A year of experience could make all the difference for a Hanford High School football team looking to play spoiler in its first season as a Class 4A program.
Last season, the Falcons featured one of the Mid-Columbia Conference’s highest-flying offenses. Joshua Fonner and Desmond Samples combined to lead the league with 2,419 passing yards while splitting time at quarterback.
Fonner is again competing for the starting job after a freshman campaign in which he threw 13 interceptions and 12 touchdown passes, but coach Brett Jay said sophomore Garrett Horner has played his way into a possible starting role Week 1 at Davis.
“Garrett Horner is our No. 1 as of today, and Josh Fonner is No. 2,” Jay said. “But our culture out here is that we compete every single day. Every single day is an opportunity to win a job.”
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One of Horner’s top returning weapons on the outside will be Samples, who is expected to move back into a full-time receiving role as a senior. Samples caught 16 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown last year.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Samples will also look to shut down opposing receivers as the team’s top cornerback, playing opposite from senior Garret Werner.
Junior running back/defensive back Tayvonne Miller figures to be the Falcons’ best all-around athlete. He is the team’s returning leader in rushing (647 yards on 90 carries for eight touchdowns) and receiving (28 catches for 272 yards and three TDs). Miller was an all-MCC honorable mention pick at running back last year.
“We have a lot of quick guys on the outside, and if we just get them the ball, we’ll be fine,” said Horner, who added that he was excited to throw to speedy senior wideout Joe Gauthier.
Bolstering the line
The Falcons threw the ball almost 24 times per game last season — second only to Richland — primarily because of a young, small offensive line.
Hanford started two sophomores and a freshman in the trenches in 2015, and as a result finished last in the league in rushing. But with four returning starters on an O-line that will be bigger, stronger and faster, Jay said the Falcons will feature a more balanced offensive attack this year.
“Everyone’s grown a year and put on about 20, 25 pounds, so we do look forward to running the football more,” Jay said. “We always like to balance it out, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, slinging is a pretty fun thing to do, but there’s something to be said about running in the box.”
Senior running back Mateo Valadez said the veteran line will give the Falcons confidence on offense.
“It’s nice to know that there are guys from past years, and to know they’re reliable,” Valadez said.
Leading the charge on the Falcons’ offensive line will be 6-3, 243 junior left tackle Gavin Cooper and 6-6, 281 senior left guard Brock Wellsfry. Horner said he had a great rapport with sophomore center Conner Milliken, who will also play middle linebacker in Hanford’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
A new attitude
After starting last year 4-1, Hanford lost its final five games of 2015, including a 78-21, season-ending defeat to Mead in a non-state play-in game.
But there’s a different feeling around the practice field at Hanford this time around, and the Falcons are trying to carry that into Friday nights.
“The team is looking great, we’ve put in our dues and we’re done losing. We’re ready to win,” Valadez said. “We’re a lot closer than we have been in past years. Now there’s groups that would barely talk to each other hugging each other, and that’s unique for us.”
With tons of talent returning to the Hanford starting lineup, there’s plenty to be optimistic about. The step up to 4A is giving the Falcons some extra pep in their step as well.
“Love it, love it, wouldn’t want anything else. We’re just excited,” Jay said of the move up in classification. “I believe in us. I believe in the work we put in. Hard work pays off. There’s no doubt in my mind we can accomplish the goals we set out. We’ve just got to work on finishing, finishing, finishing. Starting strong, and finishing.”
Break it down
2015: 2-5 MCC, 4-6 overall.
MCC rankings: Third in offense (349.1 yards per game); seventh in defense (378.8).
Returning leaders: Passing — Joshua Fonner 105-200-13-1,575, 12 TDs; Desmond Samples 68-139-3-844, 7 TDs. Rushing — Tayvonne Miller 90-647, 8 TDs; Desmond Samples 45-195, 2 TDs. Receiving — Tayvonne Miller 28-272, 3 TDs; Desmond Samples 16-228, 1 TD. Kicking — Woody Page 34-37 XP. Punting — Garret Werner 15-516.
Key games: Sept. 16, vs. Walla Walla; Sept. 23, at Chiawana; Oct. 28, at Richland.