Hear about Hanford football’s strengths this season
The Hanford Falcons crossed over the .500 mark last season for the first time in a while, finishing 6-4 and advancing to the Class 4A regional playoffs.
Brett Jay’s team did it while using an exciting, wide-open offense that created a lot of stars in guys like quarterback Garrett Horner — named the Mid-Columbia Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year — as well as running back Jared DeVine and receivers Blake VanderTop and Luke Sutey.
Hanford was the top offensive team in the MCC last season, averaging 404 yards a game.
But those players are now gone, graduating in June and moving on to college.
However, the cupboard isn’t empty for the Falcons. In fact, Jay is working to get the program to the point where it’s reloading each season, next-man-up style.
Here are five things to know about Hanford this season:
1. Who is replacing Horner?
It’s going to be Easton Wise-Hyde, who was Horner’s backup last season and actually got some good playing time, especially when Jay pulled his starters in some runaway victories.
The Falcons coach likes what he sees in his new starter.
“He’ll get to all three progressions in the pass routes,” said Jay. “He likes to ad-lib, running when he needs to. He’s got a strong arm and a lot of talent.”
The dual threat of running to go along with passing will make it hard to defend Wise-Hyde.
And the beauty of the Hanford passing game is it makes it hard to try to shut down a favorite target. Falcons quarterbacks are trained to spread the ball around.
There were games last season when Horner had 10 different receivers with a catch.
2. Offensive line will be experienced.
“This is our biggest strength right now,” said Jay. “We’ve got four of our five starters back on the offensive line.”
That would be left tackle Payten Collins, Wyatt Eller (who moves from left guard to the all-important center position), right guard Casey Moddrell (a three-year starter who was an honorable mention selection in MCC play last season), and right tackle Michael Chvedov.
Only Conner Milliken, who was the MCC Lineman of the Year in 2018, does not return. He graduated and is playing for Kansas Wesleyan University.
3. Running back position has depth.
DeVine graduated and is now at Linfield in Oregon.
But last season, he got hurt and missed a few games, or played little in a few other contests.
That allowed Dylan McElderry to step in and play, and he did well.
Last season, he rushed 81 times for 468 yards for 5.8 yards a carry. He also showed an ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
Most importantly, McElderry found the end zone often, scoring 11 touchdowns last season.
“Dylan did well when Jared was hurt last year,” said Jay. “But we’ve got three other running backs who could see some playing time: Kamari Durmas, Alec Cruz and Idrian Cerna.”
4. Jay likes this defensive unit.
“The defense is in a good spot,” said Jay. “We’ll run a 4-4.”
The same guys on the offensive line will also be on the defensive line.
Nathan Bushman, Isaiah Mitchell and Konner Oberman will lead the squad at linebacker. And Gabe Martinez, who had four interceptions last season, will lead the secondary at safety.
“His leadership this summer has been phenomenal,” said Jay. “He had a great summer, getting 30-plus workouts in.”
Durmas, Amir Deng and Caleb Harvey are among those players who will help shore up that secondary.
5. Looking to improve that killer instinct.
“We need to improve on finishing games,” said Jay. “The excellence is in the details. We had four losses last year, where we lost them all in the fourth quarter.”
Including the regional playoff at Gonzaga Prep.
Hanford was leading 24-7 in the fourth quarter, and the Bullpups rallied to win the contest 28-24.
“It was painful,” said Jay. “Top five all-time. But it’s growing pains, and we’ll look to make that next step.”
In fact, Hanford was 6-1 after seven weeks of play last season. Then the Falcons dropped a 42-35 overtime thriller to Hermiston in Week 8, and fell to crosstown rival Richland 34-24 in Week 9 before the Gonzaga Prep loss.
So how do they improve on finishing games?
By working on situations in practice, and pushing themselves physically so that the Falcons are in better shape than their opponents in the final 12 minutes.“
“We’ve got to get to the next phase. No question,” said Jay. “We were one play last year from being in the final 16 teams.”