The Rod Sandberg era is set to begin Saturday as the Whitworth Pirates host league foe Lewis & Clark at the Pine Bowl.
Except for what appears to be a short-term injury to starting cornerback Jerrell Norman, the expected key contributors have made it healthy through fall camp.
“I am very excited to be in the Pine Bowl for the first time,” Sandberg said. “I’m excited to see our team in battle for the first time and see how they perform when it matters.”
Whitworth, which finished 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the Northwest Conference last year, takes on the Pioneers, who finished 1-8 overall. After the season, John Tully resigned after 19 years and the university hired Sandberg, who had worked the same 19 years as an assistant coach at Wheaton College.
Lewis & Clark coach Chris Sulages must replace record-setting quarterback Keith Welch. Sulages also hired a new defensive coordinator in Eric Jackson, which made scouting difficult for both teams.
“It’s going to be one of those games where we kind of feel each other out. We’ll keep things simple and respond to whatever new wrinkles we see,” Sandberg said. “I’m sure it’s going to be kind of wide open.”
The Pirates will start senior quarterback Bryan Peterson, of West Valley, but sophomore Ian Kolste is expected to get playing time early in the game.
At tailback, Duke Degaetano, of Bend, Ore., will get the start over sophomore Griffin Hare (Gonzaga Prep), but both are expected to see extensive playing time in the new spread offense brought in by former Shadle Park coach Alan Stanfield.
“I think they have done a great job picking up the offense,” Sandberg said. “We had an intra-squad scrimmage and a scrimmage against the College of Idaho. Those were huge learning experiences for them to grow and see how it works in a game-like setting.”
The Pirates received a major boost with the return of receivers Anthony Fullman and Connor Williams (Coeur d’Alene), who both missed last year to injuries. Fullman brings both size (6-2, 210) and speed and Williams is a huge target at 6-5, 239 pounds.
They join returning senior Drew Clausen (West Valley), who led Whitworth in receiving last year with 50 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns.
The biggest question coming into training camp came on the offensive line. The only returning starter, junior Kyle Cosby (6-7, 291), will switch from right to left tackle.
Cosby, who played at University High, will be joined by transfer Michael Crucioti at left guard; Joe Beattie at center; Kyle Warr, who has been a pleasant surprise at right guard; and Trevor Woodall at right tackle.
On defense, the Pirates have switched from 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme under assisstant Adam Richbart, who followed Sandberg from Wheaton.
Aaron Powe, a 6-3, 235-pound junior, will start opposite Danny Welstad at defensive end. They join returning starting linebackers Grant Livingston (Ferris), a junior who led all returning players with 43 tackles last year, and senior Nic Brockhoff, who had 32.
“The defense is what we thought, fast and athletic,” Sandberg said. “I like us up front. I feel we came out of camp fairly healthy and we are ready to play a game.”