Richland Bombers football coach Mike Neidhold, like most of his Mid-Columbia Conference counterparts, would love to fly under the radar this season while fans and news organizations focus on Chiawana and Kamiakin.
He could have a problem with that, however. His team might be a little too good in 2014.
A year after reaching the Class 4A state quarterfinals, the Bombers could be in for an even bigger year.
With an emphasis on big.
“I’ve been around here for 1,000 years. We’ve had big guys here but never five of them across the line,” Neidhold said of his monstrous offensive front, which averages 6-feet-4 inches tall and 270 pounds. “When they’re that big and that athletic, they should be able to block.”
That’s very good news for running back Josh Phillips, who should get the lion’s share of the carries after Richland’s running-back-by-committee approach in 2013.
“They make you look good,” Phillips said of Will Fisher, Hunter Grade, Parker Irwin, Dontae Powell and Dante Tyler up front. “It feels like every time I’m out there, I’m scoring touchdowns.”
But that’s not all the Bombers have going for them this season.
After three solid years from quarterback Zach Whitby, senior Taylor O’Toole will get a shot running the offense. Actually, he got some time to shine last season, orchestrating a 50-7 midseason win over Lewiston. He not only started the game, but he completed 17 of 35 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown.
“He’ll tell you he’s not very athletic, but he’s a work-ethic guy. There’s no work in our program that’s too small for him to do,” Neidhold said. “He’s really taken to (Richland assistant and former Prosser coaching legend) Tom Moore, and Tom has done a great job teaching him football. (Taylor) and Tom talk constantly about situations.”
O’Toole is looking forward to getting his snaps when the Bombers open the season on Sept. 5 at Gonzaga Prep.
“I’m just excited to get out and play. I think we’ll be more of a pocket-passing offense, because Zach was a quicker quarterback,” O’Toole said. “Our offensive line is built to keep me in the pocket.”
Neidhold is excited about the defense, too, which lost several key players but gained a few potential playmakers, too. One in particular is defensive end Chad Miller, a key reserve during the Richland basketball team’s run to the Class 4A championship game last winter.
“He’s 6-3, 220, and looks like he’s been working out his whole life,” Neidhold said. “I told our defensive staff, ‘Don’t coach him. Please don’t screw him up.’
“He’s a holy terror. Just a natural defensive end.”
Miller is surrounded by a lot of returning talent, hungry for a chance to give Richland its first league title since 2008. Lakota Wills, a two-way starter at tight end and middle linebacker, is eager to see how much the underclassmen will contribute on defense.
“We did lose a lot of seniors who were pretty vital, but the younger kids have stepped in and are making a big difference,” Wills said. “Especially in the secondary, where we lost Jesse Malone. But Griffey March stepped in there. Our secondary should be pretty good.”
Wills is part of an impressive front seven on defense that includes defensive ends Miller and Mason Jackson, a second-team all-MCC pick in 2013; tackles Fisher and Grade and middle linebacker Brecken Galliher.
Neidhold likes the fact that they have already faced an array of offensive styles during offseason scrimmages and camps, which should prepare the Bombers for anything they might face this year.
“We played option teams that will hit you in the mouth and a couple of spread teams. (Another team) ran a no-huddle, dynamic offense,” he said. “Some of our young kids had to grow up. There’s players out there who are mean and angry. They realized if they don’t pay attention, they’ll make my head turn around.”
Overall, Neidhold hopes Richland will be a player when it comes down to the end. But he’s willing to let his team’s play do the talking.
“If we can run it, play some defense and put some pressure on the other team’s offense we might have a chance to win a game or two,” he said.
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; email@example.com