Second-year Sandpoint head coach George Yarno Jr. has been molded by first-rate football minds.
His late father, George Yarno Sr., anchored the offensive line at Washington State before a lengthy NFL career. His first college coach, then University of Nevada head man Chris Ault, invented the pistol offense. As an assistant coach at Idaho 5A power Highland, he worked under Gino Mariani, arguably the best prep football coach in the state.
Now the 32-year-old Yarno Jr. has implemented his own system, which includes a mix of chuck-it pistol with ground-and-pound.
With 4A All-Inland quarterback Robbie Johnson manning an offense that returns seven starters, Yarno Jr. thinks his team is capable of exceeding last year’s 4-6 mark.
“We return some special players,” said Yarno, who finished his playing career at Idaho State in 2007. “(Johnson) had one of the better seasons a QB has had at Sandpoint. He can take over a game.”
In a three-team league that includes defending champion Lakeland and Moscow – Yarno Jr.’s alma mater – it all comes down to the last three weeks of the regular season.
Lakeland was hit the hardest by graduation but still returns 10 starters, including the league’s offensive player of the year, running back Wyatt Gatten.
“We have a great core of guys with a lot of returning,” 16th-year Lakeland head coach Tim Kiefer said. “If we stay healthy we will be tough.”
Moscow, which has won just ten games since 2011, welcomes back the bulk of its talent from a 2-6 campaign.
Phil Helbling, heading into his sixth season as head coach, believes his program can challenge for the crown.
“We return a lot of key players from last season,” Helbling said. “We have more depth in the skills positions than we have in years past.”
With the return of Johnson, three of his favorite receivers and three starting offensive linemen, moving the chains won’t be an issue.
But Sandpoint, two years removed from an appearance in the 4A state title game, returns just three starters on defense. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, two of those returners are All-IEL linebacker Payton Cox and All-IEL defensive lineman Hayden Emerson.
Wyatt Gatten, who rushed for over 700 yards last season, will be a key component, but the Hawks will be looking to air it out more with quarterback Logan Siegford.
Up front, All-IEL talents Jack Peed and Luke Gardner will looked to give Gatten and Siegford room to work.
Lakeland, which gave up just 18 points a game last season, could boast just as stingy a defense this fall with the return of safety Ryan Brandt, linebacker Bradley Allen and defensive lineman Nathanael Dansereau, All-IEL picks.
Two-way All-IEL offensive and defensive linemen Tanner Newton and Adam Wallace anchor a team that returns a horde of experienced skills players.
Quarterback Peyton Broenneke leads an offense looking to improve from its lowly average of 17 points a game in 2017.
The Bears haven’t won a road game since 2012.
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.