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Toppenish's Jason Grant (10) and Rocco Clark (69) lead the wildcats onto the field for their Class 1Afirst-round state playoff game against Mount Baker last Saturday in Bellingham. (Andy Buhler, Scorebooklive.com)

For all he has done on the field, and the list seems without end, Jason Grant enjoys expressing his passion for Toppenish football and his teammates in other ways.

Simple but meaningful ways, which is where the memories last the longest.

Like leading the team onto the field carrying a flag with the crimson and black Wildcat logo. Even better, with classmate Rocco Clark in tow carrying the second flag.

“Rocco is a life-long friend of mine,” Grant said. “In middle school he was my center when I played quarterback. We’ve been through it all together and we just enjoy carrying those flags.”

It’s deep into November and the flags are still waving.

Toppenish’s historic season keeps reaching new heights as the program’s first unbeaten regular season in 61 years had a thoroughly satisfying encore last Saturday — the first playoff victory since 1990 with a thrilling 26-22 triumph over Mt. Baker in Bellingham.

Not only do the Wildcats take a 11-0 record into the Class 1A state quarterfinals this weekend but they are 16-0 for the calendar year, having won five games during a postponed 2020 season that spanned 23 days in February and March.

“We were so excited for that game because we wanted to prove ourselves,” Grant said of the first-round clash which, surprisingly, saw Top-Hi have to travel despite its unbeaten record. “Afterward, it was emotional. It was pure joy.”

Grant has played a considerable role in Toppenish’s remarkable and unique 16-0 year, having been named the SCAC’s defensive MVP for the spring season and the SCAC West’s offensive MVP this fall. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver has accumulated 1,146 yards on 46 receptions this season and scored 24 touchdowns, giving him 44 in a 26-game career.

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Discussing such accolades humbles the senior team captain, to the point he’s reticent about talking of them. Unless he’s in the company of his older brother, Christopher.

“It’s really cool and I’m honored, but mostly it’s bragging rights against my brother,” he said. “When the season’s over maybe I’ll take a step back and appreciate how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown with these guys.”

Christopher Grant, a 2019 graduate, can still brag. He was a two-time all-CWAC player at three positions, including safety. That’s the same open-field, playmaking position that Jason has used to collect seven interceptions this season and 11 in 2021.

It’s that defense that has been the backbone of Toppenish’s current run, which faces yet another big challenge with a trip to top-seeded Royal on Saturday. Five victories this season were by a single score and the defense’s 29 takeaways are a big reason the Wildcats made it to 11-0.

Grant watched two of his teammates in the secondary preserve Saturday’s playoff victory as senior Freddy Robledo had two interceptions and junior Josh Perez ended the Mountaineers’ last-minute bid to steal the win with a goal-line pick in the final seconds.

Whatever happens this weekend and possibly beyond, Grant will have no time to rest with basketball practice having already started. He’s a three-year standout with a 1,000-point milestone not far off. With so little offseason since the beginning of the year, he spent as much of his summer as possible lifting weights — precisely with this lengthy grind in mind.

“I won’t lie, I’m exhausted,” he admitted. “But you just power through it and that’s what we’ve all done. We didn’t perform at our best (against Mt. Baker) because of some penalties that almost cost us the game. But we worked hard for that win, really hard, and it brought us even closer together, I think.”

So onto the field they go once more, flags held high.

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