Whitworth more than ready to take field

They’re later than most, but count the Whitworth Pirates among the college football teams to officially reach the stage where they’re tired of hitting each other.

While most programs, including 18 of the top 25 in the NCAA Division III rankings, have already teed it up, the Pirates open their 2008 season against La Verne (Calif.) today at noon at the Pine Bowl.

It’s probably somewhere in the football handbook that coaches always prefer squeezing in a few more practices, but even Whitworth coach John Tully acknowledged, “This last week seems like it’s taken forever to get here.”

One of the Pirates’ rewards for opening up so late? They’re the only game in town today and Idaho is the only other team in the region playing at home.

“It should be a nice day,” Tully said. “For people who haven’t come to the Pine Bowl before, one, I think they’ll enjoy the setting and two, the game-day atmosphere.”

Whitworth enjoyed its 2007 meeting with La Verne, winning 34-0. The Pirates’ defense dominated in the first half and the offense eventually warmed up to produce 284 rushing yards and 461 total yards. The Leopards, who finished 1-8 last year, return five starters on offense, but they’re breaking in new starters at quarterback and running back.

La Verne lost its first seven games before toppling Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Leopards closed the season with a 31-27 loss to Chapman, which won six games.

“It shows good things are happening in their program (under second-year coach Andy Ankeny),” Tully said. “The first year is so much creating culture and I’m sure they’ve done that. Now they’ve retained players that have bought in and brought in players they feel fit within their system.”

For the most part, Whitworth has settled on a starting lineup, but several spots will have rotations. At center, Jimmy Mares and Emilio Sulpizio will see time. Layton Brown will start at strong-side linebacker. Paul Werhane and Dane Gilbertson will rotate at weak-side and Nate Hadley and Alex Couette will both play in the middle.

Robert Schaefer, Jesse Clark and Derek Stottlemyer will start in the secondary. McLane Stone, Bobby Hughes and Cailen Thomason could see time opposite Stottlemyer at the other corner spot.

“Our front seven really looks fast and they continue to improve. They just need game experience,” Tully said. “They have a really high ceiling and because of that, it’s just going to enhance our secondary’s chance to have success.”

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