Satini Puailoa returned for his second stint as Sandpoint’s head coach in 2012 and the season opener offered a memorable, telling moment.
The Bulldogs punted against East Valley and the Knights started hollering “Peter,” so their players would steer clear of the bouncing football.
“And our guys run off the field, they picked the ball up and scored,” Puailoa said. “It was like, ‘OK, that’s where you start.’ ”
Three seasons have come and gone and Sandpoint has made considerable progress. The Bulldogs have posted several breakthrough wins and returned to the 4A state playoffs. Their roster numbers are strong, as are their weight-room numbers.
Sandpoint appears to have the pieces in place for a special season. The Bulldogs are heavy favorites in the 4A Inland Empire League over defending champion Lakeland and Moscow.
“Sandpoint honestly has a shot at winning state,” Lakeland coach Tim Kiefer said.
Puailoa hit the pause button.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “These kids have put in a lot of time and effort, but we still have to line up and mesh together. That doesn’t just happen.”
The foundation is in place for prolonged success.
“This is our first four-year group,” said Puailoa, who guided Sandpoint to the 1997 state title. “Out of 30 seniors, 28 have been here four years. Right behind them are 26 juniors that have been together three years. It’s a comprehensive program. If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you should have between 20-30 seniors every year at a school our size.
“When we got here, all three teams (varsity, JV and freshmen) had losing records, 1-8, 1-8, 2-7. Now all three teams expect to win.”
Sandpoint has the numbers
Sandpoint has a number of proven playmakers, led by All-State running back Kyle Perry, a 210-pounder who has timed 11.3 seconds for 100 meters, All-IEL receiver Wyatt McCormick and wide receiver Jake Timothy. Perry has a scholarship offer from Idaho.
Senior Carlos Collado, the IEL’s 2014 lineman of the year, leads strong offensive and defensive lines.
Davin Norris steps in at quarterback after earning All-IEL honors as a safety last season. Norris had been a quarterback throughout his career before moving to defense last season.
“He competed for that quarterback spot until the 11th game so he got a lot of reps last year,” Puailoa said. “I think he’s going to be a great addition.”
The defense brings back Paul Sundquist, Sam Johnson, Mike Plaster, Jackson Dierks, Ravyn Smith, Kaleb Merrill, Colt Engle, Caiden Oliver and Devin Lacrois. The Bulldogs are changing from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 alignment.
“That’s the thing we have to get better at in a hurry,” Puailoa said of the defense. “We have the guys.”
Lakeland starts over
There will be no confusing the Lakeland Hawks with the 2014 version. A whopping 23 seniors who filled all 22 starting positions departed from a league championship squad.
The Hawks are moving forward with just two seniors (neither has played football since they were freshmen) and essentially a new two-deep.
“There’s young, and there’s what we are,” Kiefer said. “We’re probably looking at starting 12 sophomores. It’s been a strange camp. For the kids, when you go from JV players stepping up to the varsity field, all the kids are looking around for who is going to lead this thing and basically looking back at themselves.
“The kids we have are doing a great job, but there’s going to be some growing pains and fast learning going on.”
Junior Jared Walker, who spent last season as Lewiston’s JV quarterback, has returned to Lakeland and will start at quarterback. Ryan Pote can play running back or slot receiver and Kaden Davis is another promising receiver.
“We’re not running the same stuff,” Kiefer said. “We’re spreading it out and throwing the ball. Our roots were always in the Wing T.”
Linebackers Jared McDaniel and Owen Dickens and safety Dylan Vahey are names to watch defensively.
“We’re young,” Kiefer said, “but we have some talent.”
Moscow hopes to improve
The Bears were 2-7 last year and absorbed six losses by three touchdowns or more. Many of those same players are a year older and ready to move up the standings.
Quarterback Devin Carscallen will start for the second consecutive season. WR/DB Collin Niehenke and RB/DB Chad Robertson are third-year players. Additional experience returns in LB/RB Eric Redinger, OL/DL Austin Durham, OL/DL Wyatt Youngblood and OL/DL Pat Coulter.
“We have returning seniors or juniors at every position,” coach Phil Helbling said. “The biggest thing is our depth. Once we get outside 15-16 guys, we get pretty thin at certain positions.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.