To say Elkhorn football standout Gannon Gragert has been around “championships” since before he was born, would be, well, the truth.
Gannon’s dad, Brian, was on Antler coach Mark Wortman’s first state championship team in 1989.
About four weeks before Gannon was born in 2002, his mom, Jenny, guided the Elkhorn High volleyball team to their first state championship in school history.
But, for his part, Gannon is glad that he doesn’t hear about that much at home. He’s just thankful for parents who pass on the lessons.
“I think what I get most from them is that they know what the experience is like of being there,” Gannon said on Tuesday night of state finals week. “They have always just taught me to push through any challenge ahead.”
Gannon and his Elkhorn buddies — they truly are buddies, many of them three sport athletes — had high expectations coming into the 2020 season. But there was caution due to Covid, not knowing if they’d even play a game.
But, they got them all in and will take a 10-2 record into their finals matchup with Aurora (9-3) at the end of what has been a topsy-turvy Class B season where no teams entered the postseason undefeated.
“As a group our seniors came together and just decided we’d do whatever it took to play. We wanted to take each practice and each game like it was our last one,” Gannon noted. “We just wanted to take each week step-by-step and I think now we are peaking at the right time.”
Don’t think for a second the Elkhorn football story is just about Gannon Gragert, though. Nebraska walk-on commit Aiden Young is over 1,300 yards and quarterback Grant Gutschow is near 1,100 yards passing — his favorite targets Gragert and Nebraska baseball commit Drew Christo.
Christo leads a group of five defenders with more than 60 tackles as the Antler defense is giving up under 20 points per contest.
The championship game circle is back where it started for Gannon and mom, Jenny. She was about three weeks from her due date during state volleyball when Gannon was born in 2002.
Her Antlers — so long ago, Elkhorn had one high school instead of three — defeated Hastings, Omaha Gross and Norris for the schools first state championship in a 30-hour span, back when the tournament was two games on Friday followed by a Saturday final at Pershing Center. (There wasn’t going to be rally scoring for two more years.)
“It’s a good thing Elkhorn volleyball coach Jenny Gragert is not having a girl on her November 30th due date,” the wide-eyed sports editor at the Douglas County Post-Gazette, wrote in a post tournament column. (That editor was me.)
“After watching what went on in Lincoln last weekend, she may have a hard time deciding on a name.”
No matter, Gannon was coming.
Mom kept coaching at Elkhorn, winning the 2004 title and finishing runner-up in 2005. But she resigned after the 2014 season.
“When Gannon was in eighth grade, I wasn’t going to be able to see a single football game,” she said. “So, we made a decision to step away for a bit.”
Mom had an opportunity to start a program this year — at the new Elkhorn North — and still see Gannon play. A part of a perfect ending to this championship circle; her first year Wolves advanced to the district final round in Class B. Daughter Finley was a sophomore on the team.
Being a coach, and a mom, has its benefits — and drawbacks — Jenny said.
“I think being a mom helps me be a better coach, and I think being a coach helps me be a better mom,” she said. “Our go to line with our kids has always just been to work harder.”
Full circle was in trouble last Friday night at Hastings College. Hastings had scored with just under two minutes left to take a 28-27 lead. Those Elkhorn seniors had one final shot.
And after a timeout with a minute left, Gutschow looked for his buddy. And Gannon Gragert hauled in a touchdown pass to send Elkhorn back home with a 33-28 win. An interception after the kick sealed it.
“Just a normal fade route,” Gannon Gragert said. “The corner got over to me just a little bit late and I got an edge on him. After the interception it kind of hit us that we had done it.”
For her part, mom didn’t see it.
“I didn’t have the best angle on it,” she said with a chuckle. “I would say this, in a pressure moment like that I’d much rather have the control of a coach than to be a mom in the stands.”
It’s probably safe to say a boy and his mom might share a few moments discussing Elkhorn’s November magic.
“What was all that noise,” the boy would say.
“Just me and my girls winning the state championship,” mom would fire back.
Some story, huh?
Another chapter to Gannon Gragert’s — and Elkhorn’s story — will be written on Friday night too. Some story, huh?