Columbia Basin Big Nine Cascade Division outlook
1. Richland Bombers
-- 2007 recap: 7-3, 5-1 CBL 4A, tied for first; lost in regional playoffs to eventual state champion Lewis & Clark.
-- Home field: Fran Rish Stadium.
-- Coach: Mike Neidhold (1st year).
-- Others to watch: DE C.Christensen; RB Zorich; WR Hay; QB Hayden Hilty, jr. (6-1, 160); RB/CB Hunter Olveda, sr. (5-10, 170); RB Paul Sisk, sr. (5-9, 190); TE Mitch Atwell, soph. (6-0, 170); TE Garrett Gallinger, jr. (6-1, 200); WR/CB Jason Sisk, soph. (5-10, 150); DL Cody Flynn, soph. (5-10, 200); DE Garrett Luzzo, sr. (6-1, 190).
The Bombers made it back to the playoffs last season after a four-year absence under coach Rick Redden, who then took a teaching job in China, handing the reins to longtime assistant Neidhold.
It should be a smooth transition, with a solid coaching staff leading a roster that appears solid at 21 positions.
It's that 22nd position, though, that will make or break Richland's season.
Quarterback was the Bombers' bugaboo for the first half of last season until Jake Haworth became eligible, seized the starting job and led Richland on a four-game winning streak that culminated with a share of its first league title in nine years.
Haworth has graduated, and Brett Jacobs - who started at quarterback last year before suffering an ankle injury in Week 4 - moves to receiver.
That means the quarterback job is again up for grabs. Hayes is the starter for now thanks to solid work in the offseason, but Hilty - who started two games at midseason last year - is hot on his heels and could take the job at any time.
"When Hayden's mechanics are sound, he's a real talented kid. But sometimes, he seems to take a play or two off," Neidhold said. "I'd love to see Hayden do well."
Whoever ends up behind center will be running an attack that is minus league rushing champion Marcelino Morales and adds a healthy dose of shotgun to the playbook.
Job one for the new quarterback - get the ball in the hands of Rowe, who Neidhold felt was underutilized a year ago - only 28 catches with a 21.3-yard average.
"He's a special athlete that comes along only every once in a while," Neidhold said. "He's that Richland athlete who may be a little undersized but is a competitor. We've got to get the ball to Jamison, including in the running game."
With Morales gone to graduation, the Bombers will rotate several running backs into the mix, although Neidhold is especially high on McKinney, who wowed the staff in spring ball.
"We didn't know he was that big or fast," Neidhold said. "He's a big, strong kid, but he's just a pup."
The offensive line returns three starters, none of whom will be a star but as a group "is as good a group as we've had at Richland," Neidhold said. "I just love their mentality, their competitiveness."
Rowe, the league's Defensive MVP a year ago with 57 tackles and five interceptions, and Girgis are the returning stars of a defense that posted four shutouts a year ago and led the league, allowing just 235.5 yards per game.
Girgis had a breakout year as a junior with 52 tackles, including 12 for loss, along with five sacks and 14 hurries. He has drawn interest from Portland State and Western Washington.
"He's the heart of our defensive and offensive lines," Neidhold said. "He hit a growth spurt and started to assert himself, and his play elevated. He's a hard-charging kid and an unbelievably hard worker."
2. Eisenhower cadets
-- 2007 recap: 7-3, 4-2 CBL 4A, tied for third.
-- Home field: Zaepfel Stadium.
-- Coach: Dan Eyman (7th year, 30-29).
-- Last league title: 1992.
-- Last playoff berth: 2006.
-- Others to watch: LB Palachuk; DE Aberle; DL Kinzel; DB A.Martinez; WR Hernandez; RB/LB Issac Sarate, jr. (6-0, 205); WR/DB James Akers, jr. (6-0, 180); TE/DL Ryan Watson, jr. (6-0, 195).
The Cadets narrowly missed out on back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in school history, losing out to Moses Lake on a tiebreaker for the final regional berth.
Their chances of ending a 16-year title drought hinge on Elmo, the division's top dual-threat quarterback, and a defense that returns nine starters but must improve upon the 323.5 yards per game allowed a year ago.
Elmo is among the top 20 recruits in the state - Rivals.com rates him as a mid-major Division I recruit, where he projects as either a tight end, outside linebacker or safety - who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and has a strong arm.
With his size, he might not be the prototypical spread-option quarterback, but Eyman wants Elmo to handle the ball on every play.
"The first thing that jumps out at you is how athletic he is," Eyman said. "In 20-plus years, he's the best athlete I've coached."
With Elmo's two favorite targets (Donovan Beath and Jordan Elmo, 33 catches each) graduated, expect Gaut to have a big season after catching only two passes a year ago.
"I think Jordan is going to have a great year as a slot receiver," Eyman said. "He's got good technique, good hands, and cuts on a dime. He's a kid that not a lot of people have heard about who's going to make some noise."
Hewitt is the only newcomer on both the offensive and defensive lines, but Eyman already calls him "our best lineman. He'll be an all-league kid and a leader on both sides of the ball."
3. Kamiakin Braves
-- 2007 recap: 10-1, 6-0 CBL 3A, first; lost in first round of state playoffs to Southridge.
-- Home field: Lampson Stadium.
-- Coach: Craig Beverlin (25th year,178-64-1).
-- Others to watch: OT Dakota Anderson, jr. (6-1, 230); DE Tanner Meier, soph. (6-3, 180); DT Kris Bragg, jr. (6-3, 195); DB Trey Ralston-Loera, jr. (5-10, 170); LB J.C. DuPaquier, sr. (5-10, 170); QB/WR Joey Jansen, soph. (5-9, 145); RB Kyle Miller, jr. (5-8, 175); DT Sam Kirk, jr. (6-0, 210); LB Trevor Powers, soph. (6-0, 195).
The Braves went 21-3 the past two years, but their run ended suddenly in the first round of the state playoffs at the hands of intracity rival Southridge.
They built their recent success upon the foundation of a suffocating defense (13 shutouts over two years) and special teams - specifically kicker Stephen Gilbert, now at Western Washington.
Beverlin is pinning his hopes of staying in the CBBN's top echelon on a complete 180. The Braves are hitching their wagon to the left arm of Hutchison, who showed flashes in limited playing time at the end of last season but will be counted on to carry the offensive load this year.
"We're planning on throwing the ball a lot more than we have," said Beverlin, whose team attempted only 118 passes last season. "Corey has got the ability to stretch the field. He's got a big arm and can throw the deep ball accurately."
The cast surrounding him has little experience on the big stage, but Beverlin hopes their time as understudies was enough preparation.
"We've got a good-looking ballclub, but we've got inexperienced kids at key positions," he said. "Hopefully, we won't stub our toe too much early."
The offensive line, for instance, has four newcomers flanking all-league center Clement.
White was part of a freshman team that went 10-0 and dominated its opposition like few have in CBBN history. "He's super-exciting," Beverlin said. "He was the fastest freshman in the league in track."
Beverlin also hopes to get a full season out of Knapp, who can play several positions but had his junior season derailed by a broken foot and later a severe ankle sprain.
"He's just a big-time playmaker, no matter where he lines up on the field," Beverlin said. "He's a college athlete if he can just stay healthy. He needs to get over the injury jinx."
The defense lost several big-time playmakers from a unit that posted five straight shutouts to open the season and allowed just 183.9 yards per game, including Defensive MVP Maxx Garrett (54 tackles for loss at linebacker) and unanimous all-leaguers Kyle Roberts (DL), Jason Jones (LB) and J.T. Gardner (eight interceptions at cornerback).
White and Moore, a soccer standout, add speed to the secondary. What worries Beverlin is a front line that lacks anyone who weighs 200 pounds.
"Everyone knows the way to attack us this year is to run right at us," he said. "We don't have a lot of lead in our pants. But I'll take speed over size every day."
4 Hanford Falcons
-- 2007 recap: 3-7, 2-4 CBL 3A, tied for fourth; lost to Kamiakin in regional playoffs.
-- Home field: Fran Rish Stadium.
-- Coach: Rob Oram (4th year, 9-21).
-- Last league title: 1999.
-- Others to watch: LB J.Clements; OL Suazo; OL Rueter; QB Brenton Griffin, jr. (6-2, 180); DL Chance Beebe, sr. (6-0, 200); DL Chris Tenney, soph. (6-2, 200); DL David Lowe, soph. (6-1, 260); DB Dylan Dikes, jr. (5-9, 150); RB/DB Shawn VanDeMark, jr. (5-8, 160); WR/DB Pete Zachara, jr. (6-2, 180); DB Brian Cherwien, sr. (5-9, 170); WR Brad Elzie, sr. (5-7, 140); OL Jeff Gaunt, sr. (6-0, 295).
Oram has slowly rebuilt the program, even though the record might not reflect the improvement.
For the third straight year, the Falcons went 3-7, but included in that was a double-overtime loss to Southridge, a seven-point loss to Moses Lake and their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.
This is the year that the Falcons think they can break through, perhaps post their first winning record since 2002 and qualify for state for the first time since 1993.
The year got off to an inauspicious start with the loss of starting guard Jeff Gaunt, a 6-foot, 295-pound senior who suffered a torn ACL just before the start of fall camp.
It's caused some shuffling on the offensive line, which already was having to replace three starters and saw the move of Craig from left guard to center.
"We have some talented players on the line, but many of them are inexperienced," Oram said.
If they can open some cracks, the Falcons have the skill players to exploit them to full benefit.
Winsor is a top talent, getting looks from Oregon State, WSU, Boise State, Utah and Brigham Young. He'll play linebacker at the next level - he was a unanimous all-league selection there - but this year he'll also flash his 11.3 speed in the 100 in the backfield.
"He's got great speed, but he's also very physical," Oram said. "As a sophomore, he was a track guy. Last year, he became a football player who also runs track. He represents our program very well."
While Winsor was a known quantity last year, Kyle Wagar was much more of a surprise, catching 30 passes (eight for touchdowns) and averaging 20 yards per catch despite missing half the season with mononucleosis.
Running the show will be Chalk, who took over the starting job late in the year when James Rogers was injured. He was raw, completing less than half his passes, but he has a strong arm - he was the ace of Hanford's pitching staff in the spring.
"He's obviously a talented athlete, but his best asset is his decision-making," Oram said.
Chalk also anchors an experienced secondary at safety, and Craig moves from tackle to middle linebacker, where he can be more of a playmaker.
But the Falcons' best defensive player may be Friesz, who also missed part of last season with mono and was unable to play as a sophomore.
"He may be the best athlete we have out here. I mean, have you ever heard of a kid playing defensive end and wide receiver?" Oram asked rhetorically. "If he plays like he did in the spring, he'll be awesome."
5. Walla Walla Blue Devils
-- 2007 recap: 2-8, 1-5 CBL 4A, sixth.
-- Home field: Borleske Stadium.
-- Coach: Mark Yonts (13th year, 76-52).
-- Last league title: 1999.
-- Last playoff berth: 2004.
-- Others to watch: WR Matt Staudenmaier, sr. (6-0, 155); OL Alec Hernandez, sr. (5-10, 255); WR/LB Bryan Clothier, sr. (6-1, 185); WR/DE Brandon Porter, jr. (6-1, 225).
The Blue Devils have taken their lumps the past few seasons, posting three straight losing seasons for the first time since going four in a row from 1990-93.
Their hopes of avoiding a fourth straight this year ride on a junior class whose arrival Yonts has eagerly awaited for some time.
"We're very excited about them. They're a good class," Yonts said. "We have a good blend of them and our seniors. They did take some lumps last year, but they got some seasoning and developed good chemistry. We expect a lot more from them this year."
Yonts implemented a spread-option attack several years ago, but a mismatch in personnel - mainly, having quarterbacks better suited to dropping back - has kept it from fully blossoming.
In Winston, Yonts now has the signalcaller to match the offense. Winston, who played quarterback in middle school and freshman ball, moves back behind center after playing wideout last fall (31 catches).
As anyone who watched Winston play basketball can attest, he is one of the best athletes in the league. His arm strength may be a question mark - he sat out spring ball because of a shoulder injury.
"This is the direction we've wanted to go, and now that we have the guy who can run it, there you go," Yonts said. "If you can get a guy that can run and throw, it's tough to defend."
Arias, with 22 catches and a 12.6-yard average, should be Winston's top target, and in Hessler, he has a bruising back to take pressure off the passing game.
But the best way to relieve the pressure on the offense will be to improve a defense that allowed 325 yards and 24 points per game.
"That's going to be the key for us," Yonts said. "I think we'll score points, but the issue is how well we defend. Pasco and Kamiakin were able to drive for winning field goals because we just couldn't hang on and make a stop."
6. West Valley Rams
-- 2007 recap: 2-8, 0-6 CBL 3A, seventh.
-- Home field: Clasen Field.
-- Coach: Scott Ditter (2nd year, 2-8).
-- Last league title: 2001.
-- Last playoff berth: 2006.
-- Others to watch: OLB Siekawitch; RB Kennedy; DE Overand; TE Hudson; RB Avila.
The bottom fell out for the Rams last year, when they went winless in league play and posted their worst overall record since 1999.
To turn things around, they'll need a big year from Wallace, who struggled last year as the Rams transitioned from the wing-T to Ditter's double-slot offense.
"Joe just has to control the game, make good throws, take care of the football," Ditter said. "He has a strong arm and can throw the ball well. He's come along pretty well."
Siekawitch bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore year to rush for a team-high 428 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Fuerst averaged almost 10 yards per carry and should be featured more this year.
Kennedy, an all-league defensive end the past two years, will be ineligible to start the season but could be back as early as Week 3.
7. Eastmont Wildcats
-- 2007 recap: 3-7, 2-4 CBL 3A, tied for fourth; lost in mini-playoff for final regional berth.
-- Home field: Wildcat Stadium.
-- Coach: Doug McGill (5th year, 12-28).
-- Last league title: 1985.
-- Last playoff berth: 2000.
-- Others to watch: WR Sanders; RB Biles; WR Kane; DT Haehl; CB Ramos; WR Malachi Roberts, jr. (6-3, 180); LB Ryan Pierce, soph. (6-0, 165); DT Brandon Callahan, soph. (5-8, 219).
An experienced group got the Wildcats to the brink of their first playoff appearance in seven years and only their second in 21 years.
Now, it's back to the drawing board with an inexperienced group.
"We had a lot of two-way starters last year," McGill said. "Our sophomore class did well last year as freshmen and they'll be pressing for playing time. You'll even see a few of them starting."
Two key players return from last year's team - Jordan Osborn, who threw for 1,263 yards but also was intercepted 13 times as a first-year starting quarterback, and Bitterman, an all-leaguer on both sides of the ball.
Osborn was hampered by a knee injury for much of the season, but with him fully healed, McGill is switching to a spread-option attack.
"Toward the end of the year, we opened things up, and this year will be the first year we've full-fledged adopted it," McGill said. "Jordan has good quicks and is a good athlete. He didn't show what we thought he would until the last three games."
In the new scheme, Bitterman moves from running back to tight end, but his calling card is on defense at linebacker.
"He's an extremely quick, tough young man," McGill said. "He just brings it every down. He doesn't stay blocked very long, and he's around the ball a lot."