Next up was a swing north on Tuesday to watch Mead, Mt. Spokane, Rogers and North Central and the reminder that district rival Panthers and Wildcats open their seasons against each other. Last year was a one-touchdown thriller won by Mead, but the team ultimately was victim of a rugged 4A slate. Mt. Spokane rallied in the second half the season, beat Hanford in a wild playoff game that earned them a berth in 3A state. Both should contend again
Rogers ended a long losing streak, winning twice last year, and seeks to build on that. The Indians have a new coach, Brian Gardner, and clean slate after going winless last year.
Mead - Like most GSL teams, this one is a promising puzzle with pieces to find. Coach Sean Carty said it is the best group skill position-wise that he has had both on offense and defense. Still, the Panthers are seeking a quarterback - three are in the mix - who can get the ball to veteran receivers, and are thin in the line, uncharacteristic in that program. During Tuesday's practice, however, the blockers had their moments, springing small, but speedy backs free. Carty said an extensive conditioning program has the team in shape. "They are the best tractor tire flippers around," he said light-heartedly. "I don't know if that means they can play football." I got a little way-laid in my observations while talking with former Panthers lineman Chris Elo (Class of '99) and Jean-Robert Bortulus, a Frenchman of Italian and Egyptian descent. They coach and Elo plays on a regional club football team in France and were here to pick up pointers.
Mt. Spokane - With nearly everyone back from a year ago, including multi-faceted back Colten Williams, quarterback Travis Ward, good receivers and various linemen who missed games last year to injury and suspect decision making, there is reason for optimism. "We had five losses and all were games we had a realistic shot to win," said coach Mike McLaughlin following a practice that included individual work and a brief team competition that went smoothly. The Wildcats not only open against the Panthers, but face Ferris, University and Lewis and Clark in the first six weeks of the season.
Rogers - The numbers aren't what coach Matt Miethe set out to build, but in part it is by design. Miethe worked the Pirates hard and has surrounded himself with those committed to being football players. With the graduation of quarterback Jake Partridge and rusher Cody Peterson, he estimates over 90 percent of his offensive production went with them. But Jordan Burns and Justin Muessy will replace them and at practice there were flashes of speed from players that include three on the state 400 meter relay placers. The line is younger and smaller, but said Miethe, "we expect to win some games and be competitive in all of them."
North Central - Players have changed positions, and conditioned hard, They want to put behind them a season in which the Indians gave up 49 points per game and were often behind by three touchdowns after a quarter. They were part of the personal trainer experience this summer, something more and more GSL teams do. "For us it was about not being tired after the third snap of the game," said Gardner. "We're starting fresh and starting over." Junior Zac Hill takes over at quarterback. A number of regulars return, including Aaron Allie who switches to running back. The line is anchored by 6-foot-5, 260-pound state wrestling placer Steven Taylor. As for new coach Gardner? "There's a lot more responsibility. It's hectic, but it's good."
Back on the road today to see a couple more teams. I'll finish up my travels on Thursday at Gonzaga Prep's scrimmage.