From Hillyard to just west of Green Bluff, from Ferris to Mead, from Central Valley to Albi Stadium and four stops in between, Wednesday was an ambitious day for this prep writer.
Wednesday marked the first day Washington high school football teams could practice, and I made appearances at the opening drills for all 10 Greater Spokane League schools.
I began what would turn into a 10-hour adventure at Gonzaga Prep and concluded at Shadle Park. By the time I made it home, the odometer measured the round trip at 165 miles.
The thing that struck me the most at each stop is there’s talent on every team. And while Mead will be the clear-cut favorite to capture the league championship and contend for a state title, the other nine teams won’t be slouches.
So here are a few notes from the first day:
8:30, G-Prep: Coach Dave McKenna is blessed with an experienced backfield, beginning with speedy running back Griffen Hare and shifty option quarterback Zach Bonneau, both seniors.
The key to the Bullpups’ success, though, will be if they can remain relatively injury free on the offensive and defensive lines.
McKenna said more than 60 freshmen turned out, nearly matching the 67 combined sophomores, juniors and seniors.
9:27, Rogers: Arguably the best returning running back in the league dons a Pirates uniform.
Senior Luke Rogers, a senior and first-team all-league pick last year, will likely be a workhorse again this fall like he was a season ago.
The good news for Rogers, though, was coach Matt Miethe was at the first practice. He spent the weekend in the hospital – the 18th time in the last 17 years he’s dealt with an infection in his leg that he got while playing on the old Astroturf at Albi Stadium.
“The doctors don’t know why it keeps coming back,” said Miethe, explaining that in a hospital visit a year after the initial injury pieces of Albi turf were found still lodged in his leg.
Miethe has lost almost a third of himself since January.
“I turned 35 in January and I weighed three bills (300),” he said. “I’ve lost 85 pounds and I weigh as much as I did my senior year in high school.”
10:09, Mt. Spokane: Coach Mike McLaughlin was looking forward to reuniting with former assistant Larry Stranahan this fall.
Stranahan, 63, who has been retired from coaching in 2004, agreed to return. But while on a working trip through Russia and into Mongolia last month, Stranahan died.
A Montana native, Stranahan, a well-respected teacher and coach, began assisting McLaughlin while the two were at Mead, and Stranahan followed McLaughlin to Mt. Spokane when the school opened.
“That was a shock,” McLaughlin said of Stranahan’s death. “Real sad. I was looking forward to spending more time with him.”
11:01, University: The Titans welcomed the lone new head coach in the league, Rob Bartlett.
Bartlett is tickled to be coaching at his alma mater where his father once walked the sidelines as a head coach. He’s a third generation coach. His grandfather coached at Lewis and Clark in the 1960s.
Bartlett takes over a team that must replace 15 starters. The most glaring replacement will be at quarterback, where Connor Johnson turned in a record-breaking year last fall in leading the Titans to the state playoffs.
11:31, Central Valley: Graduation took a big bite out of a Bears team that advanced to the state semifinals, most notably at quarterback (Gaven Deyarmin).
Coach Rick Giampietri plans to go with junior Adam Chamberlain, a starter a year ago at safety. He also was a starting guard last year on the Bears’ state runner-up basketball team.
“He’s a player,” Giampietri said.
Chamberlain will hand the ball off to backs Grayson Sykes and Brandon McClung. Both played supporting roles last season.
12:15, Lewis and Clark: No team will boast better or faster receivers than the Tigers.
Senior Brennan Schon, a returning all-league first team pick, will team with seniors Austin Geim and DeAndre Williams.
“We have skill and everybody knows that,” LC coach Dave Hughes said. “Our receiving corps is as good as I have had.”
LC must replace three-year starter Jeff Livingston at QB.
The 2012 brand of Tigers is smaller than recent teams.
12:58, North Central: This stop took me to Albi. The Indians will likely practice there until late August because their track is being resurfaced. They practice on the grassy infield.
NC returns one of the best all-around athletes in the league, junior do-everything Jake Hoffman.
He’s back to play at QB, wide receiver, cornerback and special teams. But he won’t be the long snapper this year like he was last season.
“He’s a very talented, gifted kid,” NC coach Brian Gardner said. “We’d like to give him more breaks this year. We’d like to get him off the field more on special teams.”
2:30, Ferris: Coach Jim Sharkey will field the youngest team he’s had in his seven years.
Five or six sophomores could start, Sharkey said.
“We lost just about everybody,” Sharkey said. “We started 19 seniors last year and we’ve got our smallest senior class (eight). We’re having to do much more teaching than we usually do. We’re a team that should improve a lot as the season goes along.”
4:07, Mead: Talk about speed. The Panthers have it all over the field.
The good news is that Notre Dame-bound linebacker/tight end Danny Mattingly is back to full health. He strained his MCL on the first day of summer camp in late June.
“He’s ready to go,” coach Sean Carty said.
Carty must replace three-year starter Andy Wetzel at QB. It’s likely he’ll use two until one emerges. Senior Gunnar Kayser, a starter at safety last year, is bigger and faster than junior Matt Wetzel, Andy’s brother. Wetzel also can play safety.
So when one is at QB, the other will likely be at safety, and vice versa.
5:18, Shadle Park: The Highlanders enter the third year of coach Alan Stanfield’s rebuilding project.
While there’s been little progress in terms of victories, Stanfield has made strides in building athleticism and good attitudes. With 11 starters back, he hopes Shadle is ready to turn the corner.
“It’s the deepest team I have ever coached,” said Stanfield, who was a head coach for seven years prior to moving to Shadle. “We have two solid players at virtually every position. The incoming juniors won seven games as freshmen and were 6-3 last year (on junior varsity) with many sophomores playing varsity. It is a group that has won and expects to win moving forward.”
6:05, at the office: And with that I concluded a whirlwind trip through the GSL.