Here's a look at this year's SCAC East high school football outlook
1 Royal Knights
-- 2007 recap: 14-1, 5-1 SCAC East, second; beat Connell 28-16 in state title game.
-- Home field: David Nielsen Memorial Field.
Never miss a local story.
-- Coach: Wiley Allred (10th year, 108-9).
-- Last league title: 2005.
-- Others to watch: OG/DT Matt Barger, jr. (6-5, 280); OT/LB Oscar Cera, jr. (6-1, 195); OT/DE Devin Dyer, sr. (6-2, 190); OT/DT Jorge Medrano, sr. (5-8, 190); S/WR Kyle Spartveit, soph. (5-8, 155).
It's a rare season when the Knights are not a threat to win the state title.
This is not a rare season.
Sure, the Knights must replace 19 of 22 starters from last year's state championship team, but by no means is there a lack of talent in Royal City.
"We don't have the depth we had last season, but we've got a lot of kids ready to prove themselves," Allred said. "The key for us is staying healthy, and if we can do that we should be a pretty solid team by the end of the year."
The first order of business will be finding a replacement for all-state running back Hector Ledezma, who rushed for 1,625 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Ledezma has been invited to walk on at Eastern Washington University.
The Knights will fill the void by committee, with Marmolejo and Avelar receiving the bulk of the carries.
"Neither guy is as big as Hector, but they're both tough kids who have some quickness," Allred said.
The Knights have always featured a balanced offense, and this season will be no different. Paysse, who served as a backup to Austin Allred last year, is ready to seize the starter's role.
"Connor has earned his shot," Allred said. "He works hard every day in practice, he's improved his technique, his arm strength, and he's a good leader."
Paysse's transition will be made easier thanks to Collins, one of the top receivers in the state. The speedster, who won the long jump and finished second in the 100 meters at last spring's state track meet, caught 28 passes for 629 yards and six TDs last season.
Angel Ledezma, Hector's little brother, will be another of Paysse's targets. The versatile Ledezma also will run the ball at times. DeLay will be a big part of the passing game, too.
The offensive line is led by Freeman and Jace Christensen, two all-state candidates.
"They're two of the best we've ever had," Allred said. "They're tough, quick and smart."
Freeman and Christensen also anchor the defensive line, which Allred called the team's greatest strength. Avelar isn't big, but he and Ledezma highlight a standout linebacking corps, and Collins gives the Knights a lockdown corner.
While the Knights look strong again on paper, Allred some question marks remain.
"We look pretty good playing against ourselves, but we can't really gauge how good we'll be until we play a game," he said.
2 Connell Eagles
-- 2007 recap: 13-1, 6-0 SCAC East first; lost to Royal 28-16 in state championship game.
-- Home field: Connell HS.
-- Coach: Wayne Riner (8th year, 77-19).
|RB Carlis Bailon-Schubert||Sr.||5-8||165|
|OLB Carlis Bailon-Schubert||Sr.||5-8||165|
-- Others to watch: OL/LB Tyson Brooks, fr. (6-0, 215); SS/QB/HB Nate Eppich, sr. (6-1, 190); SS/RB Matt Hadley, fr. (5-9, 150).
Finally, they're gone.
The Eagles no longer have quarterback Brett Clyde and receiver Spencer Hadley on their side - music to the ears of defensive coordinators throughout the SCAC East.
Hadley is playing linebacker as a true freshman at BYU, while Clyde is planning to go on his Mormon mission before taking his game to Snow College in Ephraim, Utah.
Poor Connell. Right?
Wrong. The Eagles have a host of newcomers ready to strut their stuff. Sure, growing pains are to be expected, but another run deep into the playoffs is not out of the question.
"I think we'll be a good team; I just can't tell how good," said Riner, who also serves as the team's defensive coordinator. "Offensively, I think we'll be pretty explosive, but I'm a little worried about our defense. We need to improve our pursuit to the football and our open-field tackling. But the talent is there."
The big question mark, most would think, is at quarterback, where Martinez is taking over for the conference's Offensive MVP. Riner, however, likes Martinez's potential.
"I think Nate's arm is as strong as Brett's, and he's got quick feet," Riner said. "He just needs to learn the system and work on his hot reads, and he'll be fine."
Speaking of quick feet, the return of Bailon-Schubert will make Martinez's transition much easier. The Eagles' sparkplug rushed for 1,007 yards and eight touchdowns last season and should surpass those numbers this fall.
"He's just a tough little cookie," Riner said.
Ridge Taylor will take over for Hadley at H-back - the Eagles run the system offensive coordinator Clint Didier ran while he played for the Washington Redskins in the 1980s. The position calls for all-around skills - running, receiving and blocking.
The receiving corps is, well, in good hands with the Didier brothers and Colton Riner.
First, the biggest. Sean Didier gives the Eagles another lineman with his blocking ability and a nice target over the middle.
His younger brother, Shane, will be the team's deep threat. The Eagles are expecting a huge season from him as he steps into a leading role.
"I think he'll be one of the top receivers in the league," Riner said. "The kid can do it all."
The offensive line, which must replace four starters, is rounding into shape. But with Thompson as its anchor, it should develop into a force.
The defense, despite Riner's early concerns, appears solid. Thompson will move between his usual linebacker spot and the defensive line. Bailon-Schubert and Whitby are bulldogs, and the secondary features a stellar coverman in Colton Riner and a ballhawking safety in Shane Didier.
"We lost a lot from last year," Riner said. "I mean, you just don't replace players like Hadley and Clyde. But we've got a great group of kids who are excited to play. And we're getting better. I just hope we're where we want to be at the end of the season."
3 Burbank Coyotes
-- 2007 recap: 3-7, 2-4 SCAC East, fifth.
-- Home field: Columbia HS.
-- Coach: Lance Beeson (1st year).
-- Last league title: 1997.
-- Last playoff berth: 2006.
-- Others to watch: RB/DB Eddy Bueno, sr. (5-10, 160); WR/DB Dillon Byrd, jr. (5-11, 160); RB/LB Forrest Gordon, soph. (5-9, 200).
Beeson, who takes over for Len Johnson, is a recent transplant from Kansas City, so it's understandable that his knowledge of the SCAC East is limited.
Beeson's familiarity with the conference will improve with time, but right now his focus is completely on his new team. And so far, he's been impressed.
"What I like most about our kids is their attitudes," he said. "They want to work hard and they want to win. We haven't been practicing long, but they're already flying around and hitting hard. They're excited."
They should be, since on paper, anyway, the Coyotes look like a lock to improve on last year's three-win season. The optimism is due greatly to a talented group of players returning at the skill positions.
Seth Shelton is one of the top two-way players in the conference, and the Coyotes plan to ride him this fall. He ran for 707 yards (5.2 average) and five touchdowns last season and was a second-team all-conference selection.
"I haven't seen any other running backs, but I don't think I'd trade Seth for anybody," Beeson said. "He's smart, he knows the game and he runs hard."
Schuck gained valuable experience when he stepped into the starting role late last season. He completed 21 of 49 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns and showed off strong running skills. This year, Schuck will put the ball in the air more often as Beeson has installed more of a passing attack.
"We'll run a one-back set and try to spread the field," Beeson said. "Neal doesn't have a lot of experience, but he's a good athlete with a good arm."
Schuck's objective will be to get the ball in Werlinger's hands. The Coyotes' star receiver, who was a third-team all-conference running back last season, is as explosive as they come.
"Zach is a versatile player, so we'll try to move him around and utilize his abilities as much as possible," Beeson said.
Shelton, Schuck and Werlinger will have the luxury of performing behind a veteran offensive line. The Coyotes return four of five starters, including Dotta, a third-team all-conference pick last fall.
"The linemen are learning new blocking schemes, so they're still at the point where they have to think instead of react. They'll improve with time."
Defensively, the Coyotes feature the hard-hitting Seth Shelton at outside linebacker. Shelton is the East's only returning first-team all-conference defender.
Casey Webster returns to anchor the line, and Werlinger, a second-team all-conference pick on defense, will roam the secondary from his free-safety spot.
"The nice thing about our team is our senior leadership," said Beeson, whose squad returns eight senior starters on both sides of the ball. "But we need to come together in a hurry. We play our first three games at home, so we want to take advantage of that."
4 Ki-Be Bears
-- 2007 recap: 9-3, 4-2 SCAC East, third; lost to Cashmere 43-27 in first-round state playoff game.
-- Home field: Kiona-Benton HS.
-- Coach: Scott Biglin (2nd year, 9-3).
-- Last league title: 1972.
-- Others to watch: WR/LB Jacob Griffith, sr. (5-10, 175); OL/DL Corey Brumbaugh, fr. (5-8, 200); OL/DL Jason Armstrong, sr. (6-0, 240); RB/LB Chad Schaeffer, sr. (6-0, 170).
Biglin, a former quarterback at Pasco and Whitworth University, took care of changing attitudes last fall, when the Bears finished 9-3 and advanced to the state playoffs for only the second time in school history.
"These kids aren't satisfied with finishing third or fourth anymore," Biglin said. "We're out here to try and win the league championship."
That might be a year or two down the road, but just because the Bears are breaking in so many new starters does not mean this is a rebuilding year. In fact, Biglin said he wouldn't be surprised if the 2008 Bears are better than those of 2007.
"Most all of the kids got playing time last year, so they know the system and know how we want things done," Biglin said.
One of those players is Lucatero, who backed up four-year starter Anthony Pace last season. Biglin likes his new quarterback's arm and running ability.
"Arturo is a good athlete," Biglin said. "He just needs to get more comfortable making his read and get the ball off a little more quickly. But he's getting there."
The Bears also plan to run the football more this season, so expect a big year from Thornton, a hard-nosed back with a nice mix of size, strength and speed.
"We'll always be a passing team, but we want to be more unpredictable, so we need to get the running game going and make our opponents guess what we're going to do," Biglin said.
Ki-Be's spread offense necessitates quality receivers, and the Bears have plenty. Curtis figures to be among the conference's best, while Howell and Hoodenpyle are ready to shine.
"We know teams will focus on stopping Chris, so we need some other guys to step up," Biglin said.
The offensive line is in good shape with three seniors in Day, Mendoza and Page. They, too, need time to sharpen their pass-blocking skills.
When asked what the strength of his team will be, Biglin had a quick answer.
"Defense," he said. "We like to fly around and hit."
Mendoza and Leyendekk can hold their own inside, and Day and Page give the Bears two hard-charging ends.
Thornton is a monster in the middle, and the secondary is quick and athletic with Curtis and Hoodenpyle.
5 River View Panthers
-- 2007 recap: 6-3, 3-3 SCAC East, fourth.
-- Home field: River View.
-- Coach: Brett Jay (1st year).
-- Last league title: 2001.
-- Last playoff berth: 2005.
-- Others to watch: FS Tucker Hamlin, soph. (5-10, 160); WR Brenden Hoch, jr. (6-1, 160); WR/DB Keith Jackson, soph. (5-8, 160); PK Diego Mendoza, soph. (6-1, 140); SS/PK Rafael Mendoza, sr. (5-10, 180); OG/LB Jake Mercado, jr. (5-10, 210) OL D.J. Naylor, soph. (6-0, 200); QB/WR/FS Nate Remillard, sr. (6-1, 175); OG/LB James Roberson, soph. (5-9, 185); Scott Sullivan, jr. (5-10,140); RB/LB Buddy Steele, jr. (5-10, 160).
River View did not need to look far to replace coach Devin Chavez, who resigned after guiding his alma mater for four years.
The Panthers quickly tabbed Jay, who played quarterback at River View from 1999-2001 and spent four years on Chavez's staff.
"It's a great opportunity, getting a chance to be the head coach at the school where you played," Jay said.
Jay has a tough task awaiting him as the Panthers must work in nine new starters on both sides of the ball. They lost several standouts who have carried the River View banner the past few years, including linebacker Mike Ledgerwood (now playing as a true freshman at WSU) and running back Levi Davis (Eastern Oregon).
One thing the new coach has learned in his short time on the job is that Farnworth, who will play both tight end and middle linebacker, "is going to be a big-time player."
"He's put on over 50 pounds since last year," Jay said. "When we get down into the red zone, our plan is to throw the ball up and just let him go get it. I think everybody in the league is going to know who he is by the end of the year."
Jay also is confident the young Wilhelm is prepared to step into the starting quarterback role and lead a West Coast-style offense.
"You need a smart quarterback to run this offense, and Matt always seems to make the right decisions," Jay said. "We're not looking for him to throw deep balls all the time, we just need him to take what the defense gives us and move the ball down the field."
The Panthers have several ways to accomplish that goal. The running game has two quality backs in Vanourek and Watt. Vanourek is a team captain and Watt is the brother of former Panthers standout running back E.J. Watt.
"Stan is a fast, cutback runner and Chance is a tough player like his brother," Jay said.
Jay calls Remillard, a transfer from Kennewick who attended middle school in Finley, the best athlete on the team. And Jackson has become the team's go-to receiver during camp.
"He runs 4.6 in the 40 and he can dunk a basketball," Jay said of Remillard. "He can play quarterback, receiver and safety; he'll be on the field all the time."
The team's biggest question mark is the offensive line, which must transition from the wing-T to a zone blocking scheme.
"We've got five new offensive linemen, so that's a little concerning," Jay said. "They've got talent and they work hard, but you never know until you get under the Friday night lights."
Defensively, the Panthers are sound at linebacker. Joining Farnworth will be Bates and Strawn, a pair of players who Jay said like to "scrap it up."
The line has the same attitude. Welch, another of the team's promising sophomores, is coming on strong.
The secondary is led by Vanourek, who moves from linebacker to safety to take advantage of his speed.
6 Wahluke Warriors
-- 2007 recap: 2-8, 1-5 SCAC East, sixth.
-- Home field: Wahluke HS.
-- Coach: Dan Oppelt (2nd year, 2-8).
-- Last league title: 2001.
-- Last playoff berth: 2006.
|QB||Juan De La Garza||Sr.||5-9||160|
|CB||Juan De La Garza||Sr.||5-9||160|
-- Others to watch: WR/CB Joel Fabola, sr. (5-8, 145); OL/DL Hector Gonzalez, sr. (5-10, 200); SS Jesus Gutierrez, sr. (5-7, 145); OL/DL Clint Wiltsie, jr. (5-10, 200).
With only four seniors last season, Oppelt felt as though he was taking a junior varsity team into battle on Friday nights.
This season, the Warriors will field one of the more experienced teams in the conference as they return eight starters on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Warriors welcome back three players who were named to the All-SCAC East third team - Gallacci, Calaway and Christensen.
Christensen, at 280 pounds, is a player Oppelt believes has the potential to be a force both offensively and defensively.
"He's a big strong kid who can dominate," Oppelt said. "The key for him is to go hard every play. If he can do that, he'll be tough to stop."
Gallacci, on the other hand, has a motor that never stops. He teams with Christensen to anchor the offensive line and also is the heart of the defense as a middle linebacker.
In the backfield, the Warriors feature a new quarterback and an old hat at running back. De La Garza is an athletic QB who can beat you with his arm or legs. Rubalcava, who has played on the varsity since his freshman season, will carry the bulk of the running load.
One of the most versatile Warriors is Hirai, a small but quick receiver and also the team's top cornerback. Neary is a big receiver on the outside, and Calaway gives De La Garza a monster target.
The strength of the defense is up front, where Christensen and Tovar are solid run-stuffers. Duran joins Gallacci at inside linebacker and Diaz returns at safety.
7 Warden Cougars
-- 2007 recap: 1-9, 0-6 SCAC East, seventh.
-- Home field: Warden HS.
-- Coach: Erik Skone (3rd year, 3-17).
-- Last league title: 1989.
-- Last playoff berth: 2003.
Projected starters (returners in bold)
-- Other to watch: RB/S Jordan Flores, jr. (5-7, 170).
The only way to go is up for the Cougars, who failed to win a conference game last season.
This year, Skone already has seen improvement.
"We're not big, but we're so much quicker and more athletic than we were last season," he said. "We're going to try and spread it out and take advantage of our athletes."
The Cougars will turn the controls over to Mendiola, who started one game at quarterback last season. Mendiola is a dual threat - an accurate passer and a dangerous runner.
"Last year, our goal was balance, so we tried to be about 50-50 with the run and pass," Skone said. "I think this year we'll try to run the ball a little more."
The Cougars will use three running backs - Gonzalez, Pruneda and Flores - to carry the workload. Skone said they are so evenly matched, it's difficult to predict who will end up with the most yards.
One thing is for sure, the Warriors will try to get the ball to Reyes as often as possible. The speedy receiver, who also plays safety as well as handling all the kicking duties, has been starting since his freshman season.
"Arty is just an amazing athlete," Skone said. "He works as hard as anybody we have, and he's come to camp in great shape."
Skone said the greatest area of improvement so far has been on defense, where the Warriors struggled mightily last season.
Stott returns to anchor the unit from his middle-linebacker spot, Kalous has found a home at end and the secondary returns three starters.
"Last year, it seemed like we waited too long for things to happen," Skone said. "This year, we're flying around and forcing the action. The guys are having a great time."