Local high school football team brings town and school together - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Local high school football team brings town and school together

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Sunnyside-- One local high school football team is showing signs of success for the first time in decades, and the school and city are coming together like never before to show their support.

The Sunnyside Grizzlies haven't been to the state playoffs since 1981, haven't had a winning record since 1996.

In fact, in the 2013 and 2014 seasons Sunnyside went a combined 0-20.

When Coach John Lobbestael, a former Yakima Mavericks semi-pro football player and current teacher, took over the reigns of the program going into the 2015 season, he led the Grizzlies to a 4-6 record, more wins than the previous three seasons combined.

This season they're 3-0, and they're already seeing support from the school and the city that they've never seen before.

It's Wednesday afternoon at Sunnyside High School, and for the football team it's a big day. It's the last full contact practice of the week and a crucial day to improve before Friday night's game.

It's an urgency to get better, an urgency that until recently didn't exist, and an urgency that the players have now bought into.

In John Lobbestael's second season, the school and the city are coming along for the ride.

"I think everyone's more used to everything we do," said Lobbestael. "The off-season was smoother, the double days were smoother. i think everyone, the players and the coaches are used to me and how we're going to do things. i think it's easier for them to get good at what we do and be more efficient."

There's an old saying that says nothing fills seats like success and as the Grizzlies keep improving, the team can feel the town's presence on Friday nights, as well as away from the gridiron.

"It's exciting," said Jr. Wide Receiver Nathan Maltos. "Our crowd brings so much more intensity to the games. They don't understand how much more they help us in our games. Having a packed crowd like we have been, it just builds up more intensity."

"A lot more people, whether it's at a restaurant or something ask how we're doing, and a lot of the community's involved now," said Jr. Defensive End Daniel Huizar.

But this is beyond just football.

Lobbestael says players are taking school more seriously now, and are really hitting the books to make sure they make it on the field at the end of the week.

The players say the increased accountability makes everyone feel responsible for their role on the field, which is building trust within the team.

Lobbestael adds this team and this town is heading down a path that will create memories that will last a lifetime.

"Our historical appearances at state are not very good, and these guys can say that, if we make the playoffs and you're in state, that's something they can always carry with them and be the first in awhile to do it," said Lobbestael.

If Friday Night Lights is, 'A team, A town, and a Dream', Sunnyside has waited three and a half decades for that dream to come true.

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