Hermiston High School football coach David Faaeteete, who took the reins a year after the Bulldogs won the 2014 Oregon 5A state title, must prepare his team for a new challenge in Year 2 of his tenure.
The Columbia River and Intermountain conferences have merged into the 5A Special District 1 league. Former Columbia River Conference teams Hermiston, Hood River Valley and Pendleton will match up with ex-IMC squads Bend, Mountain View, Redmond, Ridgeview and Summit.
The Dalles eschewed joining its CRC rivals in the new league and went independent.
“We are excited about the teams we will be playing in and out of league play,” Faaeteete said. “We will be tested every week with great teams from great programs.”
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Defending 5A state champion Summit will visit Hermiston on Sept. 23. Redmond, which lost to Summit in the state quarterfinals, will host the Bulldogs on Oct. 21.
Last season, three Intermountain Conference teams — Summit (12-1 overall, 4-0 league), Redmond (8-3, 3-1) and Bend (6-4, 2-2) — finished above .500. Ridgeview went 4-5 overall, and Mountain View was 1-8.
Hermiston went 3-0 in CRC play and reached the first round of the state playoffs last year, but its 4-6 overall record stung. The Bulldogs went 0-5 to start the year, then won four in a row before ending the season with a 49-14 loss to Wilsonville in a state first-round game.
“We didn’t finish too many games last season, and we have spent the offseason working and developing a finish mentality from workouts to practice,” Faaeteete said.
The Bulldogs graduated standouts Tre Neal (defensive lineman), Bob Coleman (D-lineman/running back), Ethan Snow (wide receiver/defensive back) and Hayden Simon (linebacker/running back). Hermiston plans to lean on its strong secondary, solid linebackers and veteran receivers.
Defensive backs Joe Gutierrez, Tyler Rohrman and 2015 all-state honorable mention pick Vaemu Ena return after combining for 105 tackles, eight pass deflections and six interceptions last year. Senior linebacker John-Henry Line recorded 55 tackles, seven for loss, and three pass deflections.
Seniors Tucker Salinas (25 catches, 282 yards in 2015) and Brady Christiansen (13 catches, 230 yards) will lead the wide receivers. Throwing to them will be junior Dayshawn Neal (36-of-74 passing, 410 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT in 2015).
Neal played in five games last year before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, but he led the Bulldogs in rushing with 421 yards on 85 carries.