Injuries produce depth
Whitworth Pirates head coach John Tully said it’s just the nature of football that some players will miss time to injury. But the Pirates had several devastating injuries, including Fernando Noriega, that cost players time last year. As a result, the coaches ended up playing some players out of position just to fill holes.
“I lost five starters before our first league game last year,” Tully said. “But because of that, our depth should be much better this year.”
With Bryan Peterson’s experience at quarterback and a Pirates defense returning mostly intact, Tully said he likes the look of his team heading into his 19th season at Whitworth.
“Bryan gets the game. He’s going to have a great year,” Tully said. “We do have a large group of athletes who got quality game experience last year. We have a chance at a quality season.”
The 10-game schedule, which begins in Spokane on Sept. 7 against St. Scholastica, sets up favorably for a Whitworth run with six home games including hosting main conference rivals Linfield on Oct. 5 and Pacific Lutheran on Nov. 9.
The Pirates start the season with three-straight home games at the Pine Bowl against St. Scholastica, Whittier, and La Verne. Whitworth travels to Chapman on Sept. 28 before it opens the conference schedule at home against Pacific (Ore.) on Oct. 5.
The three conference road games are Willamette on Oct. 11; Puget Sound on Oct. 26; and the final game of the regular season, Lewis & Clark on Nov. 16.
No shortage of beef
While most of the experience comes on the defensive side of the ball, Tully has most of his offensive line intact, including mammoth left tackle Dalton Cosby, who stands 6-foot-8, and weighs 314 pounds. The senior could be joined at left tackle by not-so little brother, Kyle Cosby, a sophomore who beefed up to 287 pounds on his 6-6 frame.
Starters Gregory Vibbert, a 6-3, 264-pound junior; Liam Brown and center Gavin Horst, a 6-5, 275-pound senior, give Tully a line with size that most college football coaches would covet. Tully also mentioned Trevor Woodall, a 6-1, 250-pound freshman from Lake City, who has impressed coaches in camp.
“The offensive line is coming together,” Tully said. “We have guys who have started and we have some depth.”
However, the line appears to have lost an impressive looking athlete in Avery Smetana, a 6-4, 268-pound sophomore from Spokane, to a serious knee injury. Smetana was the only serious injury in camp as of last week, Tully said.
Who’s running the show?
Tully gushed about his options at running back, with the most experience returning back being senior D.J. Tripoli, who rushed for 244 yards on 61 carries and three touchdowns while spelling leading rusher Ronnie Thomas, who graduated.
The 5-9, 192-pound Tripoli from Burbank, Calif., lifted 17 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press, Tully said. But he trailed in that category to fellow senior Alfonso Miranda, a bruising 5-10, 232 running back from Reno, Nev. Tully said Miranda bench pressed 225 pounds something like 30 reps.
“That is one of our deepest positions,” Tully said of his running backs. “It’s the deepest it’s been since I have been here as coach.”
Whitworth got a couple of impressive transfers in juniors Ricky Abernathy, a 5-11, 226-pound back from Citrus Heights, Calif., and Antonio Bumpers, a 6-1, 207-pound speedster from Sacramento.
But those getting scrimmage reps also included several freshmen, including Duke Degaetano, a 5-10, 183-pounder from Bend, Ore.; Griffin Hare, a 6-1, 178-pound running back who ran for more than 1,900 yards last year for Gonzaga Prep; and Casey Bond, a 5-10, 196-pound back from Olympia.
In addition to that group, Caleb Garza, a 5-9, 206-pound sophomore from Othello, had several impressive runs against the top defense.
“We have a lot of freshmen we are really excited about and some transfers that added to our depth,” Tully said. “I’m really pleased with where we are at running back.”