Granger coach Gary Ely said the key to a successful season for the Spartans will be finding a way to bond together and play as a team.

At lineman Jose Tapia's summer job, finding a way to work together can sometimes be a matter of life and death. For the second straight summer, the senior joined Oregon-based contractor J Franco Reforestation to help fight dangerous wildfires.

"In both (football and firefighting) you've just got to work together, communicate," Tapia said. "It's helped me understand how to help others, how to talk, how to have patience for other people."

After taking a class to learn everything needed to slow down and contain one of the Pacific Northwest's biggest natural threats, Tapia spent much of late July and August at fires in Washington and Oregon. On a typical day, he woke up around 5 a.m., ate breakfast at 6:30, then headed out to the site to work for up to nine hours before returning to wherever the group is camping that night.

If the demanding job prevented him from attending a team workout or practice, Tapia would find time to train on his own. Last year's busy fire season forced him to miss the Spartans' first two games because he didn't attend the minimum number of practices required by the state association, but Ely said Tapia would have been physically ready to play earlier.

"I gave him some stuff to do while he's not here," Ely said. "I said you need to be doing this as best you can so you're at least in cardiovascular shape."

His experience will be needed even more this season after Granger lost all of their starters on both sides of the line to graduation. Tapia's ready to move from the outside of the offensive line to center, and he's capable of playing either defensive tackle or defensive end.

Ely expects the senior to make a big impact on both sides of the ball, noting Tapia's also one of the smartest players on the team. He's prepared to take on whatever role the Spartans need, and Ely said Tapia does well leading by example.

His plans for college include studying mechanical engineering or diesel mechanics, possibly at Central Washington. Tapia may also consider a career in firefighting, something he started doing thanks to his brother, Esequiel.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "I wouldn't mind doing this. It's something interesting."