2017 was a pretty special year for Gridley High School football.

The Bulldogs, coming off a tumultuous 1-9 campaign in 2016 that saw them lose their coach early in the season, went 9-3 in 2017, not only making the playoffs, but winning a game for the first time since 2006.

First-year coach Matt Kemmis and senior quarterback Jace Villapania were a big part of that success.

Kemmis has been named the Gridley Herald All-Area Football Team's Coach of the Year; Villapania is the Player of the Year.

Both were slam-dunk choices.

Kemmis, a special education teacher in the Gridley schools, said when he took the job that he had no expectations for his first head coaching gig.

After the season, Kemmis said it was a fun ride, and that the Bulldogs laid a firm foundation for future success.

The key to that, Kemmis said earlier this season, was bonding with his new players quickly after his hiring in February.

"The guys bought in right away to what I wanted to do," Kemmis said..

The seeds of Gridley's successful 2017 season were planted in offseason workouts in the spring, including a couple of weeks of spring practice.

More seeds came during the summer, and when fall practice rolled around at the end of July, the Bulldogs were more than ready for the season.

Kemmis was also buoyed by an experienced staff: the entire 2016 staff signed on to coach under him in 2017.

He was also fortunate to have Villapania as one of the pillars of his team.

Villapania, a naturally gifted multi-sport athlete and leader, has been the Bulldogs' starting quarterback since midway through his sophomore season in 2015.

Great things were expected of Villapania in 2017 - and he delivered big time.

Villapania, after playing both ways as a sophomore and junior, concentrated on offense in 2017 - and it paid off in a big way.

Villapania passed for 1,592 yards and 17 passing TDs and rushed for 1,077 yards and 18 TDs in 2017.

He had to battle through his share of adversity, including an injury on the road at Anderson in Week 2.

His on-field play was a big part of the Bulldogs' success in 2017 - but Kemmis said his leadership ... the intangibles ... were just as valuable.

Indeed, Villapania was the kind of vocal leader who could speak loudly when called for - and back up his words with action on the field, often calling his own number and taking the ball when the situation called for a big play.

Before the season, Villapania talked about stepping up and taking a leadership role as a senior.

"I'm ready to lead," Villapania said before fall practice started. "We're experienced and ready for a great season.'

Villapania is also a standout wrestler for the Bulldogs, and is reportedly looking at several opportunities to play football at the college level.

For the complete 2017 Gridley Herald All-Area Football Team, see next Wednesday's edition of the Gridley Herald.