GJ’s Wehner draws inspiration from sister who died of cancer

Grand Junction’s Danny Wehner is playing with some extra motivation this season for the Tigers. The memory of his sister’s losing battle with cancer provides the senior center with the needed inspiration.


Central at No. 1 Grand Junction

Friday, 7 p.m., Stocker Stadium

RADIO: 95.1-FM (KKNN), 1340-AM (KTMM)

RECORDS: Central 1-4 (0-1 SWC); Grand Junction 5-0 (0-0 SWC)

LAST WEEK: Central lost to Fruita 35-13; Grand Junction defeated Fountain-Ft. Carson 28-14

GAME NOTES: Grand Junction rebounded from a slow start last week to keep its undefeated record intact. “Everything Fountain did, we spent a lot of time in film (Monday),” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “We’ve had three weeks we were able to get away with certain things we can’t against top-echelon teams. It did show some of the things we need to take to another level. I think our film session was one of the best we’ve ever we had.” ... Owens received the Denver Broncos High School Coach of the Week honor from the Denver Post. ... Central quarterback Taylor Sanchez has rushed for 489 yards and passed for 639 yards this season. “I’ve been telling everybody he is a special kid,” Owens said. “He has the ability to take over a game probably unlike anybody in our conference. He’s a kid they can put on defense. We’re going to have him in mind on every play.” ... Central needs to win four of its final five games to qualify for the Class 5A playoffs.

No. 2 Palisade at Battle Mountain

Friday, 7 p.m., Husky Stadium, Edwards

RADIO: none.

RECORDS: Palisade 5-0 (2-0 WSC); Battle Mountain 4-1 (1-1 WSC)

LAST WEEK: Palisade defeated Moffat County 38-20; Battle Mountain defeated Glenwood Springs 34-21

GAME NOTES: The Bulldogs started strong in their victory last week, but struggled in the third quarter before winning their homecoming game. “We came out of the second half and made a lot of mental errors (last week),” Palisade offensive coordinator Matt Borgmann said. “Our kids had to fight through it. We told them that can be our Achilles’ heel.” ... Against Glenwood Springs, Reeve Sanders and Zach Guida combined to rush for 363 yards and five touchdowns. Sanders has rushed for 663 yards and Guida 433 this season. Battle Mountain has 1,568 rushing yards. ... The Huskies, who used to be a popular homecoming opponent, are hosting Palisade for homecoming this year. “Battle Mountain is much improved,” Borgmann said. “They run a good scheme with talented kids. (Sanders and Guida) are talented and fast. Their system fits their kids well. They get the ball to them a maximum amount of times. They are bigger up front and push the other teams around.”

Durango at Fruita Monument

Saturday, 7 p.m., Stocker Stadium


RECORDS: Durango 2-3 (0-0 SWC); Fruita Monument 2-3 (1-0 SWC)

LAST WEEK: Durango defeated Doherty 32-31; Fruita defeated Central 35-13

GAME NOTES: The Wildcats kept their playoff hopes alive with a victory over Central last week. “We told the kids there are four games left, nothing is guaranteed,” Fruita coach Sean Mulvey said. “The seniors are the base and foundation of this team for years to come. There is a sense of urgency.” ... Durango quarterback Joe Keresey threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns in the Demons’ victory last week. He has completed 82 of 153 passes for 979 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions for the season. “Durango has a good quarterback and wide receiver,” Mulvey said. “It’s scary to look at them defensively. Their defense is sound. They stay home.” Doherty returned two kicks for touchdowns. Mulvey believes the Wildcats can emphasize their special teams to an advantage and run successfully against the Demons.

Games to Watch

Coal Ridge (2-3) at Cedaredge (2-3), 7 p.m., Friday: The Bruins face the Titans in an important conference game that could determine a playoff berth.

Basalt (3-2) at No. 6 Aspen (4-1), 7 p.m., Friday: Pitkin County rivals square off in a battle between two programs with playoff aspirations.

The Grand Junction High School football team had a lot to look forward to this season, but it’s been difficult for senior center Danny Wehner.

He had some trouble getting motivated, knowing his big sister wouldn’t be in the stands.

Wehner’s half-sister, Joanne Owen Cox, died in March at the age of 24 from kidney cancer.

“When we first started, it was hard to get excited about football,” Wehner said. “Knowing she (had gone) through hard times, I’m always thinking about her.”

His father, Grand Junction assistant football coach Chris Wehner, could tell Danny was struggling with losing his sister, but knew getting back out on the football field would be good for him.

“It was tough,” Chris Wehner said. “He took it pretty hard. Football came along at the perfect time. It’s been a good distraction for him. I’m proud of him.”

Danny and his sister built a bond through football. He said she might have loved the sport as much as he does.

“Her favorite team was the Auburn Tigers,” Danny said. “We watched college football all the time. She knew the game and understood it.”

Cox would go to Wehner’s football games, coming to the front of the bleachers after the games to hear Wehner and his teammates sing the school fight song.

“I’d always go to where she was at,” Wehner said.

Cox was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and was cancer-free briefly before it came back, spreading to her bones and stomach, Wehner said.

“They told her the chemo wasn’t doing anything and they couldn’t do surgery because she’d probably die on the operating table,” Wehner said. “They put a hospital bed in our house. They didn’t think she’d make it a month, but she lived for six months.”

Wehner drew inspiration from Cox during her fight.

“No matter what is going on in a game, I know nothing compares to what she went through,” Wehner said. “When we were down or I was hurt, I would think of her.”

Wehner doesn’t complain about nagging injuries or how tough practice may get. He worked hard at snapping the ball in the pistol offense.

“(Center) is one of the toughest positions in this offense,” quarterback Sean Rubalcaba said. “You have to get the snap right every time. He’s doing a great job. He works on it more than anyone I’ve seen. He makes sure we do our best.”

Wehner is a two-year starter at center for the No. 1-ranked Tigers (5-0), who host Central for their homecoming game at 7 p.m. Friday at Stocker Stadium.

“Danny has probably worked harder than anybody at perfecting the pistol snap,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “He is crucial to everything we do because our offense is built from the center out. He is a kid that has worked hard in the weight room and got bigger. He has a lot of ability within the skills of our offense to be a great player.”

Although it was tough to return to football, Wehner has learned to draw strength from his sister’s memory.

He wears a cross in honor of Cox and plans to get a tattoo of a cross with her name on a banner that will encircle the cross.

“I feel like she is still here,” he said. “I pray to her before each game. This season is for her. She fought so hard; I can do the same thing.”


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