 class went to the championship against Oakdale. The current junior class at Placer, when I had them as freshman, we were playing at Whitney and we were down 32-6 at half-time and we went on to win. We won on a field goal with three seconds left in the game. Parents got calls of people saying that was the best football game they had ever seen. That class that won everything that year is now juniors at the high school. By me coaching at the lower levels, I get to see that wave coming. I can almost predict what squad is going to be coming up (and making play-offs). You get the chance to develop the beginning stages of that. You are part of it. Q: What is one thing coaching has taught you? A: There is a lot of stuff. School and family are very important. You need both. The unity of the program is you are like a brother, like a family. That helps you at school. I’ve noticed as a coach over the past 25 years that family harmony is not like it used to be. There are a lot more divorces and separations. That is something you have to deal with a lot more than you used to. I almost have to take that father role to try to help them get through it. That is probably teaching me to pay more attention to what is going on outside the football field. You can’t say, ‘I am a coach for two hours on the football field, bye.’ Q: What is one big game fans have to look forward to this season? A: Placer freshmen play Del Oro Aug. 26 at Placer. These teams haven’t played each other in 10 years. Placer JV plays Grant that same day. The varsity team is playing Alaska that weekend. The team is coming from Anchorage. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.