By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Alex Grace knew there would be high expectations when he joined Saginaw Swan Valley’s varsity football team this fall as a sophomore.
But he also spent all last season – and most of his life – learning how to fulfill them from one of the Vikings’ best.
Grace watched proudly from the sideline last fall as his older brother Johnathan ran for 1,790 yards and 21 touchdowns. And then, taking Johnathan’s spot this fall, Alex tried to do the same in the same way.
Running with a similar physical style, Grace has helped the Vikings into their third MHSAA Semifinal in seven seasons; Swan Valley takes on Detroit Country Day in one of two Division 4 semis Saturday. He has rushed 256 times for 2,091 yards and 27 touchdowns. With 109 yards and three more touchdowns, he’ll make the MHSAA record book in both categories.
“I was expected to come in and be as good or better than him. I put it behind me,” Alex Grace said. “I just do the best I can, and see what happens.”
So far, this week's Second Half High 5 honoree been making school history and blowing those expectations away.
There are some definite similarities between the brothers. Swan Valley coach Ken Bourbina said Alex is simply carrying on the family tradition.
Like Jonathan, Alex is fast – he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. That’s a tick or two slower than his incredibly speedy brother, but Alex said his speed carries longer – he can beat Jonathan in a 200.
They certainly share similar styles. Jonathan liked to take defenders on, and Alex already is 6-foot and 185 pounds, with a penchant for running over instead of around.
“They both have the ability to turn it on, the ability to lower a shoulder. It’s a good mix,” Bourbina said. “There’s a few differences, but they have the same type (of style). His brother worked extremely hard for us, and (Alex) has just followed in his brother’s footsteps.”
And it’s no doubt helped to run in the footsteps of some of the same blockers. Like any respectful back, Grace is the first to thank his guys up front – tackles Tyler Branch and Anthony Martin, guards Mike Sielinski and Mitch Temple and center Brad Boehler, plus tight end Alex Dils. Branch, Sielinski and fullback Jaime Jimenez are all seniors who also blocked last season for Jonathan.
They’ve given Alex their endorsement. He said they too sense the similarities between the brothers.
“I try to run (tacklers) over. It makes me feel powerful,” Grace said. “I try to keep the runs straight ahead, get the most yards I can. I try to be just like him.”
Johnathan Grace, a redshirt freshman this fall at Michigan Tech, did his part as well to prepare his younger brother for the next level. He took Alex under his wing in the weight room over the summer and guided him through agility work, and that time together brought the brothers even closer.
Johnathan was listening to Swan Valley’s District Final game on the radio two weeks ago when Alex surpassed his yardage total from 2011.
“He was proud of me. He called me,” Alex Grace said. “He said congratulations … and he knew I could do it.”
PHOTO: Swan Valley sophomore Alex Grace (35) runs for some of his 127 yards against Freeland earlier this season. (Click to see more from the Regional Final at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)