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Preparing for football

Many area teams rebuilding this year after losing seniors

Chuck Noll, the legendary coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, had a definite opinion on football wisdom.

“Some coaches pray for wisdom,” he said. “I pray for 260-pound tackles. They’ll give me plenty of wisdom.”

Four Super Bowl victories underpin that wisdom.

But what happens when a football coach doesn’t have a brace of 260-pound tackles?

That’s when you chuck wisdom and get clever.

Central Valley High School football coach Rick Giampietri took a look at his returning roster and realized he was going to have to improvise if he was going to have a working offensive line blocking for a fleet of returning skill players in blue and white.

So he took a player from here, a player from there and, voila, he found an offensive line that the Bears will unveil Friday at Joe Albi Stadium against Rogers in the 5:30 p.m. opener.

“We had to move some kids around to fill those positions,” he said. “We had Colby Davis at center and Joel Jordan at left tackle. We found a couple sophomores who have kind of broken into it. One of them, Billy Rowell, was a tight end as a freshman. Scottie Johnson was a tight end for us last year.

“We had this group together for our team camp down at the University of Idaho, so they’ve had a chance to work together and I think they’re going to be OK.”

Similar stories have played out across the Spokane Valley as teams prepare to open the 2008-09 football season.

“We had a very competitive league last year and I think most teams were pretty senior-dominated,” University coach Mike Ganey said. “I think most teams are going to have to rebuild this year.”

Ganey’s Titans open the season Friday at home, hosting Shadle. East Valley opens at home against Gonzaga Prep at 7 p.m. West Valley has a rematch with the team that knocked it out of the Class 2A state playoffs last fall when it plays host to Ephrata. Freeman has an extra week before opening the season. The Scotties travel to Ritzville for a jamboree Friday.

Central Valley Bears

“I think this is probably the fastest team as far as having quicks on the field that we’ve had here,” Giampietri said. “We have a lot of team speed, especially in the secondary. But overall, we’re just faster as an entire group. Our line is going to be quick.”

Seniors Michael Williams and Brad Whitley, half of the Bears’ state championship 4x400 relay team last spring, start in the secondary. Whitley was an all-GSL first team defensive back a year ago. Senior J.C. Agen, at 6-foot-4, brings speed to the free safety position and senior Greg Barnes went from football camp to the national Junior Olympics track meet as a long jumper.

All double over as receivers, with Barnes sharing time at tight end with Evander Cobbs, who starts at defensive end.

Senior Blake Bledsoe returns as the team’s starting quarterback, with three strong running backs lining up behind him.

Senior Jeff Danielson is a powerful fullback with a 5-10, 190-pound frame and classmate Taylor Price is a 200-pounder at tailback. Giampietri’s grandson, Tyler Simmet, saw time at running back a year ago as a 5-7, 140-pound junior.

“He’s really bulked up this year and will see a lot of time at running back,” the coach said. “He’s a good 165 pounds this year. He spent a lot of time in the weight room this summer.”

On defense, the job of replacing three-year starter Tyler Cochran at middle linebacker falls to Cody Stratton.

“I think we took things a little bit for granted with Cochran there the last few years,” Giampietri said. “Cody is doing a good job there for us and I think we’re going to be fine.”

Senior Kyle Riordan starts at outside linebacker, but Giampietri calls his defensive front “our project this year.”

Cobbs has great speed at defensive end, and at 6-3 should complicate an opponent’s passing game. Senior David Butler, a backup quarterback, will see time at defensive end.

East Valley Knights

If coach Adam Fisher could wish for one thing this season, it would be for a massive outbreak of good health.

“The one thing we can’t survive is a batch of injuries,” Fisher said. “We have a good group of starters, but our depth is pretty thin. We start losing people and we’re going to be in trouble.”

Fisher is excited about his two outside linebackers, seniors Jakob Pugsley and Dakota Lawson.

“Those two are easily the best linebacker tandem we’ve had in my nine years here,” Fisher said. “They’re both next-level players – they will go on and play college football somewhere. They’re arguably the two best linebackers in the league and, I think, in the state.

“Best of all, they’re the kind of players who make everyone around them better.”

Defensive tackle Marty Kulisek also has the coach excited.

“He’s a load in there and he’s a coach on the field for us as a defensive lineman,” Fisher said. “He understands the game of football better than any other defensive lineman we’ve had in my time here. You don’t see that in a lineman very often. He’s a 315-pound load in there that teams are going to have to double-team. Our guys really don’t like going up against him in practice.”

Senior track standout Nick Bellomy has great speed at safety and starts at tailback, and Fisher plans on using his starting cornerbacks strictly on defense to keep them on the field.

Senior Ike Falk has bided his time and finally gets the chance to start at quarterback. Falk backed up starter Lonnie Quirk a year ago.

Pugsley starts at fullback, where he runs a 4.53 40-yard dash. Tailback Bellomy is just a shade slower, turning in a 4.57.

Lawson will start at wide receiver, and Fisher plans on getting the ball to him frequently.

“He’s one of those players who just makes plays,” Fisher said. “We’re going to be keeping track and doing whatever we can to get him the ball. We’ll move him around, we’ll even put him in the backfield and let him carry the ball.”

A year ago the Knights recruited senior basketball standout Danny Marshall to play wide receiver, giving the team a 6-6 target. This year, Aaron Awbry brings that same dimension to the passing attack at 6-5.

“We’re still going to be primarily a running team, but we still plan on throwing the ball when we have to,” Fisher said. “Ike has a good, strong arm and we have some good receivers for him to throw to.”

The offensive line is a question mark going into the season opener.

Nate Guthrie, a 6-foot, 200-pounder, is a three-year starter on the line and will eventually settle back into his usual left guard position when the Knights get a few injured linemen back to health. Junior Joey Meade moved into a starting line spot at midseason a year ago.

University Titans

The Titans lost 15 starters from a year ago, including a three-year starter at quarterback. Still, Ganey has confidence in the talent he has.

“We have a good group of dedicated kids who have put in their time in the weight room, they did our team camp and have done the things we’ve needed them to do,” he said.

Junior Tony Tabish takes over for the graduated three-sport standout Danny Jordan at quarterback.

“He’s another one of those three-sport athletes,” Ganey said. “He’s dedicated himself to getting ready for this season.”

Junior John Wright will start at running back, running behind a smaller offensive line than the Titans boasted a year ago.

“We don’t have the same kind of size we had last year,” Ganey said. “We still have pretty good size, but this year we’re going to have to rely more on our quickness.”

Dylan Peters (6-0, 250) returns to start at center to anchor the senior line. Guards Jake Wagner (5-11, 220), Davone Johnson (5-9, 190) and Nick Wesselman (6-0. 225) will rotate at guard while Adam Eastburg (6-0, 220) and Danny Kroetch (6-0, 250) will play tackle.

Junior Aaron Blaska will start at tight end while senior Elliot Lindley heads a young receiving corps.

Seniors Derrick Hunter (5-10, 230), Lawrence Smith (6-0, 190) and Kroetch will rotate at defensive tackle while Marques Johnson (6-1, 190) starts at end.

A trio of experienced seniors, Jon Nelson, Mike Boyle and Andrew Fairbanks, start at linebacker.

“We have a good group of seniors,” Ganey said. “My five captains, Nelson, Peters, Lindley, Boyle and Kroetch, have all gone out of their way to make the young guys just coming into the program feel welcome and help bring them up to speed. Other seniors have followed their lead. We need that.

“We have 130 kids in the program and have 50 freshmen to get acclimated.”

West Valley Eagles

Coach Craig Whitney is running out of gear.

The Class 2A Eagles issued 110 sets of football gear to start the season.

“We had three kids quit after the start of practice,” he said. “But we got five more players turn out, so we’re at 112 kids.

“You always have extra sets of gear in all the different sizes, but we’ve given it all out.”

Coming off a loss to Ephrata in the state Class 2A tournament play-in game, the Eagles have a buzz of excitement coursing through the program.

In addition to seven paid coaches on staff, the team has another six volunteers helping out.

“We have people investing in our program,” Whitney said. “We have parents really stepping up and helping to organize things for us – things like team dinners. That all helps.”

On the field, the Eagles have good depth and will have a solid, if not overly big, offensive line. Seniors Shea Hansen (5-11, 185), Cody Rollins (6-3, 200) and Joey McCollum (6-1, 175) will anchor the unit.

Junior quarterback Drew Clausen (5-10, 155) will start the first varsity game of his career Friday.

“Drew got a chance to play a little bit for us last year,” Whitney said. “In fact, we’d planned on using him against Ephrata in the playoff game, but in his last game with the junior varsity he sprained his ankle pretty bad and he was on injured reserve.

“He’s done a nice job of leading us. He’s made himself stronger and he’s worked hard at learning to make smart decisions. He’s done a good job – he’s like a point guard. He understands that his job is to distribute the ball.”

The running game will be manned by committee, the coach said. Sophomore Tyler Poldervart (6-0, 195), junior Diondre Ross (5-7, 150), and seniors Michael Nelson (5-10, 175) and Brian Haffner (5-11, 170) all will carry the ball.

“The great thing about this team is that everyone gets along really well,” Whitney said. “Everyone likes each other. They all like hanging out with each other.”

Freeman Scotties

For a change, Freeman coach Jim Wood will have a chance to evaluate his players before he heads into the Northeast A League season.

With the loss of Colfax to the Northeast B 11 league, the NEA opted to drop its home-and-away format, giving teams the chance to play a nonleague schedule.

“We’ll play three nonleague games before we have to play our first league game,” he said. “We only have three home games this year, though. We had to go on the road to get some of those non-league games. Next year we’ll have a bunch more home games.”

The Scotties have 60 players out, with just five returning starters or part-time starters back on either side of the ball. Wood will get a good look at most of them at Friday’s jamboree.

The goal for the jamboree is to get the offensive line to work together.

“You really want to see them getting off the ball and getting into the blocking assignments,” he said. “We’re going to be running our base offense. We’re not trying to fool anyone.

“That’s the thing about high school football. When you get right down to it, every year is a rebuilding year.”

Senior Luke Mathews returns to start at quarterback. Senior Chris Miller returns at both wide receiver and at linebacker after starting at safety a year ago.

Senior Tanner Laib will get a good deal of playing time at tailback, where he’s looked strong.