About the only thing not changing about Whitworth football this season is that the Pirates will continue to play home games at the Pine Bowl.
New coach Rod Sandberg, who is taking over after 19 years of John Tully, has brought in a new 3-4 defensive scheme. He also hired former Shadle Park coach Alan Stanfield to bring a pass-first, quick-strike offense.
Along with the new schemes, the Pirates are rebuilding by bringing in about 52 recruits, transfers and athletes who were already on campus and have decided to give football another shot. That compares with 53 players who either played last year or returned from injuries.
Whitworth started practicing four days ago and the Pirates play their first game on Sept. 6 at home against conference foe Lewis & Clark, which finished 1-8 last year.
“We are a new staff, we have a new offense and we have a new defense,” Sandberg said. “Whether our kids buy in and believe is everything.”
Despite all the new players, Sandberg does have starting quarterback Bryan Peterson returning. The senior from West Valley has started for all or parts of the last three seasons. Last year, Peterson completed better than 63 percent of his passes for 1,751 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s backed up by senior Michael McCune and sophomore Ian Kolste, who started the last couple of games last year when Peterson was hurt.
Wanted: Big uglies
While the quarterback position appears solid, the biggest question mark comes on the offensive line. While the team has 18 offensive linemen on its roster, the only returning starter is 6-foot-6, 285-pound junior Kyle Cosby, who played at University High. The team lost the services of starter Greg Vibbert, whose past injuries convinced him to sit his senior year.
Returning senior Drew Clausen led the team with 50 catches last year for 689 yards and three touchdowns. The only other returning players to catch a pass were sophomore running backs Griffin Hare, of Gonzaga Prep, who caught two; and Duke Degaetano, who caught only one.
The team got a boost by the return of a pair of juniors: Anthony Fullman and 6-5 Connor Williams, of Hayden, who both sat out 2013 with injuries. Jared Davis, a transfer from East Los Angeles Community College, also may get a look.
Old faces in new scheme
Sandberg likes what he sees on defense with returning cornerbacks De’ Hall and Jerrell Norman, both of Las Vegas, and incoming transfers Michael McCrary and possibly Kelvin Mackey, who transferred in from Sierra College in California.
At safety, the Bucs also get returning senior Sam Aswegen and Paul Miller, of Mead, who started in 2011 and 2012 before missing last year after suffering a knee injury.
Sandberg likes his defensive line, which is anchored by defensive end junior Danny Welstad. The team lost stalwart defensive lineman Kyle Davidson to graduation but is returning nose guard Brodrick Hirai, who missed most of last year to injury.
At the other defensive end, junior Aaron Powe, sophomore Daniel Portillo and transfer junior Nick Spagnola will compete for snaps.
At linebacker, the Pirates return both Grant Livingston, a junior from Spokane who led all returning players with 43 tackles last year, and senior Nic Brockhoff who had 32.
Also in the mix at linebacker will be converted defensive ends Carlos Moiza and Michael Plueard. They join fellow returning linebackers Justin Maxwell, a junior from Spanaway, and sophomores Dalin McDonnell and Neil Wagner.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.