Missing the state football playoffs in 2015 has been a major motivator for the seniors on this year’s Chiawana team.
Those two Chiawana teams combined to go 25-3 overall and 14-0 in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
But last season, the Riverhawks lost to Central Valley in a state play-in game and finished with a 6-4 record.
“They didn’t do the things that are expected in this program. Therefore, they suffered the consequences,” Chiawana coach Steve Graff said of his players. “They didn’t do a good job in the winter in the weight room, they didn’t do a good job in the summer, and they paid for it.”
This year’s seniors are determined to avoid a repeat of 2015.
“This summer, we had guys putting in massive amounts of time in the weight room, getting together, 7-on-7 — everything you can imagine, because we don’t like that taste in our mouths of losing,” senior running back/linebacker Caleb Weber said. “We have one goal this year, and that’s to make it back to state and win. Anything less would be a disappointment.”
Riverhawks on offense
One person who undoubtedly will shoulder much of the load is senior running back Andrew Vargas, who last season rushed for 2,145 yards and 25 touchdowns on 268 carries — all MCC bests. He shared MCC offensive player of the year honors with Kamiakin wide receiver Gavin Crow.
“Each year, I’m trying to get more and more yards, get better every year, hold myself to a higher level,” said Vargas, who’s also one of the top punters in the conference.
Weber will get some reps at running back to keep Vargas fresh for what the Riverhawks hope will be a deep playoff run.
“It will save him,” Graff said. “He was so beat up last year, he hardly practiced.”
Chiawana ranked second in the MCC last year in team offense with 354.3 yards per game. Troy Simpkins (99-for-196 passing, 1,021 yards, 11 TDs, 11 interceptions) will start again at quarterback. He’ll throw to a receiving corps that includes his twin brother, Trent, fellow seniors Hayden Carrasco and Brayde Hirai, and junior/Hanford transfer Josiah Richardson. Michael Sanchez, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior, is set to start at tight end.
The offensive line features four returning starters: senior Anthony Reisch (6-3, 270) and juniors Josh Alvarez (6-4, 260), Julian Benitez (6-0, 240) and Ford Powers (6-1, 200). Alvarez was an all-MCC second-team O-lineman as a sophomore. The newcomer, junior Joey Aikala, is 6-4, 305.
“Last year really helped them to mature,” Reisch said of the junior returnees. “Their eyes were open. ... Last year, we kind of started off slow and they weren’t used to the speed. But this year, everything’s looking good, and looking forward to next Friday (opening at Moses Lake).”
We took really big strides offensively this year. I think we’re gonna be able to run the ball when we want, however we want, without a lot of work. Statistically (last year) we put up 2,000-plus yards with Andrew (Vargas) taking 40-plus carries a game with an offensive line that had kids who were 15.
Chiawana senior running back/linebacker Caleb Weber
Riverhawks on defense
Last season was a defensive struggle for Chiawana.
In 2014, the Riverhawks had the top “D” in the MCC, allowing just 181.7 yards per game in the regular season. The next year, they slid to fourth in the conference after giving up 312.1 a game.
“Injuries were a big part (of the problem),” said Weber, an all-MCC second-team linebacker in 2015. “The senior class last year wasn’t very big, so we had about three starting seniors. It was a rough year. We didn’t have very much camaraderie, which we have this year — a lot.”
Weber (6-2, 230) and junior Anthony Liudahl (6-0, 180) are returning starters at linebacker. The 5-10, 205-pound Vargas didn’t play defense last season, but he will see some time at outside linebacker.
“He’s too good of an athlete to stand on the sideline for half the game,” Graff said.
The defensive line will be all new to start the year.
“They’re all the same offensive line guys — they’ll rotate through there,” Graff said. “Playing both ways is gonna be tough. It’s basically a depth thing. We don’t have a lot of depth up front on either side.”
Defensive back looks stronger. Carrasco and Trent Simpkins, an all-MCC honorable mention pick last season, return after combining for five interceptions in 2015.
The Riverhawks are eager to see how everything is jelling by the time they open MCC play Sept. 16 against Kamiakin at Edgar Brown Stadium.
“Kamiakin’s looking good this year,” Weber said. “I’m glad that we’re gonna be able to put it all out there first league game of the season. Should be a statement game. Last year, they laid the whooping (35-7) on us.”
Break it down
2015: 5-2 MCC, 6-4 overall.
MCC rankings: Offense second (354.3 yards per game); defense fourth (312.1 ypg).
Returning leaders: Rushing — Andrew Vargas 2,145 yards, 25 TDs. Passing — Troy Simpkins 99-196-11-1,021, 11 TDs. Defense — Trent Simpkins 3 INTs.
Key games: Sept. 16, vs. Kamiakin; Oct. 14, at Pasco; Oct. 21, vs. Richland; Oct. 28, at Walla Walla.