When Whitworth hired Rod Sandberg to lead the football program in December 2013, the first coach he brought on board was Adam Richbart.
Sandberg coached Richbart when he played at Wheaton College (Illinois) and then brought him to Spokane to help rebuild the Pirates’ defense.
A year after giving up 34 points a game, the Pirates led the conference and was third in NCAA Division III in turnover margin (plus-1.8 per game) and was sixth in the nation in turnovers gained (30) as the team qualified for the NCAA playoffs for only the third time in program history.
In the offseason, Sandberg promoted Richbart to associate head coach.
“I’d known him as an athlete. He knows me better than anyone on the staff,” Sandberg said. “He has a tremendous amount of loyalty and I wanted to reward that.”
Richbart said he had to move players just to fill positions in 2014. Then last year, the team started to develop some depth. And this spring, the program brought in 46 freshmen and four transfers.
Now Richbart has several returning starters and juniors and seniors are competing to fill holes, including the loss of all-conference linebacker JT Phelan (East Valley), who chose to focus on baseball.
“We are nearly five players deep at every position, which is great for us,” Richbart said. “There is competition all around, with older guys battling to keep their spots, too. When players go on the scout team, they are competing to keep a spot on the depth chart. It just raised the bar for everybody.”
The team returns defensive ends Daniel Portillo and Mac Shaw, who was injured for much of last year, and 262-pound Aaron Powe received fifth year of eligibility. The team also returns leading tackler Patch Kulp at linebacker and gets Luke Peterson back from injury.
On the outside, all-conference linebacker Dalin McDonnell returns, as does cornerback Taylor Roelofs.
“Some returning starters are getting challenges from guys coming up from behind them,” he said. “The competition is just pushing everybody.”
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.