High School Football

Mid-Columbia’s defending football champ has speed to burn and ready for another title run

Find out Chiawana football’s strength this season

Chiawana's football coach Steve Graff talks about his teams strength.
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Chiawana's football coach Steve Graff talks about his teams strength.

Steve Graff, who has coached football for 37 seasons, is not one to openly gush about his football team.

And he wasn’t gushing about it on Tuesday during his Chiawana Riverhawks practice.

But he said something about the strength of the Riverhawks that should make all Mid-Columbia Conference coaches shudder: “Our strength is that we have really good team speed and athleticism.”

The defending MCC champs from Pasco made it to the state 4A playoffs last season.

The Riverhawks should be favored to win the MCC title again this year and make the state playoffs again.

Five things you should know

1. Speed kills. Start with wideouts Kobe Young and Dion Lee. Young came into his own last season as a sophomore on the basketball court. He’s already gotten some Division 1 scholarship offers. Lee is a state-caliber triple jumper. They’ll both provide that deep threat speed.

Caleb Alvarez is a 6-3 target who can run fast. Then there are backs such as Gabe Schilz and Riley Cissne, who will get their touches this season. Bridger Feldmann and Cameron Breier will also see some time on offense at H-Back.

Preston Vine, who started at quarterback when the 2018 season opened, will also see some time at receiver and running back.

Now this does not account for two guys that are on the bubble: Bennie Alferness was the team’s leading receiver last season, and a speedster in track who broke an ankle at team camp in June; and Kobe Singleton, who has transferred from Tri-Cities Prep but has not yet gotten the clearance to play.

“Alferness could be out for six more weeks,” said Graff.

So the speed is there. What Graff now needs is some linemen to step up to help create holes on running plays and keep defenders from getting to the quarterback.

Chiawana’s quarterback JP Zamora (3), left, and Bridger Feldman (8). Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

2. Zamora gets the huddle. JP Zamora showed enough last season at quarterback as a freshman that he proved effective. This year, as a sophomore, Zamora gets to lead the offense.

It should come as no surprise to the Chiawana MCC opponents.

Vine actually had respectable numbers last season, throwing for 1,090 yards and 15 TDs against 5 interceptions. His 146 passing efficiency rating was among the top three in the MCC.

But Zamora has a much stronger arm and can stretch defenses out. As a freshman, he threw for 564 yards, 6 TDs against 2 picks.

3. Linebackers. Chiawana had the No. 1 defense in the conference last year. But the Riverhawks lost AJ Vongphachanh and Nelson Cardenas to graduation. So Graff moved Cissne, an all-MCC first-team defensive back a year ago, into one of the linebacker spots.

“He’s the toughest player we have,” said Graff.

Chiawana’s Riley Cissne (22), left, and Gabe Schilz, (34). Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

And Cissne is a standout all-around athlete. He’s a state-caliber wrestler and was named the MCC’s baseball player of the year this past spring while playing for a middle-of-the-pack team.

As if there wasn’t enough talent at linebacker, Breier was a standout last season there as a sophomore. With his speed, Breier found his way to the quarterback for a number of sacks.

Schilz, who led the MCC last season with six interceptions, may see some time at linebacker too.

4. Singleton is the wild card. Tri-Cities Prep transfer Singleton is trying to complete the transition to Chiawana.

“We’re going through the appeal process,” said Graff. “He’s appearing before the YVIAA (Yakima Valley Interscholastic Activities Association) on Wednesday to plead his case.”

Graff said when Singleton moved to the Tri-Cities a few years ago — his older brother is former Tri-Cities Fever standout Lionell Singleton — he was placed in a grade too high.

“He’s appealing for a fifth year,” said Graff. “When he came from Florida a few years ago, they put him in a sophomore class level. That wasn’t his fault. He’s on track to graduate this year.

”Getting Singleton cleared to play would add another weapon to the Riverhawks’ arsenal.

5. The kicking game. For the past two seasons, Chiawana had Ryan Lowry at kicker and Elijah Perez as punter. The two were first-team MCC both seasons. And both have graduated. So now the Riverhawks must start over with their kicking game. Evan Dawes will get the chance to kick, while Zamora will step in as punter.