Whitworth Pirates football coach John Tully likes his 2009 team.
He likes the offense, led by all-everything running back Adam Anderson. Likes the defense, anchored by nose guard Brandon Martin. Likes the special teams, which includes Anderson on kick returns and veteran punter Zack Clow.
What would Tully really like to see this season? A minuscule injury list.
That didn’t happen a year ago, when the Pirates lost numerous key players but still managed a 6-3 season, including a 4-2 mark and third place in the Northwest Conference. Whitworth claimed back-to-back NWC titles in 2006-07.
“If we stay healthy, I think we’re going to be right in the mix,” said Tully, 75-58 in 14 years as Pirates head coach. “Our schedule is front-loaded, but hopefully we’ll stay healthy and things will work out. I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
The Pirates, picked third in the NWC coaches’ poll, might be good enough to get back to the top spot. They weren’t far away last season, losing by nine to conference champion Willamette and by three to runner-up Linfield.
“I think a lot of teams are going to look past us, thinking we’ll probably be like last year,” said Anderson, who led NCAA Division III in 2008 with 243.8 all-purpose yards per game, led the conference with 1,259 rushing yards and scored a school-record 25 touchdowns.
Anderson, a Riverside High product, should get his 30 or so touches per game via handoffs, receptions and returns, Tully said. Injuries stressed Whitworth’s secondary so much a year ago that the durable Anderson played safety in one late-season game.
“When we’re running plays in practice on air, he’s running hard and long distance,” Tully said. “He brings the full package. He’s athletic, intelligent, competes big time and has a great work ethic.”
Whitworth lost starting quarterback Kory Kemp (broken fibula) early last season. Andrew Durant (Rogers) and Cub Jansen rotated at the position for the last part of the season. Durant will start Saturday’s season opener against No. 5 Hardin-Simmons “and get most of the touches, but we do plan on using Cub, too,” Tully said.
The Pirates have an experienced offensive line, led by All-NWC first-team tackle Jeff Kintner, guard Michael Nahl and center Emilio Sulpizio (Mead). Eric and Dale Entel (Clarkston) return after making a combined 41 catches last season. Justin Wimberly steps into the starting tight end role.
“I do think we’ll be able to spread things out a little more,” Tully said, “but obviously running backs (Anderson and backup Milton Nelson) will be the focal point of our scheme.”
Whitworth’s defense, hit particularly hard by the injury bug, gave up at least 29 points in six games last season. The Pirates return eight of their top 10 tacklers.
Martin, a two-time All-NWC first-teamer, is joined by Travis Niles (Mt. Spokane), Jeff Erlenmeyer and Nick Ashley up front. The Pirates also can use a 3-4 alignment with their deep set of linebackers, led by Cameron Stroyan (Chewelah), Paul Werhane, Nate Hadley and Layton Brown.
Cornerback Derek Stottlemyer and safety Robert Schaefer are healthy after injury-shortened 2008 seasons. Cailen Thomason and Kyle Duncan also will start in the secondary.
“I was talking with (line) coach (Dave) Pomante the other day and we’ve always prided ourselves on yeah, we’re undersized, but we’re disciplined, we get to the ball and we swarm,” Martin said. “Our offense is going to be top 10 in the nation and we’re going to be good on defense, especially going against that offense every day.”