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“We’re in for a tough road,” Palo Verde head coach Wally Grant reacts to CIF Division III jump

BLYTHE, Calif., (KYMA, KECY) - The AIA and CIF announced their conference and division realignments for the upcoming 2023 prep football season earlier this week - affecting several local teams.

Among the changes in the CIF, Holtville and Southwest will drop from Division Four to Division Five. In Arizona, the AIA announcing that Cibola and Kofa will be among those dropping down a conference.

But after celebrating the birth of his first grandchild, Palo Verde head coach Wally Grant was gifted a tough pill to swallow.

In the CIF, the most notable move being Palo Verde getting the nod to move up from Division Four to Division Three after being crowned the Division Four champs at the end of November, capping off back-to-back title runs.

The Yellow Jackets have dominated the CIF with their lethal rushing attack over the last two years - amassing over 4,000 rushing yards as a team in their 13 wins en route to their 2022 title.

What the Yellow Jackets will not have in 2023 are over 20 graduates including one of the biggest brute-enforcers in southern California in Jonathan Crowe and equally valuable being the entire offensive line - both of which were the forces in what set free the outstanding rushing duo of Xzavier Bejarano and Markus Macon who combined for over 40 touchdowns on the ground.

On top of a potential rebuild, Wally Grant's squad also getting the boot to a tough level.

"We're in for a tough road over the next couple years," said coach Grant. "It's going to take a couple years for us to rebuild this back to where we want it. I'm not saying we're not going to be competitive, don't get me wrong. We'll compete, but we have to see how it unfolds."

So now two years removed from dominating Division Five, and then again in Division Four just one year later, the Jackets finds themselves in a much tougher battle heading into the 2023 season.

Although expected, it's a move the program is not ecstatic about.

"We shouldn't be any higher than, in the real world, a Division Four spot," said Grant. "We took everything we had (as a small school) and put together a heck of a two-year run. But in the real world deal, a school of 800 kids shouldn't have to compete against enrollments of 1,500, 2,000, or 2,500. It's just not sustainable. So, we may hit that wall this year."

For Grant, he believes it should come down to enrollment to set up schools better for equal competition.

"I think there should be an enrollment cap. There's a big difference between a private school with 500 kids and a public school with 1,000 kids. It's not even close, in terms of what they have in their athletic department," said Grant. "I would imagine that everyone in Division Three as a public school is at least 1,500 kids. There, we're at a severe disadvantage just because we're working with half of the athletes."

In the same light, Grant points to the struggles the coaching staff might face with the move to a division consisting of better schemes, faster play, and of course, talent overall.

"We may hit a wall this year, and it's not because we all of the sudden can't coach anymore. Look at Bill Belichick," added Grant. "One of the greatest coaches ever and he's been struggling the last couple years. That may be the hurdle we're facing here for another year or two."

Article Topic Follows: High School Sports
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Cole Johnson

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