Establishing a rushing attack is always a top priority for the Kennewick High School football team, and with the top two rushers and a stable of starters on the offensive line returning, 2016 could be the year of the ground-and-pound for the Lions.
“As long as I’ve been here, we’ve tried to run the ball first,” Kennewick coach Bill Templeton said. “The kids are getting pretty good at it. But like anything, you’ve just got to improve every day.”
Kennewick’s 6-foot-2, 300-pound left tackle, Brendon Villasenor, figures to anchor the offense as a fourth-year starter in the trenches. With returning senior starters Dion Kutzke (center) and Josh Sullins, as well as senior transfer James Cozad — who played outside linebacker for Sumner High School last season — the Lions figure to be one of the most physical teams in the Mid-Columbia Conference at the line of scrimmage.
“We imposed our will on teams last year, so I feel like we’ll keep doing the same thing,” said Villasenor, a second-team all-MCC pick who also starts on the defensive line. “That will just get the ball moving.”
Senior running back Ronny Loomis and junior Isaac Ruiz hope to take advantage of the Lions’ experience up front after leading the team in rushing last season by combining for more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. Templeton said the duo offers a nice one-two punch in the backfield, with Ruiz typically bruising opposing front sevens with his north-and-south running style, and Loomis — who goes at 6-2, 186 — doing most of his damage outside the tackles.
“(Ruiz) will get the hard yards for us,” Templeton said. “Ronny Loomis reminds me a lot of (former Seahawk) Chris Warren — tall, lanky, fast, smooth. He can be real dynamic.”
Keeping it rolling
The Lions had a rough go in the MCC last season, barely claiming the second Class 3A playoff spot with a 3-4 conference record. However, something clicked once the postseason started. The Lions won three consecutive loser-out games before eventually falling to Lakes in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
Kennewick will try to keep that momentum moving into the beginning of the season and beat up on an MCC 3A division that has only three teams, with Hanford moving up to the 4A classification.
“We recognize what we were able to do last season, and we still have a lot of those players that helped make that happen,” Villasenor said. “So we hope we can keep that momentum going and just keep working hard.”
The Lions will get an early litmus test when they travel to Prosser High School to take on the defending Class 2A state champion Mustangs for their Week 1 matchup.
Second-team all-MCC wideout Blake Loftus, who was second in the conference in receiving last year, will return as Kennewick’s top pass-catcher. Sophomore AJ Templeton will be throwing to Loftus in Week 1 against Prosser as he will get the start under center, but Bill Templeton said fellow sophomore Tim Gee is still in the mix to get playing time at quarterback. ... Senior Alejandro Manzano, who played outside linebacker last season, will make his first start on Kennewick’s offensive line against Prosser. ... Senior Jared Gray had four interceptions last season and will be the Lions’ starting free safety for the third consecutive season. ... DJ Dyer, the 2015 MCC offensive lineman of the year, will play for Eastern Washington University this season, while former quarterback Dillon Plew will take his talents to the baseball diamond for Washington State University. The Lions are also looking to replace last season’s leader in all-purpose yards and touchdowns, Raymond Gutierrez.
Break it down
2015: 6-6 overall, 3-4 MCC (2nd in 3A, 4th overall).
MCC rankings: Offense fifth (297 ypg); defense sixth (360.8).
Top stat returners: Rushing — Ronny Loomis 113-572, 7 TDs; Isaac Ruiz 105-539, 4 TDs. Receiving — Blake Loftus 42-460, 3 TDs. Kickoff Returns — Keyshawn Owens 18-394.
Key Games: Sept. 2, at Prosser; Oct. 13, vs. Kamiakin; Oct. 20 vs. Southridge.