At the start of the football season, coaches open the cupboard to see what they have available.
Prosser coach Corey Ingvalson was drooling over the leftovers from last season — quarterback Tanner Bolt and wide receiver/defensive back Michael Kernan from last year’s 2A state championship team.
While two players do not make a team, it’s always good to start with a solid base.
“That’s true, in a sense” Ingvalson said. “We did graduate a good group of seniors who were instrumental in our run, and stamped their legacy with Prosser football. We have a lot of young kids who are hungry and ready to step up in their role.”
Bolt, the 2015 2A player of the year, threw for 3,294 yards and 43 touchdowns to lead the Mustangs to their sixth state title in school history. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior is ready to do it all again.
“He made a lot of great plays for us last year,” Ingvalson said. “That was last year and this is this year. He has made the steps to be a better player this year. We wouldn’t want anyone else back there but Tanner. He respects the position and embraces that. He knows about Kellen (Moore) and the rest who came before him. He is ready to live up to that.”
Kernan (sr., 6-0, 180) moves from the backfield to wideout this season, hoping to fill the shoes of all-state receiver Kason Blair, who graduated.
“He is a dynamic player,” Ingvalson said. “We have some good kids in the backfield, and Michael and Tanner have a good connection. That will pay huge dividends. We look for good things from them.”
Rounding out the cohesion on the offense is center Mo Yamez (jr., 5-10, 175).
“He was only a sophomore last year, but he did a good job with a lot of veteran guys around him,” Ingvalson said. “The guys around him are new, but they had a good spring and summer. When you have a program like ours, guys step up. When it’s time to step up, they know what is expected.”
While the offense is on solid ground, the defense it right there with it. The Mustangs allowed an average of a touchdown per game last year while going 8-1 in the CWAC and 13-1 overall.
Kernan leads the charge at defensive back, with help from Kolby Swift (sr., 6-0, 190), a three-year starter at linebacker.
“Kernan cleans up a lot of things on the back end,” Ingvalson said. “We moved him to safety about Week 7. He had double digit interceptions. Kolby caused a fumble in the state title game. He’s also an H-back. He will carry the ball, block and catch the ball. We are excited about him this season. We have good pieces, but we have a long way to go.”
The Mustangs will open their season with a nonleague home game against 3A Kennewick.
In CWAC play, Prosser travels to Toppenish, Ellensburg, Ephrata, Othello and Selah.
“We open with Kennewick and we have a lot of respect with what Billy (Templeton) does up there,” Ingvalson said. “Ellensburg won the league title (last year) and until someone knocks them off, they are still league champs. Ellensburg will be right there again, with Othello, there is always a wrinkle. Ephrata could make some noise. Our league is going to be tough. You can’t take a week off; you have to put the work in.”
The Greyhounds, who finished 3-6 in the CWAC and 3-7 overall last season, took a hit before they even handed out gear.
Key players who fifth-year coach Rick Ramos had penciled in at starting positions either have suffered injuries that could end their season before it begins, or have moved away.
“Last year, we had some close games,” Ramos said. “We played a lot of teams really close and we were competitive, but the wins and losses didn’t show it. We could have been 5-5. We were young on the offensive line and will be again. We had a couple of key guys move and a couple others are hurt.”
Offensive tackle Nazario Serna (sr., 6-2, 240) rolled his ankle and tore ligaments at the Eastern Washington team camp in June. Guard Josh Perez (5-8, 215), who had considerable playing time last year as a sophomore, hurt his shoulder in baseball and Ramos is unsure if he will be able to play this season.
Defensively, Chris Ramos (jr., 6-1, 240) packed up and moved to the Tri-Cities, where he is suiting up for Kamiakin.
“I hear he is impressing people there,” coach Ramos said. “Good to see he is going somewhere where he will get recognition.”
Grandview graduated quarterback Anthony Mendoza, but his backup last year, Joel Pena (sr., 6-0, 155), played a couple of games to start the season, and Ramos said he had a good camp at EWU.
Bringing experience and leadership is senior defensive back Felix Medina (5-8, 150), a four-year starter.
“He is one of our captains and he will be key for us,” Ramos said.
Ramos and his staff still are trying to recruit from the student body, especially the basketball team, to help them out this season.
“We have a couple of basketball players we are trying to get out who would help us,” Ramos said. “It is tough to find the three-sport athletes any more. We have to move on.”
Prosser may have won the state title, but Ramos sees the Bulldogs on top of the heap, especially since their junior varsity team hasn’t lost a game in three years.
“We will be in the mix,” Ramos said. “We will be competitive. I know other teams have players who are hurt, and teams like Toppenish and Wapato have gotten a lot more competitive.”
While it’s way too early to tell how things will shape up for the Huskies, coach Roger Hoell is encouraged by what he has seen in practice.
“We are battling for a lot of positions, which we feel will make our kids better competitively and create depth on both sides of the ball,” said Hoell, who was inducted into the Washington State Football Coaches Hall of Fame earlier this year. “We have to take care of the ball and minimize our mistakes.”
The Huskies were right in the thick of things last year, finishing 4-5 in the CWAC and 4-6 overall. They dropped a 13-12 mini-playoff game to East Valley, which allowed the Red Devils to advance to the regional playoff round.
“Last year, we lost three games by a total of five points,” Hoell said.
The Huskies open the season Sept. 2, hosting Connell, which made it to the 1A quarterfinal round last year.
Othello will get a boost from returning senior running back Reese Jones, who ran for well over 1,000 yards last season, and junior quarterback DJ Guzman, who moved into the role last year when injuries hit the team.
Jones and Guzman both will miss the protection of all-conference center Trenton Cutforth, who will miss the entirety of the season after suffering a serious knee injury playing for the basketball team.
Guzman will have a double threat at wideout with seniors Micah Giles and Collin Freeman. Giles started last year before he broke his hand and missed the remainder of the season, while Freeman came on late and was a deep threat for the Huskies.
Also on offense, fullback Trevor Hilmes returns.
“He gave us everything he had as a sophomore,” Othello assistant coach Kevin Hensley said. “He’s a much more confident and prepared player than he was last year.”
One player the Huskies will depend on defensively is 5-9, 190-pound senior Mike Garcia, who plays defensive end and sees time at tight end.
“He is a very, very good football player,” Hensley said. “He could play any position for us and be our best player. He is extremely strong and very fast.”
Joining Garcia on defense is Abel Gomez at linebacker.
“He stepped in for us last year and is looking extremely confident,” Hensley said. “He spearheads our defense. We will be leaning on him this year, big time.”
On the line, the Huskies will have returners Daniel Leal and Phillip Pruneda.
“Daniel is very strong in the weight room and will bring leadership to the line,” Hensley said. “He has the most experience, is dependable and a hard worker.”