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Former Wilsonville coach George Crace builds from the ground up

George Crace led an upstart Wilsonville football team to a state championship in 2004. Now, he continues to help kids achieve optimal outcomes.


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - George Crace and his son Spencer pose for a picture after winning the state championship in 2004.

George Crace prefers to build from scratch.

He doesn’t need a precedent or an intricate blueprint to fall back on. Instead, Crace relies on nothing but a philosophical foundation designed to guide youth slowly but surely from the abyss to the promise land.

In 1995, when Crace became the first football coach in Wilsonville history, his goal was to make sure that when his nine-year-old son Spencer was in high school, he would lead a state title contending Wilsonville team.

From day one, Crace anchored the heavy lifting to achieve this goal, confident in his ability to build a program from the ground up as he did years before.

In 1986, he began coaching a struggling West Linn program that had recycled five coaches in seven years and was one year removed from a 13-loss season. In his final season as head coach in 1994, West Linn reached the state semifinals.

Though his achievements at West Linn ignited a now elite program, Wilsonville was his crowning construction.

In 2003, Wilsonville made it all the way to the state finals, but lost to Marist.

In 2004, they were back with elevated purpose.

“Because of the way the 2003 season ended, they just had an image in their heads that they were going to win the championship that year,” Crace said.

Led by Spencer at starting quarterback, a six-pronged group of running backs and a dominant offensive line, the Wildcats were the behemoths of 3A football.

They went undefeated, rushed for over 3,000 yards and won their state semifinals and finals matchups by a combined 45 points.

Though defeating archrival Sherwood in the championship game was the icing on the cake of an unforgettable season, it wasn’t Crace’s favorite memory

Instead, Wilsonville’s first matchup with Sherwood holds that distinction.

Because the game was the marquee event of the night, channel two news declared they would cover the victor’s postgame celebration. In a game that featured rugged defense and a full moon, Wilsonville won 13-0. The postgame celebration occurred at none other than the Crace’s home.

With the house packed with football players, the news truck outside and neighbors beside themselves, the celebration was an experience in itself for Crace. However, Spencer’s televised interview was his favorite part.

“He said, ‘my dad is the best coach in Oregon,’” Crace recalled.

Considering his team’s success, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion.

Crace doesn’t peg himself as an innovator, but rather, he subscribes to the notion that “success leaves clues.”

“My philosophy is to take a look at people who have built successful programs and find clues that answer the question: What is the key to those programs?” Crace said.

For his funky flying wing-t offense, he credits former Willamette University coach Mark Speckman’s fly-offense as inspiration.

For his postgame ritual of praising a particular player who greatly contributed to the team’s holistic success with an “attaway,” chant, he cites former Pacific Lutheran coach Frosty Westering.

But maybe his most important influence came from two of the most respected coaches in the history of American sports: John Wooden and Vince Lombardi.

From Lombardi, he learned that coaching based on yelling and screaming is not the optimal way to connect with players.

“The brain shuts down when you’re yelled and screamed at,” Crace said.

He quoted from Lombardi: “A coach’s job is to care for his players and the players jobs are to care for each other.”

From Wooden, he learned to teach kids more than discipline and the x’s and o’s, but how to be good people.

“Every coach in America has been impacted by coach Wooden. He taught me to help kids develop great character and become the best people they are capable of becoming,” Crace said.

Crace tested this mantra on his son, proving Wooden’s wisdom.

In 2005, Crace and Spencer became the first father-son tandem to be honored as National Football Foundation scholar athletes. Crace achieved the honor in 1967. The award goes to players who earned second or first team all-league honors and a cumulative 3.0 GPA.

Though his coaching habits were steered by remnants of other programs, Crace’s teams at Wilsonville were easily discernable from the rest, in part due to his appreciation for the big uglies up front. Crace utilized nontraditional terminology for describing linemen.

“We said everybody calls the qb, wide receiver and running back skill players. We weren’t gonna do that at Wilsonville. We’re gonna calls skill players the guys between the tackles and call outside players perimeter players,” he said.

The title team’s offensive linemen were big, averaging 237 pounds, and confident.

“In the state championship game against Sherwood they said, ‘coach anytime you want to run between the tackles we own them.’” Crace said.

After the clock struck zero and chants of “we’re number one, we’re number one,” faded away, Crace served as coach for Spencer’s senior season the following year and then his time at Wilsonville ended.

Nowadays, along with coaching the Horizon Christian football team, Crace has found other ways beyond high school coaching to develop young people.

Crace and his wife Donna started Total Development, a nonprofit that provides kids with football training and academic guidance. Spencer serves as the program’s athletics director.

“We help kids with study strategies, picking classes, college admissions consulting. We charge a varying fee depending on people’s ability to pay but wouldn’t turn anyone away,” Crace said.

They also help artistically talented kids realize their potential, promote community service and help kids with overall attitude formation.

They started the program in 2000 and have seen a few players graduate from college.

Crace also recently started a business called Red Zone Academics designed to help kids achieve academic eligibility.

“As an educator you hate to see potential go to waste. Kids are special and all have talents and abilities. Sometimes they get caught in circumstances where they give up before they ever get started. I love to see a kid’s light bulb go on,” Crace said.

27-years ago, Crace began his coaching career the same year he married Donna. Crace said Donna has been a trooper for putting up with his football-centric lifestyle through the years.

“She never complained about me spending time coaching other people’s kids. I never had to worry about feeling guilty for coaching football,” he said.

Plus, she cooked team meals, washed uniforms and carried shoulder pads for Crace’s teams over the years.

“Players called her ‘Momma D,’” Crace said.

For Crace, 27-years have flown by.

“It seems like just yesterday I began coaching. Time goes by very fast for me,” he said.

Crace added: “lots of kids, lots of football.”



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