When it comes to the Class 2B Eastern Washington League in football, Tri-Cities Prep always seems to be at or near the top of the standings.
It’s likely that could happen again.
But Liberty Christian and Columbia-Burbank could make a move for the title too.
DeSales, meanwhile, doesn’t have the numbers this season to play 11-man football, and the Irish are moving to Class 1B.
Five things to know about small-school football
1. Maiuri back at QB for Tri-Cities Prep
Prep lost 16 players from last season through either graduation or transfer. And Coach Dan Whitsett has just five new members out for the team. Thus, the roster number dropped from 34 to 23 this season.
“I feel that if we stay healthy that this team will steadily improve throughout the season,” said Whitsett. “This is the kind of team that will get better and better as the season ages.”
One of those guys back is junior quarterback Dante Maiuri, who suffered a knee injury last season.
“He’s in the best shape of his life, has worked very hard, and I expect a great junior year out of him,” said Whitsett.
Others expected to contribute are senior LB-WR Jacob Levy, the third-leading tackler for the Jaguars last season; the defensive line trio of seniors Owen Ritala and Zerric Pardini as well as junior Kaden Harrison (who combined for 143 tackles, 18 sacks and 36 tackles for loss in 2018); WR/DB Landon Amato (26 catches, 344 yards, and 6 interceptions last season); and senior RB/DB Davian Iniquez (500 yards rushing, 43 tackles).
“I think the EWAC overall is improved, and the parity is relevant this year,” said Whitsett. “Columbia-Burbank, Liberty Christian, Mabton and Dayton-Waitsburg will all be in the mix.”
2. Morgan twins lead Liberty Christian
Liberty Christian coach Craig Lukins is excited for the second year of his pass-attack offense.
“The off-season commitment to the weight room – 27 of 29 players spent time in the weight room over the summer – is a strength,” said Lukins.
“It’s year two of the Air Raid offense. Having a senior quarterback and running back, who happen to be twins, makes life easier. Depth and experience at wide receiver is also a huge plus.”
The QB is Curtis Morgan, a three-year starter and the Offensive MVP of the EWAC last season. Twin brother Nathan Morgan is a running back and middle linebacker.
Other players expected to have big seasons are junior Aiden Lesser, a free safety and wide receiver who missed almost all of last season with a broken collarbone and broken leg; senior OL-MLB Matt Devin; WR/DB Brad Flowers; and junior WR/CB Grant McClure.
What Lukins will need is some protection for those skill position players.
“With three new starters on the offensive line, there has been some moments of confusion,” said Lukins. “Thankfully, we have one of the best offensive line coaches in the league and they are starting to jell as we head into week one.”
3. Columbia-Burbank could win the EWAC
Coyotes coach Trevor Curtis feels this could be his team’s season. But he’s also cautious.
“I want to say that we are the team to beat this year,” said Curtis. “But Liberty Christian and Tri-Cities Prep will be contending as well.”
Burbank had a good first season in 2018 after dropping down from 1A to 2B. Expect more success for the Coyotes.
“Our run game should be our greatest strength, as long as our linemen step up and play like they know how,” said Curtis.
Junior Abe Garcia and senior Jake Debord will be the guys running the football. Other skill players expected to contribute will be junior WR-DB Dounelson Mullen, WR-DB Dylan Frimodt and WR-QB-LB Creed Pariera.
4. DeSales drops down to 1B
New DeSales head coach Josh Richard said everyone realized last spring that the Irish would have to play 8-man football this season.
“We knew we’d have 17 players,” said Richard. “So adjusting to the 8-man game, both physically and mentally, will be the thing we most have to improve upon.”
Richard has some talent to work with: senior OL-DL Nate Anhorn, sophomore OL-LB Ryan Chase, senior QB-LB Bobby Holtzinger, senior WR-LB Matt Miedema, and senior RB-LB Ryan Rizzuti.
“We have an athletic linebacker group, and playmakers at wide receiver and running back positions,” said Richard.
5. Key games this season
Starting right off the bat, Liberty Christian and Tri-Cities Prep tangle in their one league meeting at 7 p.m. Friday at Chiawana High School.
On Oct. 4, Columbia-Burbank takes on Liberty Christian at Hanford High School at 7 p.m.
Finally, the last game involving the Big 3 is Oct. 11, when Tri-Cities Prep visits Columbia-Burbank at 7 p.m.
In 1B Southeast B8 play, DeSales and Sunnyside Christian battle – possibly for the league title – at Sunnyside High School on Oct. 11.
On Nov. 1, Tri-Cities Prep finishes off the regular season by playing Dayton/Waitsburg – another possible EWAC title contender – at Dayton High School.
Jeff Morrow is the former sports editor of the Herald.