BENTON CITY -- The Kiona-Benton football team hasn't exactly been blessed with success in its history. This season, though, the Bears think they have that special something that could translate to not just a winning season, but possibly a home playoff game as well.
"I think we can go 9-1 at the very least," senior running back Dalton Morgan said. "And play tough against Connell; I think we can beat Royal."
Coming from anyone else's mouth, those words would probably be snickered at.
Morgan is not one to be laughed at, though.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound running back and linebacker is nicknamed Beast for good reason.
Beast and his teammates are helping turn the tide at Kiona-Benton under third-year coach Charlie Hobbick.
"We are awfully young," Hobbick said, "but this team seems to have its eye on making a big impression this season. We are in undoubtedly the toughest 1A league in the state, but our kids are playing harder, faster and better every single day.
"You have to do that to compete with Connell and Royal. We are sure hoping to give those guys a run this year."
To hang with the perennial state powers north of Benton City, the Bears will need Morgan to put his massive size to work.
Morgan moved from Richland to the small town nestled on the Yakima River the summer after his eighth-grade year, because as he put it, "my parents wanted to own horses and they chose Benton City."
He was all SCAC East second team as a tight end his sophomore season, and then started as the slot receiver as a junior before being shuffled to running back midway through the season.
"We needed to get the ball into his hands more," Hobbick said. "With Hayden Wing at wide receiver, it was better for Dalton to be at running back.
"That is when he really took off and started to shine."
Morgan rushed for 858 yards on 135 carries and scored 12 touchdowns to help lead a potent Bears offense.
"He has amazing vision," Hobbick said. "He is kind of unorthodox in how he runs -- it almost looks like he is falling at times. His vision and cutting ability is just amazing for someone that big."
While Morgan has goals of 1,500 yards this season and has the ability to drag defenders all over the field, it is his defense that will be the key between Kiona-Benton having a typical season and a dream season.
"Our defense is a lot stronger, it is a lot tougher," he said. "Our defense is what we've been lacking the last couple of years."
With an average of 30 kids in the weight room each night for the past eight months, though, both Hobbick and Morgan think that could be a key difference in the outcome of this season, including against SCAC West power Zillah on Friday.
"My saying is that there is no substitute for strength in sports," Hobbick said. "The kids are starting to buy off on that."
And right at the forefront of all of that is Morgan, all 235 pounds of him.
* Craig Craker: 509-582-1509; email@example.com; Twitter.com/craig_craker