There have been some shakeups in the Class 2B and 1B ranks leading into the 2016 high school football season.
For starters, there’s a new league — the Eastern Washington Athletic Conference (EWAC) — and the Southeast 2B is no more.
Former Southeast 2B schools Tri-Cities Prep, Waitsburg (now combined with Dayton for football) and DeSales have joined the EWAC along with Liberty Christian, Kittitas, Lyle-Wishram, Mabton and White Swan. Walla Walla Valley Academy also is in the EWAC, but it doesn’t have football.
Asotin left the Southeast 2B to join the Northeast 2B League.
The EWAC’s biggest question marks could surround Liberty Christian, which rejoins the 2B 11-man ranks after winning a 1B eight-man state championship in 2012 and finishing second in 2014. Last year, the Patriots lost to eventual champion Almira/Coulee-Hartline in the state semifinals.
Liberty Christian spent the 2012-14 and 2014-16 classification cycles in 1B. Had the Patriots opted down in football for the 2016-20 cycle, they would have been ineligible for the postseason.
Second-year Liberty Christian coach Craig Lukins and his staff have been busy revamping the playbooks for 11-man football.
“While this is an exciting process, it also means that the players had to learn a new playbook for the second year in a row,” Lukins said.
In addition, Liberty Christian must figure out how to replace offensive and defensive giant John Lesser, who will play at Eastern Oregon University.
As a senior, Lesser rushed for 3,710 yards, passed for 1,884 and accounted for 87 touchdowns (52 rushing, 34 passing, one receiving). He was the 1B all-state player of the year, making the first team at linebacker and honorable mention at quarterback.
He finished his career with 9,019 rushing yards, 147 all-purpose touchdowns and 1,066 points — all national eight-man records.
“Losing a player who holds three national records and an additional three state records is a tall task,” Lukins said.
The Patriots also graduated Mitch Godwin, their leading receiver the past two seasons and an all-state defensive back, and defensive standout Connor Mote.
All-state linemen Eric Swanson and Stephen Carter should shore up Liberty Christian’s D-line, while Zack Bradford and Ryan Hansen will start their third seasons on the offensive line.
“The strength of our team lies within our offensive and defensive lines,” Lukins said. “We return our top six offensive linemen from last season. We ran the ball especially well during spring camp, and we plan on continuing that success into the season. Defensively, we lack size, but we make up for it with a ton of team speed.”
Junior Konnor Denhoed and sophomore Mason Knode are battling for the quarterback job and, with their athleticism, should help make up for some of what was lost with Lesser’s departure. Juniors Jordan Godwin and Trey Davis provide depth at receiver along with sophomore Noah Hayden, and Nico Shupe returns after racking up 1,130 all-purpose yards last year as a sophomore.
With Liberty Christian and Dayton moving to 11-man football, Touchet, St. John-Endicott, Colton, Garfield-Palouse, Pomeroy and Sunnyside Christian remain in the Southeast 1B. Dayton has been a 2B school, but the Bulldogs fielded an eight-man team and were ineligible for the playoffs.
Kittitas, White Swan and Mabton were in the Central Washington B South division, while Lyle-Wishram played an independent eight-man schedule.
Tri-Cities Prep wipes the slate clean
Tri-Cities Prep coach Dan Whitsett embraces his team’s new home in the EWAC.
“The nice thing is we have two nonleague games instead of six,” said Whitsett, whose team’s nonleaguers this year are against Oregon teams Riverside (Sept. 2) and Irrigon (Sept. 16). “It’s nice to have a big league schedule.”
Whitsett sees improvement on the horizon for his Jaguars, who went 1-8 last year. Their only win of the season came in the final game against Wilbur-Creston.
Running back Mario “Bubba” Valencia came on strong at the end of 2015, rushing for 331 of his 392 yards in the last three games.
“He has also worked hard this offseason, which included reaching the 100-plus workout mark and running Badger Mountain in the mornings,” Whitsett said of Valencia, a junior who ran track in the spring for Pasco.
Whitsett also is excited about his new assistant hires: former Tri-Cities Fever players Dennis Kennedy and Lionell Singleton. Kennedy will oversee the running backs and linebackers, while Singleton will help out with the wide receivers and defensive backs.
They will free up Whitsett to work more with the offensive and defensive lines.
Whitsett said the Jaguars’ No. 1 strength is their top six offensive linemen: junior center Brennan Bence, senior right guard Brendan Merk, senior left guard Jesus Higareda, sophomore right tackles Colton Tinnin and Leo Schroeder, and junior left tackle Kenny Ireland.
“Combined, they completed 678 workouts out of 720 times they had opportunities in the offseason since Thanksgiving,” Whitsett said. “They also attended Trench Camp as a unit this summer. They will be the most improved position group on the team.”
Defensively, senior Will Dituri (team-high 87.5 tackles in 2015) and Tinnin (57 tackles last year) will be the anchors at inside linebacker. Tinnin started every game as a freshman. The top O-linemen will rotate in at defensive tackle.
Senior defensive end Jacob Amato (60 tackles, nine sacks, 13 quarterback hurries in 2015) is a returning all-state player.
Dayton-Waitsburg making combine work
Troy Larsen is heading up the football combine of Waitsburg, which competes in the Southeast 1B in all other sports, and 2B Dayton. Larsen coached Waitsburg last year.
“Currently Dayton has 14 student-athletes that are helping fill gaps with the 24 players from Waitsburg,” Larsen said. “The team speed for 2016 is good, and we get better speed across the board from the line through the skill players.”
Jacob Dunn passed for 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns with one interception last year for Waitsburg. Fellow all-leaguer and Waitsburg senior Travis Crockett returns after rushing for 1,100 yards. On defense, he and Dunn combined for 74 tackles and nine interceptions.
On the line, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Drake Lamere of Dayton could cause big trouble for opponents.
The team doesn’t have its own mascot, but the Waitsburg Cardinal is on one side of the helmet and the Dayton Bulldog is on the other.
Around the B’s
DeSales features five seniors, including all-Southeast 2B defensive back Zach Leahy. He will play quarterback for the Irish. “We are encouraged about the new league format,” coach Mike Spiess said. “Having seven league games is much better than three league games. At DeSales, we always expect to compete at the highest level and plan to be in the hunt for the initial league title.” ... Touchet has appeared in the 1B state playoffs the past five seasons, finishing second in 2013. The Indians lost to ACH in last year’s quarterfinals.
Football league alignments
Eastern Washington Athletic Conference