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NEA story lines

Top returners

Derek Smith, Sr., QB, Chewelah; Jake Morse, Sr, OT, Newport; Coleton Collins, Jr., WR, Lakeside; Charles Mitchell, Jr., C, Lakeside; Ben Johnstone, Sr., LB, Chewelah, Matt Trottier, Sr., LB, Lakeside.

Kiss of death

“I can’t remember the last time a team was predicted to win this league and actually won,” Lakeside coach Brian Dunn said. “Especially in this league, being picked to win it all is the kiss of death, so please don’t pick us!”

Coaching changes

Two new head coaches debut this season, while a third, Medical Lake’s Wes Hobbs, returns.

Last year’s Coach of the Year, Adam Daniel, left Newport to join Rob Bartlett’s staff at his high school alma mater, University. Taking over the Grizzlies this season is Zac Farnam, who served as defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Deer Park last year.

Riverside’s new head coach, Tom Griggs, was an all-state offensive lineman at Montesano and played two seasons at Washington State (appearing in both the Sun and Rose Bowl) before a back injury ended his college career. He began his high school coaching career as an assistant coach at Pullman. He comes to Riverside after one season as head coach at Rochester.

Staying healthy

The first order of business for Griggs was to hire new assistant coaches; only Randy Miller, who doubles as the school’s wrestling coach, returns. Next order of business: get healthy.

“Our offensive line has been dinged up a bit and we haven’t had a chance to get everyone on the field at the same time,” he explained. “One kid had to have his wisdom teeth out, another had a virus and another had to go to a funeral. Nothing serious, but I’m looking forward to next week and seeing what we can do when we have everyone out there together.”

The numbers were a challenge for Medical Lake a year ago.

The Cardinals began the season with fewer than 30 players on the varsity roster and finished with fewer than 20 because of injuries. Coach Wes Hobbs was expecting a big freshman class this season and another next year. The Cardinals were 4-5 last year, losing to Riverside (31-20), Lakeside (35-7) and Freeman (41-0) in non-league games.

Finding solutions

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Lakeside will be its ability to put last year’s 2-8 season behind it. The weapons are there: senior tailback Tyler Howard ran for almost 500 yards a year ago and receiver Coleton Collins (6-2, 195) is a formidable receiver who hauled in 29 passes, good for eight touchdowns, a year ago.

The Eagles added senior running back/linebacker David Littleton, a transfer from Rosalia.

Never forget

If nothing else, Newport’s players will remember how many points Cashmere scored on the Grizzlies in their final game a year ago: 56.

“One of the traditions I had at Deer Park was to have the team do pushups for every point we gave up in our last game,” Farnam said. “Every practice of spring camp and every workout at the Whitworth camp this summer they did 56 push-ups. The goal is to help establish a defensive mindset and get them thinking defense first. Ultimately, we’d like to get it down to doing 14 or fewer pushups every week.”

Moving up

Kettle Falls returns from two years in the Northeast B League with experienced players at the skill positions. Junior quarterback Connor McKern started a year ago and was an all-Northeast 2B second-team pick as a kick/punt returner. Senior Brandon Thomas and junior Austin Anderson both are dangerous backs with the football in their hands.

The challenge for the any football team moving up a classification is numbers.

Around the league

Chewelah returns the league’s top quarterback in all-NEA first-teamer Derek Smith, who is the Cougars’ second consecutive three-year starter at the position.

“I don’t have a freshman who looks like they can step in next year, so I won’t have a third one in a row,” Chewelah coach Jim Fisk said.

“We graduated Calvin Connall from last year, so we’re going to have to find a new fullback, but aside from that we have pretty good depth coming back. We’re thin and not very big on the offensive line, though.”

Freeman has a returning starter at quarterback in senior Wyatt Smith, who started every game for the Scotties as a sophomore and ran the two-minute offense.

His experience should help with the loss of RB Robinson, who shared the league’s offensive MVP honors with Colville back Colton Davis last year.

“We don’t have that one running back who can do it all the way we did with Quinn,” coach Jim Wood said. “But we have several kids who can get the job done. They’re each a little different.”

Predicted order of finish

1. Freeman, 2. Lakeside, 3. Chewelah, 4. Medical Lake, 5. Riverside,

6. Newport, 7. Kettle Falls.