After quarterbacking the Kennewick High School football team to a 4-6 record as a sophomore, AJ Templeton will serve as the Lions’ running back this season.
Though Templeton won’t be calling plays and managing the passing game, he could be more involved in the offense than ever before.
The team graduated second team All-Mid-Columbia Conference tailback Ronny Loomis last season, but coach Bill Templeton — AJ’s dad — said Kennewick is looking to expand on its rushing attack even more this season.
“We’re gonna focus in quite a bit on running the football this year,” Bill Templeton said. “We’ll see if we can get some yards and, more importantly, score some points this year.”
At first I was a little bummed out, but then I sort of realized that the thing I love to do the most is run it.
AJ Templeton, Kennewick junior running back
In addition to moving around personnel, the Lions will also use fewer spread looks this season and transition to more of a “Pro Style” offense to aid the running game.
AJ threw for 997 yards last season — completing just under 46 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions — but did even more damage with his legs, racking up 487 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Junior Tim Gee will start the season opener at quarterback, and the tandem will look to bruise teams on the ground and control the clock.
“My dad decided it was what would be best for the team, and I’m pretty excited about it,” AJ Templeton said of the position change. “At first I was a little bummed out, but then I sort of realized that the thing I love to do the most is run it.”
In addition to Loomis, the Lions also graduated first team offensive lineman Brendan Villasenor, who helped lead the team’s run game that averaged 168.4 yards per contest (fifth in MCC) last season. Other All-MCC Lions who graduated include: first team kick returner Keyshawn Owens, second team linebacker Andrew Fridley and honorable mention defensive back Andrew Albertin.
But coach Templeton said he wasn’t worried about the amount of top talent that was in the class of 2017 because of the hard work and dedication the Lions have shown this summer.
“I really love the attitude and energy that this group of kids are bringing,” Templeton said. “They do a good job of practicing hard and they’re good teammates. ... Talent matters, but hard work and grit is in there also.”
The league’s top three teams — Richland, Chiawana and Kamiakin — notwithstanding, Kennewick’s defense was as good as anybody’s last season, giving up 30.2 points (tied with Southridge for fourth) and 338.8 yards (a yard more than Southridge for fifth) per game.
Bill Templeton will look to the Lions’ one returning All-MCC player, senior defensive end Moses McAninch (honorable mention), to be a terror in opponents’ backfields. Going into his fourth season with the varsity squad, McAninch said he looks forward to leading the defensive unit both with his play and attitude.
“All four years I’ve kinda been the dude that gets the defense hyped,” McAninch said. “I’m the dude that just goes hard every play. I kind of want all my teammates to do that, and I feel like the only way they’ll do it is if they see someone else doing it.”
“I definitely have a lot of emotion. I cry sometimes, it’s probably the only sport I’ve ever cried during. I have a lot of passion when it comes to winning and giving it your all.”
Home sweet home
Kennewick was originally supposed to play both of its nonconference games — against Prosser and Cleveland — at home, but will now have to play its Week 2 game against Cleveland at Memorial Stadium in Seattle for the second consecutive year.
The Lions will still have plenty action on the Lampson Stadium turf, as they’re scheduled to play all but three of their games in Kennewick.
Two of those home dates will be a part of the new doubleheaders at Lampson Stadium — Sept. 22 Kennewick will play Walla Walla at 8 p.m. after Southridge takes on Richland; Oct. 6 Kennewick will take on Hanford at 5 p.m. followed by Southridge vs. Chiawana. Templeton said he’s looking forward to being part of the atmosphere associated with the new shake-up to Friday nights.
“We’ve played ’em before up in Spokane for playoff time, and they’re fun,” he said. “Embrace the game, bigger crowds. This community loves football and it will be fun for them.”
Kennewick Lions quick facts
2016 record: 4-6 overall, 2-5 MCC
Team offense: 269.4 yards/game (7th in MCC)
Team defense: 338.8 yards/game (5th)
Key returners: Moses McAninch DE/TE; AJ Templeton RB; Tim Gee QB; Emilio Ramos K/WR/OLB; Cedric Riel ILB; Isaac Ruiz ILB/RB; JJ Rodriguez ILB; Tucker Newman WR/DB;