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Whitworth football confident of turnaround

John Tully talks to his players on the first day of practice as he begins his 18th season as Whitworth’s football coach. (Dan Pelle)
John Tully talks to his players on the first day of practice as he begins his 18th season as Whitworth’s football coach. (Dan Pelle)

Whitworth is coming off its first losing football season since 2003, but the Pirates don’t expect it to become a habit.

“It’s been a long time and we want it to be a long time before it happens again – as in never,” 18-year head coach John Tully said shortly before putting his players through their first practice Monday. “I think these guys are confident and they’ve come in prepared to be successful.”

The optimism seems warranted after a young Pirates squad ended last season by winning three of its final four games. The only loss in that stretch was a 42-38 setback to Northwest Conference champion Linfield. Five of Whitworth’s six losses were by eight points or less and the sixth was a one-possession game deep into the fourth quarter.

“It was frustrating in that we were so close in so many games,” said sophomore cornerback Paul Miller, a Mead High product who earned second-team All-NWC honors in 2011. “At the end of the season we learned how to win close games and I think we’re going to ride that momentum into this season.”

The Pirates are still fairly young, but the roster is stocked with experienced sophomores and juniors. Sophomore Bryan Peterson (West Valley) passed for 1,420 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Senior Ronnie Thomas, who bench-pressed 225 pounds 24 times during testing earlier this month, made first-team All-NWC last season by rushing for 1,044 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Senior Jake DeGooyer led the team with 58 catches and 762 yards last year. Sophomore Austin Ehlo (Lewis and Clark) had 32 receptions, nine for touchdowns, and junior tight end Wade Meyer (Pullman) had 16 catches. Senior Nate Guthrie (East Valley) and junior Liam Brown are the only starters returning on the line.

It’s a similar story on defense. The back seven is loaded with proven players, including linebackers Scott Carr (Lakeland), Ryan Loutsis, Nic Brockhoff and Grant Livingston (Ferris). The secondary returns starters Miller, Casey Monahan (Mead) and Fernando Noriega. Tackle Brodrick Hirai is the lone starter returning up front.

“We finally might get some speed off the edge. It’s been a while since we’ve had that,” Tully said. “The big thing is how our tackles come around. Brodrick is good, but we need more depth there. Ryan and Scott are as good as there are in this league.”

Dominic Aliano, a transfer from Diablo Valley College, is expected to be the place-kicker. Whitworth was 4 of 4 on field goals, all inside the 30, but made just 25 of 36 extra points last season.

“He’s a talent,” Tully said. “He kicked a field goal from 35 yards the other day and he kicked it over the net (behind the goal posts). All the years I’ve been here we’ve had one ball kicked over that net and that was from about the 5.”

Former Whitworth standout Adam Anderson will be a graduate assistant coach, working with defensive backs. Anderson will join the team after his wedding this weekend. Tully said Anderson played professionally in Europe this summer.