A state championship, a 14-0 record and four all-state players, including their quarterback.
The 2015 season is going to be a hard act to follow for the Royal High School football team.
“I think we have an opportunity ahead of us,” said Royal coach Wiley Allred, who has won six state titles in 17 seasons. “Obviously there’s a lot of new faces in positions, but I think they have the capability of performing at that level (of the 2015 team).”
With the Knights’ list of graduated players including leading rusher Joe Lang (first team all-state defensive back and honorable mention running back) and top receivers Sam Christensen (first-team wide receiver and defensive back) and Jose Ponce (honorable mention all-purpose), offensive leadership will fall heavily on the shoulders of senior quarterback Kaden Jenks.
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The Division I recruit threw for nearly 2,800 yards with 45 touchdowns en route to being named the SCAC East offensive player of the year and the Class 1A first-team all-state quarterback.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the state,” Allred said. “I think it takes more than a guy like that (to win a state championship), but he definitely helps.”
Allred said he expects junior Corbin Christensen and senior Juan Niebla to step up as Jenks’ top targets this season. Senior running back Danny Cuevas, who ran for 526 yards and 11 scores as Royal’s backup last year, figures to get the bulk of the work in the Knights’ backfield.
First-team all-SCAC East defensive linemen Sawyer Stakkeland and Juan Hernandez will return as leaders on the defensive side of the ball for Royal.
MaxPreps ranked the Knights as the No. 14 small-school team in the country in its preseason poll. Royal was the only Washington school to make the list.
Warden, College Place join 1A ranks
With a fairly small roster that doesn’t have any seniors, the College Place Hawks and coach Donald Ponds are keeping their expectations realistic for their first season of varsity football.
“The expectation is for our kids to have fun, to work hard and build character. That’s what we want to do,” said Ponds, whose Hawks will compete in the SCAC East for their inaugural varsity season. “We know in regards to wins and losses that you’re rolling the dice, and more than likely, it will be tough for us. However, we know that, and we have a different approach.”
The 3-year-old College Place football team had played a modified freshman/junior varsity schedule in its first two seasons, and the step up to varsity ball caused about a dozen players to call it quits, Ponds said.
College Place’s starting quarterback was one of the players who left the team before the season. Sophomore Drew Adams, who played receiver last season, will get a chance to run the Hawks’ Air Raid offense. Ponds said Adams’ natural athleticism and the return of running backs James Palmer and Kyler Tiner — both of whom will take most of their snaps out on the edge this season — should allow the Hawks to move the ball down the field.
“We’re going to sit back and have fun,” Ponds said. “That being said, we’re going to have to slow it down a little. It won’t be a fast-paced Air Raid — we’ll be able to adjust the tempo. Right now our numbers are telling us we should take it slow, and we should catch the ball.”
Warden will return to the SCAC East after spending two years in the Central Washington 2B conference. Eight all-league players and 19 lettermen will return from last year’s 9-2 squad, including quarterback Tanner Skone, fullback/linebacker Robert Arredondo and receiver/cornerback Adam Richins.
Warden coach Robert Arredondo said his team was excited for the opportunity to compete against 1A SCAC competition.
Around the SCAC East
Columbia-Burbank: Although the Coyotes went 3-6 last season, 2016 is full of possibilities for coach Zeke Fife’s squad, which returns three all-SCAC East second-team players. The Coyotes’ offensive line features three returning starters, including one of their all-league players, senior Trent DeRoos. They’ll be tasked with helping out first-year quarterback Reece Humphreys, who was an all-league receiver last year as a sophomore, and touted freshman running back Jacob Debord, who will split time in the backfield with senior Jason Cole.
Connell: With Royal making an undefeated state title run, Connell spent last season somewhat under the radar despite making it to a state semifinal game and going 10-2. Both of those losses came against the Knights. The Eagles had a young core in 2015, which should play to their advantage as they return a senior class that includes first-team all-state tight end Steven Kroontje (29 catches, 578 yards and four touchdowns in 2015), leading rusher Jaxs Whitby (700 yards, six touchdowns) and second-year quarterback Brian Hawkins (105-of-177 passing, 1,600 yards, 17 TDs). One of the biggest losses for the Eagles will be first-team all-league running back and linebacker Parker McCary, who transferred to Richland for his junior season.
Kiona-Benton: Ki-Be’s front seven figures to be its strength in 2016. Garrett Howell, who had four sacks last season, and second-team all-SCAC East defensive lineman Clayton Johns highlight the list of returners from last year’s 6-4 squad. Head coach Darren Mezger spoke highly of junior quarterback Leo Gomez’s progress through the summer. Cornerback Sam Hartfield, a transfer from Fayetteville, Ark., will add to the Bears’ stable of athletes.
River View: Coach Bryce Kennell’s first year at the helm of the Panthers was rough — he won just one game — but a revamped offense and a slew of returning starters could signal progress in Kennell’s second season. Junior Carlos Vazquez and senior Garrett Minielly will carry the mail in River View’s new run-first attack, hoping to make up for graduated second-team all-SCAC East wideout Tanner Brown. Sophomore quarterback Kaden Lee will once again be under center.
Wahluke: The Warriors shredded opposing defenses last season to the tune of 424 yards and 30 points per game, but some defensive breakdowns of their own resulted in close losses and a 4-6 record at season’s end. With all five of its 2015 all-SCAC East players graduated, Wahluke must rely on its youth to get into the state playoffs.
2015 SCAC East