Late to the game, but Rocky Mountain High football player is blooming

Rocky Mountain senior Garry Callis’ athleticism is allowing him to shine in his first season playing football.

rroberts@idahostatesman.comSeptember 27, 2013 

“I’ve known Garry since middle school, so we’ve known each other for a while, but this year was the first year we’ve got to know each other on the field,” Rocky Mountain senior defensive end Mitchell Cottle said of teammate Garry Callis. “… As soon as I saw him on the field, with his athletic ability, I knew he was going to be a star.”

MERIDIAN — It is possible Garry Callis could have gone his entire life without playing football and been perfectly happy.

Then again, he might have missed out on something he was born to do.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Rocky Mountain High senior decided to play football about four months ago, and in that time has gone from not knowing how to put on his pads to a starting defensive end for the undefeated Grizzlies.

When he introduced himself to head coach Scott Criner in May, Callis didn’t know the first thing about playing football.

It wasn’t even his idea to try out.

“My brother, he pushed me pretty hard to play,” Callis. “He just thought I would be good at sports in general.”

Callis already had the physical tools to play football. As a sophomore, he developed a love for bodybuilding and power lifting. He can bench press 385 pounds, squat 475, clean 335 and dead lift 515. He runs a 4.74-second 40-yard dash and has a vertical leap of 38 inches.

All this didn’t go unnoticed by Criner and his staff, but they knew it would take a lot more than athletic ability for Callis to become a good football player.

Criner — who had just been named the Grizzlies’ coach — didn’t have time to teach Callis the basics of football, so he asked his dad, Herb Criner, to show Callis the ropes.

“He was really green to start with, but he’s a fast learner,” said Herb Criner, a former Boise State senior administrator and assistant coach. “He really didn’t know what a tackle was when we started, but he’s got a very aggressive mentality about playing the game.”

Callis said he was nervous about joining the team for spring practices, and wasn’t sure he would be accepted.

“I walked away from those first few practices thinking I was terrible,” Callis said.

Encouragement from teammates and coaches made Callis stick with it.

“They were willing to work with me and help me improve on everything, which was nice,” Callis said.

Through spring and summer workouts, Callis and Herb Criner continued to work closely, and Callis’ progress was quicker and better than anyone anticipated.

“When we went to camp at Central Washington (in late June), we knew we had a jewel there,” Herb Criner said. “It really told us right then that we were going to have a guy that could really make us a good front.”

Callis earned a spot on the starting defensive line, and made a spectacular debut in a season-opening win over Lake City. He accounted for 3› sacks, much to the delight of his teammates and coaches.

“It was exciting. I loved it,” Callis said. “The team celebrated with me. I had a sack and I forced a fumble and everybody was going crazy. It really motivated me to keep on getting better.”

Rocky Mountain’s defense has progressed right alongside Callis. After allowing 41 points against Lake City, the Grizzlies have outscored three conference opponents 164-25.

“I get anxious waiting until Friday to get here to see what he does in another ballgame because he is learning the game,” Herb Criner said. “I’ve coached a lot of defensive players over the years and some have been college prospects, and he might be the best one.”

Before practice Wednesday afternoon, Scott Criner took calls from Montana State, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington, all wondering if Callis had any interest in playing college football.

Erikson Callis, the older brother who encouraged Garry to play football, made a highlight video of his brother’s first four games and sent them to college coaches.

Now schools like Boise State, Oregon State, Utah State and Washington State want to know more about Rocky Mountain’s rookie defensive end.

“He just wants to go play college football,” Scott Criner said. “Which a year ago this time, the kid never even thought about that. That’s just cool.”

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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