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Sports >  High school sports

2022 Fall High School Sports Preview: East Valley junior Diezel Wilkinson stays true to his roots

Sept. 7, 2022 Updated Wed., Sept. 7, 2022 at 10:08 p.m.

East Valley junior quarterback Diezel Wilkinson is photographed after practice at the school last week.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
East Valley junior quarterback Diezel Wilkinson is photographed after practice at the school last week. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Diezel Wilkinson is a good enough athlete he could play at any school and any classification he wanted to. And why not? With the state’s fairly lax transfer rules, every year dozens of players in the area move from one school district to another looking for playing time or a chance to shine in the postseason.

But Wilkinson, the East Valley junior and reigning Greater Spokane League 2A all-purpose MVP, knows where he grew up.

“It is definitely important for me to stay from my roots,” he said after practice last week. “I’ve always been in the East Valley district since I was a kid.

“These coaches, these teachers – man, they just really appreciate me not only for the player, but for the person I am. Whatever I can do to give back to this team and whatever they can do to get me to the next level is just going to help tremendously.”

Coach Tom Griggs knows he has a special player – and person – in Wilkinson. His peers seem to gravitate toward him.

“That’s the kind of kid he is, the kind of player he is,” Griggs said. “I think that’s another reason why he has aspirations, why colleges are looking at him. It’s because of that stuff. Those intangibles that are not just football.

“He’s not just charismatic and fun to watch on the football field, but I think that’s why we got a handful of extra kids (turn) out was because of his personality and leadership and (kids) wanting to be around that. I commend him for that more than anything else.”

Wilkinson takes pride in his coach’s sentiment.

“That definitely makes me feel good,” he said. “Me and (Griggs) do a lot of work together just trying to get kids out, get kids hyped for football.

“In the past few years, a lot of people looked at East Valley as kind of just any other old team, but we’re really trying to turn this mentality around that we’re one of the best out there. So, it makes me feel really good that I’m able to get kids out here and just get hyped up to play.”

Wilkinson played mostly receiver coming up. Midway through last season, Griggs asked him to switch to quarterback in order to increase Wilkinson’s touches. The pupil was hesitant at first, according to Griggs, but came around to the logic of it.

“I can play wherever coach needs me to be,” Wilkinson said. “I’m all about the team and playing wherever it is to help us win. And that’s definitely gonna help at the next level to just being able to jump around from position to position wherever coaches need me.”

“He has aspirations to play at the next level at receiver, but I think we sold him last year,” Griggs said. “His freshman year, he caught seven balls in one game. And I said, ‘You can continue to be receiver and catch seven or you can have 30-plus snaps a game.’

“By the end of last season, I think he found out where our vision was and fit into that real well. I’m proud of him. Everybody can see the athlete he is right now, but as far as a team player and a teammate and a leader and a captain he’s come leaps and bounds and I’m proud of him for that.”

“It was new to me last year, but I think I’m starting to adapt to it pretty well,” Wilkinson said. “This season should be pretty similar to last season. It shouldn’t be too hard of a transition this year.”

Wilkinson’s goal this season is to rush for more than 2,000 yards. He admitted that throwing the ball isn’t his strong suit, but he also said teams shouldn’t sleep on his arm.

“We definitely have some things up our sleeves and I’ve been working a little bit in the offseason, just trying to get it. Get just one more thing in my arsenal.”

East Valley had its best season in recent memory last year, going 6-4 overall and 3-2 in league – ending the campaign with regular-season wins over West Valley and Clarkston, then beating the two again in a three-way tiebreaker to qualify for the postseason.

Griggs and Wilkinson want to get back there this season, but they also know the Knights won’t be overlooked this year.

“I’m definitely ready to get back to it,” Wilkinson said. “It’s what I live for, it’s what I enjoy the most. Definitely excited to get back on the field with my teammates and my coaches and get back to what I do.”

“We’re gonna do what we do best, and we’ll see where it takes us. Playoffs is a big thing to work forward to, but we got to get there one game at a time.”

There’s a tangible enthusiasm around the program – more than 60 players turned out this season, allowing Griggs to field a JV team for the first time since he joined the Knights.

“It’s encouraging post-COVID,” he said. “I know a lot of coaches are in that boat, but we were afraid of the numbers. But they are coming back into kind of the ‘normal’ range and that’s encouraging.

“It’s always a ‘what if’ until cleats hit the grass, but we have them (at practice) and our numbers are solid now going into (the season). We’re looking forward to the possibilities.”

But it’s not just about the players.

“I’m excited about my staff too,” Griggs said. “I didn’t have a full staff through COVID because we lost a couple guys at the end of the season prior to COVID, and then COVID it was like nobody wanted to do anything.

“So, getting a full staff back, having a JV team, it’s kind of a perfect storm right now and to have Diezel in the mix, it’s the feather in our cap.”

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