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2017 GNL preview: West Valley Eagles could soar

Connor Whitney might just be the ultimate team player.

His favorite football moment at West Valley has nothing to do with his own exploits on the field, which are considerable enough to earn him a scholarship offer from Idaho.

No, Whitney’s proudest day came as a young ball boy for the 2009 Eagles, who made it all the way to the state 2A title game in Tacoma.

“Just to be a part of that, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Whitney said.

More good times could be ahead for Whitney and his dad Craig, the head coach at West Valley since 2003. The Eagles are everyone’s pick to win the Great Northern League and perhaps take another deep run at state.

“I think we have a really good chance to be good, and we have a lot of potential,” said Craig Whitney, whose 2016 squad went 10-2 and reached the state quarterfinals.

A big reason is Connor, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior who was all-GNL last year at wide receiver, defensive back and punter. He also excelled in the secondary.

“I like his competitive nature,” Craig Whitney said. “He has that fire inside his belly and drives the guys around him. He also likes to do the dirty work and he doesn’t care about his stats.”

His numbers were still impressive: 57 catches for 770 yards and seven touchdowns.

An even more important number for dad: Connor’s grade-point average of 3.85. “He has a lot of drive,” Craig said.

A lot of optimism, too. “I’m super excited about this season,” Connor said. “We have a lot of solid guys, and once we start playing together, I think we could blow some other teams out of the water.”

That’s unlikely, given the traditional balance in the GNL. “Every game is like a playoff game,” said Craig, whose club lost by three last year to eventual league champ Pullman, then beat Cheney by eight and Clarkston by a field goal.

However, West Valley returns 13 starters, including a top-notch offensive line that includes Jessen Day, Noah Youseph and returning first-team all-GNL pick Joshua Quirk.

The Eagles also return all-league kicker Chase Howatt. Standout receiver Collin Sather will take some of the pressure off Whitney.

West Valley has two solid options at quarterback: senior Blake Transue and sophomore Matt Allen.

East Valley Knights

The inspiring story of Rodrick Fisher went viral last year – and it’s not over. The superlative wide receiver and defensive back recently won an extra year of eligibility to play for the Knights before he goes on to Washington State.

The Knights (4-5, 1-3 last season) have more weapons, including first-team all-GNL running back And’re Bracey, senior quarterback Christian Johnston and wideouts Josh Morales and Tallon Watson.

Two-way starters Zac Holt and Chris Kent will bolster the lines.

Cheney Blackhawks

It’s no cliché – last year’s Blackhawks were better than their record (2-6, 0-4).

Rival coaches see it that way – most pick Cheney for a high finish despite the return of just seven starters and 16 lettermen.

A big reason is running back Charles Johnson, one of the fastest players in the state. “He’s a big-play threat every time he touches to ball and he works hard and has added more tools to his game this off-season,” coach Bobby Byrd said.

Also back is two-way lineman Logan Kendall, a first-team all-GNL pick last year at defensive end.

Pullman Greyhounds

The defending champs (8-3, 4-0) lost some standout players to graduation, but new coach David Cofer is counting on strong lines on both sides of the ball.

The standout lineman is Dietrick Mueller, but the Greyounds also have all-GNL defensive back Jed Byers.

Clarkston Bantams

The Bantams (7-3, 2-2) count on a senior offensive line and all-league running back.

All-leaguer Nate Savolainen returns at linebacker, but the Bantams have just 11 seniors on the roster. Coach Brycen Bye expects at least seven sophomores to start of play key backup roles.


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