The football has been in Ty Graham’s hands since he was out of diapers, so why stop now?
Last year, the Cheney star saw action at almost every skill position – running back, quarterback and receiver – in addition to defensive back.
Things won’t be as crazy this year, said coach Bobby Byrd, who will anchor his star senior at running back. But that doesn’t mean Graham won’t try to carry the Blackhawks on his back.
“He’s been the ultimate competitor the last couple of years,” Byrd said of Graham, who’s been a starter since his freshman year and hopes to play in college.
“He has an edge to him,” Byrd said.
That edge was honed at home, in a football family headed by Eastern Washington assistant John Graham and his wife, Becky.
“Being around a college football coach my whole life, it’s helped me understand the game a lot more than most kids do,” Ty Graham said.
Following in the footsteps of older brother Andrew, “He’s been around the game since he could walk,” John Graham said. “We tried to hold him back as long as we could,” but finally relented when Ty hit fourth grade.
Last year, Graham was second-team all-Great Northern League after rushing for 186 yards on just 25 carries, but may have made a bigger impact on defense. A heavy hitter, Graham also had three interceptions on the way to being named first-team all-GNL.
“I love flying down the field and popping some kids a little bit,” said Graham, who’ll play strong safety this year.
“He’s been a rock for us on defense,” said Byrd, who lost several key performers from last year’s team that went 7-3 overall, 2-2 in the GNL.
Pullman will be leaning on a couple of big names to improve on last year’s 3-6 record.
Last year as a junior, quarterback Mason Petrino, the son of Idaho coach Bobby Petrino, completed 86 of 160 passes for a league-leading 986 yards and five touchdowns.
One of his biggest targets was all-GNL tight end Ben Moos, a junior, the son of Washington State Athletic Director Bill Moos. Moos, who also was a first-team pick at defensive end, led the league with 23 catches for 305 yards.
Petrino also played defense last year, finishing with two interceptions.
Duke sparks WV
If West Valley returns to the postseason, the Eagles figure to take the fast track. That means another big year from all-GNL wide receiver Tevin Duke.
“Tevin has great physical skills and he’s not afraid to put in the work,” said WV coach Craig Whitney, noting that Duke is regularly showing up an hour early for practice and catching balls from a throwing machine.
The 5-10, 175-pound Duke is “not really a vocal person,” but Whitney expects him to be a leader for a team that hopes to return to the postseason after going 5-5 last year.
The other deep threat is Zech Herford, who like Duke plays on both sides of the ball.
“We’re not very big, but I hope we can run past some guys,” said Whitney, who returns eight starters and 23 letterwinners.
East Valley enigma
The biggest mystery in the GNL this season might be the East Valley Knights, who are picked to finish anywhere between second and last.
EV was 4-5 last year, but 16-year head coach Adam Fisher is counting on his skill players to lead the Knights to a top-two finish and a postseason berth.
Among 10 returning starters are senior quarterback Dante Clayton, and wide receivers Tanner Jacobs and Trey Meyer. The speed is bolstered by the addition of junior receivers Dawson Collins and Gavin Johnson, both of whom moved from Texas.
Clayton started the last three games of 2014 – all wins – which bolstered the coaches’ confidence.
“It was a good experience for him,” said Fisher, a former quarterback himself. “You don’t know until you actually get out there and do it, and also for the coaches to know that this guy can do it when the bullets are really flying.”
Balance of power
It’s been seven years since anyone’s gone through the GNL unscathed, a fact that doesn’t surprise the coaches.
“Most of the schools are very similar in size, and the number of athletes that we have,” said WV’s Whitney. “The coaches also do a great job of scouting and game-planning – you’re not going to sneak up on anyone.”
Occasionally, the parity has been taken to extremes: in 2010 and 2012, the every team lost at least two league games.
Clarkston eyes repeat
What a difference a title makes. A year ago, Clarkston was a consensus pick to finish last. This season the Bantams are a unanimous choice to repeat as champs.
And why not? Second-year coach Brycen Bye returns 13 starters and 20 letter winners from a team that went 3-1 in the GNL and 9-2 overall. First-team all-GNL quarterback A.J. Davis (57 for 104 for 809 yards and six TDs) is back. Other key returnees are two-way all-star lineman Hunter Sisemore, running back/linebacker Blake Rimmelspacher and wide receiver Trevon Allen.
“They return a good portion of their team, so it’ll be a good challenge for the rest of us,” Whitney said.
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.