Columbia Basin Big Nine Columbia Division outlook
1. Southridge Suns
-- 2007 recap: 7-5, 4-2 CBL 3A, third; lost in state quarterfinals to Bellevue.
-- Home field: Lampson Stadium.
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-- Coach: Andy Troxel (10th year, 55-40).
-- Last league title: 2005.
-- Others to watch: RB Sani; CB Sanders; OL S.Smith; DL Haste; DL B.Anderson; TE Graves; WR Cory Grady, sr. (6-0, 170); WR Chris Whitney, jr. (6-1, 170); OL/LB Drew Powell, jr. (6-1, 215).
The Suns started last season 0-4 but rebounded to win seven straight, including an upset of league champion Kamiakin for their first-ever state playoff victory.
One of the factors in the turnaround was a decision to switch from the 4-3 cover-2 defensive scheme they'd run for years to a 3-4 alignment.
"Personnel drove it," Troxel said. "We had a couple of kids get hurt, and we wanted to put our best 11 on the field."
It worked so well, the Suns stuck with it this season, wanting to utilize their depth at linebacker to full advantage.
Powell, who hopes to join older brother Shaun (EWU) as a college recruit, had 95 tackles (64 solo) a year ago, while Cook had 56 tackles (seven for loss).
"Our two inside backers are coming back, and we have three more really good athletes there, and we want to keep them on the field," Troxel said. "We like all the angles we can create with blitzes, and we like it against the spread offenses we're seeing."
Another advantage against the pass-crazy offenses they'll see in the CBBN is an experienced secondary led by all-league corners Sorenson (five interceptions) and Jones.
Jones also makes up one half of perhaps the top receiver duo in the state along with Homme. Both will be starting for the third year in a row and were first-team all-league selections after combining for 71 catches in the regular season.
"They're both very athletic and deceptively fast," Troxel said. "And when the ball is in the air, it's theirs. At 6-3 (Jones) and 6-6, they create a lot of matchup problems for people."
Mendenhall struggled during Southridge's shaky start but came into his own in the second half, finishing the year with a 53.3 completion percentage (105-of-197) for 1,278 yards and eight touchdowns.
Sanders rushed for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns spelling all-league running back Tate Stiles.
The question mark is the offensive line, which replaces three all-league honorees.
"They held their own at camp, but we have four guys who haven't played on Friday nights, so you don't know until they go against somebody else," Troxel said.
2. Moses Lake chiefs
-- 2007 recap: 6-4, 4-2 CBL 4A, tied for third; lost to Ferris in regional playoffs.
-- Home field: Lions Field.
-- Coach: Greg Kittrell (14th year, 96-111).
-- Last league title: Never.
-- Others to watch: WR Bergeson; OL Ben Rathbone, jr. (6-2, 205); LB Brian Chamberlain, soph. (6-1, 190); RB Kyle Coriell, sr. (6-0, 180); DB Junior Solis, sr. (5-9, 150); WR Jimmy Molina, jr. (6-2, 165); DL Cabe Fluaitt, soph. (6-1, 230).
The Chiefs earned the final 4A regional berth by virtue of their regular-season win over Eisenhower, then had GSL champion Ferris on the ropes before seeing a 27-14 lead evaporate in the final quarter.
They did so with an offense with which Moses Lake fans were not familiar - the Chiefs had more passing yards (1,780) than rushing (1,551) for the first time in Kittrell's time at the helm.
"I'm an option coach at heart, but you've got to go with what your triggerman can do," Kittrell said.
And when that triggerman is Loera, the league's Offensive MVP who posted its top passer rating (151.9), you scrap some of those beloved belly option plays and let him air the ball out in the spread attack.
"You think of Josh beating you with his legs all the time, but he has an uncanny ability to pull up at the line and throw the ball," Kittrell said. "His eyes are never down when he's running with the ball, and the receivers have got a great feel for how he rolls out of the pocket."
Ryan Coulston, who led the league with 55 catches, has graduated, but Brice (31 catches) and Richardson (18) also were among the league leaders.
"Billy is our guy," Kittrell said, "He's a legit player. He's big, strong and mobile. He can do a lot of things."
Guerra, the younger brother of WSU offensive lineman B.J., leads an experienced offensive line.
The defense is a bit undersized but has as much speed as any Kittrell has fielded.
Harman is a three-year starter at linebacker whose career has been plagued by injuries. Last year, back spasms did him in.
"We're a much better defense with him in there," Kittrell said. "We're hoping he stays healthy this year and can be an impact player."
3. Wenatchee Panthers
-- 2007 recap: 8-2, 5-1 CBL 4A, tied for first; lost to Mead in regional playoffs.
-- Home field: Apple Bowl.
-- Coach: Scott Devereaux (5th year, 24-16).
-- Others to watch: TB J.Sealby; WR Harmon; QB Cooper Helm, soph. (6-1, 160); WR/DB Sam Chapin, sr. (5-10, 170); RB/DE Patrick Jordan, sr. (6-0, 190); K Jacob Allen, sr. (5-8, 165).
Wenatchee parlayed its victory over Richland into the No. 1 regional seed and its first league title in 28 years.
But the Panthers got a taste of what life would be like without league co-MVP Tyce Thomas in their regional loss to Mead. Thomas suffered a knee injury in the regular-season finale and sat out the Mead game.
Besides replacing Thomas' 1,453 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, Wenatchee also graduated all-league receiver Kris Carlson (48-791-10) and quarterback Derek Johnson (1,352 yards, 13 TDs).
Devereaux thinks he can adequately replace Thomas' production with Griffiths and Dorn (100 yards vs. Mead) splitting duties. Quarterback is another matter - Hoey and Helm have waged a pitched battle for the starting job, with neither having seized control of their opportunity.
"They're pretty much two peas in a pod," Devereaux said. "They're both kind of young, skinny kids who are heady with average arm strength. It'd be nice if one guy stood out, but right now they're really even. But we're not a team that throws it 30 times a game, so as long as they can manage the game well, I'll be happy."
Whoever finally wins the job will be well-protected thanks to bookend tackles Helton and Lynch, who both earned first-team all-league honors in helping the Panthers amass 386 yards per game.
That duo also anchors a stout run defense that allowed a league-best 89 yards per game. Beckley and Sealby take over for a pair of first-teamers at linebacker, and Sewell - a regional finalist in the 100 and 200 meters - adds a needed dimension to the secondary.
"He's the biggest recruit we've had in a long time," Devereaux said. "He's the fastest kid in the school. For a first-year player, he could be a first-team all-conference guy."
4. Pasco Bulldogs
-- 2007 recap: 3-7, 2-4 CBL 4A, fifth.
-- Home field: Edgar Brown Stadium.
-- Coach: Steve Graff (12th year, 106-25).
-- Last league title: 2006.
Projected starters (returners in bold)
-- Others to watch: DE Price; OL Keeton; TE Ellsworth; DB Tyler Nelson, sr. (5-7, 155); C Patrick Sullivan, soph. (5-10, 180); LB Bevin Whitby, jr. (6-2, 185); QB Luc Graff, soph. (6-0, 175); OL/DL Cameron Garza, sr. (6-0, 240); TE/DE Andrew Fox, sr. (6-3, 215); OL Jose Guzman, jr. (6-1, 240).
Graff had suffered through only one losing season during his time at Pasco before last year - in 1999, when the Bulldogs went 4-5. The following year, Pasco ran the table and won the 4A state title.
No one is predicting a similar finish this time around, but the Bulldogs should be much improved, and it all started with a better attitude in the offseason.
"It all starts in the weight room," Graff said. "We didn't do a good job in the offseason last year, and it carried over into the season. We took care of that this summer.
"We had a good camp. We're optimistic. Hopefully, they realize now what it takes. It's not done in August. It's done in the summertime."
The Bulldogs will run most of their plays out of the shotgun, but don't expect them to go all pass-happy - not with Wilborn, who ran for 1,150 yards and 10 touchdowns, in the backfield.
In fact, Graff moved Andrew back behind center after using him at receiver toward the end of last season with an eye toward using a spread-option attack more this year.
"By putting Carlin back at QB, he'll be more of a threat running the ball than passing it," Graff said. "You'll have to account for him running the ball."
The receiving corps was especially hurt by graduation - four of the top five pass catchers are gone, with Wilborn's 18 catches the most of anyone returning.
The tweaking continues on the defensive side of the ball, where the Bulldogs allowed 280 yards and 25.9 points per game - the most in the Graff era.
Oh, the scheme will still be the same 4-3 cover-2 Graff's teams are known for, but personnel changes include moving Ellsworth into the middle and a pair of freshmen getting thrown into the deep end right away.
"Jacob is better suited to play inside," Graff said. "We have some other guys who can play in space better."
One of them is Downing, who projects to open the season at one outside linebacker spot along with another first-year starter in Daniels.
Another freshman who is expected to start is Zamora, part of a fleet group along with Avery, a regional finalist in the 100 and 200, and Andrew, who had three interceptions.
Bulldogs fans hope the youngsters turn out as well as Vincent, who moved into the starting lineup at midseason and ended up earning all-league honorable mention. He bolsters a veteran line that returns all four starters.
5. Kennewick Lions
-- 2007 recap: 9-3, 5-1 CBL 3A, second; lost in state quarterfinals to Skyline.
-- Home field: Lampson Stadium.
-- Coach: Bill Templeton (7th year, 27-35).
-- Last league title: 1991.
-- Others to watch: WR/DB Jose Calderon, sr. (5-8, 150); OL/DL Tyler Zaback, jr. (6-5, 215); TE/DL Tyler Morfin, soph. (6-4, 230); RB/LB Zack Albertin, soph. (6-1, 175).
The Lions have been down this road before. In 2004, they reached the postseason for the first time in 11 years, led largely by a senior class groomed for the occasion.
The following year, the Lions finished 4-6. Then came the steady climb - a regional berth in 2006, where they lost to Kamiakin in overtime, followed by last year's quarterfinal finish with their best record since 1992, when they won 10 games and last reached the quarters.
Like 2004, Kennewick's success was built largely upon a talented senior class led by league MVP Robbie Mitchell and including the likes of unanimous all-leaguers QB Jarrod Mendenhall, DL Danny Engel and LB Ruben Espinoza.
How well the youngsters of a year ago step into those shoes will determine whether the Lions rebuild or reload.
"We could be really, really good, or we could be middle of the pack," Templeton said. "The kids had a great offseason, but we're going to have to make plays on the field."
Brown, who attempted seven passes in relief of Mendenhall, takes over at quarterback. Templeton likes his calm demeanor.
"He doesn't get emotionally high or low," Templeton said. "Early in the year, we'll have to make sure our play-calling in his realm of comfort, but he's got a good arm."
Hooper saw quite a bit of playing time at running back when Espinoza went down at midseason and was the team's second-leading rusher. "He's a real tough runner, and the amount of carries he gets is going to go up," Templeton said. "He's going to have to be durable."
Hanson is the team's top returning receiver with 10 catches. Tripp will be relied upon more on offense this year, while Loftus saw some playing time in the postseason.
The offensive line is anchored by Wilke, an all-league selection, but around him are a quartet who have plenty of heft - except on their resumés.
"I feel like our lines will be as physical and athletic as we've had here," Templeton said. "They need to get the job done so we can make plays behind them."
Tripp (eight tackles for loss, six sacks) emerged as a force on the defensive line a year ago, while Hangartner (47 tackles, five sacks) moves into a full-time starting role.
Hanson led the secondary with 45 tackles and three interceptions. Loomis is a playmaker on the blitz (two sacks, two fumble recoveries).
6. Davis Pirates
-- 2007 recap: 0-10, 0-6 CBL 4A, seventh.
-- Home field: Zaepfel Stadium.
-- Coach: Rick Clark (3rd year, 1-19).
-- Last league title: Never.
-- Last playoff berth: Never.
Oct. 12, 2001. Davis 31, Kennewick 14.
That's the last time the Pirates were on the winning end of a league contest.
They take a 49-game league losing streak into a Week 2 game at Pasco, but Clark sees a glimmer of hope on the horizon. His freshman team went 9-1 a year ago, and while no one from that team projects to start now, by midseason, that could change.
"We're finally turning the corner attitude-wise and commitment-wise," he said. "I'm happy with the way things have gone. We should be more competitive this year."
Hata earned honorable mention at receiver after catching a team-high 20 passes, but he moved to quarterback for the final two games and did an adequate job (16-of-36, 253 yards, two TDs, no interceptions).
He'll get plenty of action this year as Clark vowed to throw the ball at least two-thirds of the time.
"We're going to spread things out and throw the hell out of the ball," he said. "We've got some good backs, but we have some very good young receivers."
Vinsant is Clark's best hope for improving a defense that allowed a league-worst 437 yards and 47 points per game.
7. Sunnyside Grizzlies
-- 2007 recap: 5-5, 2-4 CBL 3A, tied for fourth; lost in mini-playoff for final regional berth.
-- Home field: Clem Senn Field.
-- Coach: Mark Marro (7th year, 16-44).
-- Last league title: 1981.
-- Last playoff berth: 2003.
-- Others to watch: DL Caleb Gomez, jr. (5-7, 155); QB Michael Rodriguez, sr. (6-0, 170); QB Frankie Ochoa, soph. (6-1, 180).
Old Mother Hubbard has nothing on Sunnyside when it comes to bare cupboards.
The Grizzlies return only one starter on either side of the ball - Graff, who is the nephew of Pasco coach Steve Graff and will anchor a decent-sized offensive line.
Their top five rushers of a year ago? Gone.
Their top returning receiver? That would be Graff (1 catch, minus-2 yards).
No one on the roster has thrown a varsity pass.
But Marro doesn't sound like a defeated man.
"We know we will take our lumps," he said. "But we are where we were three years ago, when we had a group of sophomores that came up together and had success last year."
Marro also was enjoying the three-way battle for the starting quarterback job. Daley, the son of former coach and current AD Bill Daley, was winning it a week before the season opener, but it's close enough that all three will see action in that first game.
"Michael has the strongest arm, and Andrew is the smartest of the three," Marro said. "Frankie will probably end up being the JV quarterback."
Almeida, whom Marro calls "the strongest kid in our school," figures to be the feature back in a trio that includes Saldana (whose four carries are tops among returning players) and Sanchez, who ran on the Grizzlies' regional 4x400 relay team.
Esqueda, out for football for the first time, is another player who gives Marro hope for the future. "He's a soccer and basketball kid, and his athleticism stands out," Marro said.