Defending champion Linfield is favored to repeat as Northwest Conference champions, but don’t be surprised if Willamette unseats the Wildcats. The Bearcats are strong on both lines and figure to be productive offensively if they find a replacement for the graduated Scott Schoettgen, the school’s all-time leading receiver.
Pirates’ offense changes look
Whitworth’s offense will have a much different look with the graduation of All-American running back Adam Anderson and the departure of starting quarterback Taylor Eglet.
The Pirates have several options at running back, including senior Sean Scott, junior Ian Case and brothers Ronnie and Danny Thomas. At press time, freshmen Bryan Peterson (West Valley) and Zac Hill (North Central) were battling for the starting quarterback position.
“Obviously you don’t replace somebody of Adam’s ability,” said head coach John Tully, entering his 17th season at Whitworth. “He was a unique and outstanding player, but we’ve had other outstanding players here. Someone else comes in and fills the position and you move forward.
“We think we have some backs that are very solid and each brings a little different strength. And you also hope that the other parts of the team are stronger, which I think will be evident as the season goes on.”
Whoever handles the snaps from center and the majority of the carries, the Pirates won’t look the same.
“When we had (standout quarterback) Joel Clark, we spread the ball around and threw it a lot and it all kind of centered around him,” Tully said. “When he left all of a sudden Adam came in and he was a really good player. The thing that’s nice is we have skill at receiver, young but skilled quarterbacks and other running backs that can do it.
“The ball is going to be spread around quite a bit more.”
Clark, by the way, is helping as a graduate assistant. He was a Pirates standout from 2003-06.
Offensive line remains intact
Whitworth has the luxury of five returning starters on the offensive line, including Emilio Sulpizio (Mead), who earned All-NWC honorable mention last season. Sulpizio is joined by Nate Guthrie (East Valley), Zak Richardson, Jared Warren and Travis Todd (Odessa).
In addition, three veteran tight ends return in Kasey Lambert, Wade Meyer (Pullman) and Chad Yount (Priest River).
“The thing that’s been really nice is the freshmen and sophomores are looking good and pushing for starting time,” Tully said. “This is the most depth we’ve had on the offensive line.”
Secondary year older, improved
Last year Whitworth ranked fourth in scoring defense, allowing 24 points per game. Tully expects an improved unit this fall.
The secondary returns Cailen Thomason, a second-team All-NWC cornerback, and starting safety Casey Monahan (Mead). Freshmen Paul Miller (Mead) and Kainoa Raguindin and sophomore Drew Goranson should see time at cornerback. Tully has high expectations for transfer safety Fernando Noriega.
“I think our defense has a chance to be really good,” Tully said.
Whitworth must replace punter Zack Clow, who was first-team All-NWC a year ago. Connor Williams (Coeur d’Alene) and Austin Ehlo (Lewis and Clark, Washington State) are candidates. Williams will probably handle kickoffs.
Austin Crook (concussion) figures to be the place kicker when he’s cleared by the medical staff. He previously played soccer at Oregon State. Goranson, 3 of 7 on field goals and 31 of 33 on PATs last season, is also an option.