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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Wednesday, July 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Youthful exuberance

Three freshman defenders help make Senior Day special

After last Saturday’s win over George Fox, Whitworth football coach Rod Sandberg gathered his team and asked his 15 seniors to stand up.

Sandberg reminded the seniors that they can come back for alumni functions or even bring their children to future games. But, they will never again play on the turf of the Pine Bowl.

“We sent them out on senior day with a win,” Sandberg said. “This is not our last football game. We will send them out with a win next week.”

To do that, the Pirates (6-3, 4-2) will have to beat Pacific Lutheran (5-2, 3-2) on the road. In fact, none of the current Pirates have tasted victory against the Lutes, who have beaten Whitworth the previous four years.

“Let’s do something special for them,” Sandberg said of the seniors and accomplish something the team hasn’t done “in a long time.”

While the win Saturday was for the seniors, the outcome only came about with the help of several young players, including a trio of freshmen who started on defense.

“I’ve never done that in 25 years of coaching,” Sandberg said of starting three freshmen.

The team lost both starting cornerbacks when junior Jerrell Norman and senior De’ Hall both went down with knee injuries.

The coaches then turned to Jacob Sturtevant, a 5-foot-11, 157-pound defensive back from Beaverton, Oregon, and Taylor Roelofs, a 6-2, 189-pound defender from Tacoma.

In fact, Roelofs arrived on campus as a player expecting to throw passes not defend them.

“For the first three days in camp he was a quarterback until we asked him to move to safety,” Sandberg said. “Then we moved him to cornerback” after the injury to Norman.

Both players have taken advantage of the situation.

Sturtevant is third on the team with 50 tackles and leads the Pirates with eight pass breakups. Roelofs is eighth on the team with 35 tackles and second on the team with seven pass breakups. Both are tied for the team lead with two interceptions each.

The other freshman-starting defender, outside linebacker JT Phelan (East Valley), leads the team with 57 tackles and he is second on the team with nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Against George Fox, Sturtevant just missed an interception on the first play from scrimmage. But he later broke up a pass on fourth down that killed a Bruins’ scoring opportunity.

“I didn’t think I would be starting at all,” Sturtevant said. “I was just hoping to make the travel squad. I’m glad to play as much as I have. It’s pretty cool.”

Roelofs also had a pass break up in the George Fox game. He previously was named Northwest Conference defender of the week after he had 11 tackles, a 13-yard sack, a 6-yard tackle for loss and a broken up pass in the 62-30 win over Puget Sound.

“It’s been fun. I’ve never played cornerback before,” Roelofs said. “I just tried to listen to the older guys. Paul Miller and the other seniors helped me out a bunch. It’s been fun to be on the field with all those guys.

“It felt good to play for them and get a ‘W’ for them on our home turf.”

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