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Gonzaga Prep will add new twist to tried-and-true approach

The Gonzaga Prep offensive line is the key to the Bullpups’ success this season.  (Christopher Anderson)
The Gonzaga Prep offensive line is the key to the Bullpups’ success this season. (Christopher Anderson)

The Gonzaga Prep football team’s veer option offense is taking a few steps back in hopes of piling up considerable yards this season.

The Bullpups will run their traditional offense out of a shotgun formation.

Three-year starter Bishop Sankey returns at running back. Shane Schmidlkofer will start for a second year at quarterback. They combined to rush for 2,092 yards last season.

Critical to their success in general and G-Prep’s specifically is a rebuilt line. All five starters from a year ago graduated and three of five backups are gone.

Eight Bullpups have battled in camp for the starting jobs. Junior Max Kelly (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) is at left tackle, senior Charlie Hopkins (6-6, 260), who started at defensive end last year and will be a two-way player this fall, is at left guard, junior Matt Stone (6-0, 225) is at center and senior Kyle Higashi (6-1, 185) is at right tackle. Juniors Evan Matthews (6-0, 225) and Joe Engel (5-10, 185) are locked in a tug-of-war at right guard, and juniors Huyah Vue (5-8, 295) and Mitch Cline (5-11, 190) will see time as backups at guard and center.

“We’re trying to breed competition for the spots,” G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “We’re green, but I feel good overall about them. We’ll control how much we can control with our line. They’re all quality players.”

Experience and cohesion will develop with game time, McKenna said.

“They have a long way to go,” McKenna said. “The good thing is the mistakes we’re making right now are more mental than physical. Can they be as good as last year? Definitely. They have the makings to be a very good offensive line.”

Schmidlkofer believes the line has shown growth in camp.

“It’s gone better than I expected actually,” Schmidlkofer said. “They have a lot to learn, but they’ve been handling everything well. We’ve been throwing a lot at them. In the veer, everything has to be precise on every play.”

Schmidlkofer has essentially three options on each play – either hand it to the dive back, keep it himself or pitch it to a slotback. And there’s a fourth option – he can pass – but that’s a rarity for Bullpup teams. Schmidlkofer passed an average of three times per game last year.

McKenna would like to triple that average this year.

“Every year we say we want to pass more, but when we come out and teams can’t stop the veer, why pass if our bread and butter is working,” Schmidlkofer said.

Hopkins, who has given Stanford University an oral commitment, started fall camp at left tackle but moved to left guard this week.

“Our offense is so confusing,” said Hopkins, who played solely at defensive end last year. “Playing guard, all I have to do is block the guy ahead of me. It’s a lot simpler than left tackle. I like it a lot better.”

Hopkins said the progress of the line has been measurable.

“We’ve all improved,” he said. “In time we’ll be solid. We should be able to give Bishop and Shane some room to operate.”

Schmidlkofer suspects he’ll have to pass more to keep teams from keying solely on Sankey, who has given an oral commitment to Washington State University.

Running the veer out of the shotgun should make Sankey, who could break the Greater Spokane League’s career yardage record, even more dangerous. He ranks 20th all time (1,986) and needs 455 to break into the top 10. If he has a monster season (1,951), he can take over the top spot held by Tyree Clowe of Central Valley (3,937). Sankey can become the all-time Bullpups leader with 212, overtaking Justin Strand (2,197).

“It gives Bishop more space to work in,” Schmidlkofer said. “It’s the cutback lanes where we’ll be more dangerous.”

CV coach Rick Giampietri said Sankey needs little room to make something big happen.

“He can make plays in a phone booth,” Giampietri said. “Sankey and Schmidl- kofer will make some plays. They were playmakers last year. Those two kids give them a little bit of an edge on everybody.”

Seven of the 10 GSL coaches tab G-Prep as the favorite.

Schmidlkofer appreciates the respect, but knows his team must prove it on the field.

“We haven’t done anything to earn it yet,” Schmidlkofer said. “It gives us some confidence going into the season.”