Coeur d’Alene, Lake City, Lewiston or Post Falls is going to win the 5A Inland Empire League title and host a state playoff game. Coeur d’Alene, Lake City, Lewiston or Post Falls is going to finish second and make the postseason.
And Coeur d’Alene, Lake City, Lewiston or Post Falls is going to take third and have a shot at an at-large berth. In other words, each program can make a convincing case in what could be a wide open IEL race.
“The league is very balanced,” Lake City coach Van Troxel said. “I give a slight edge to Coeur d’Alene. It’ll be who stays healthy? And, who can keep progressing?”
Coeur d’Alene, state champs in 2010, 2011 and 2013, is eyeing a return. Defending league champion Lake City suffered key losses but hopes to make a run. Post Falls earned its first playoff trip since joining 5A in 2004 and appears capable of repeating the feat. Lewiston is loaded with experienced players.
“Last year was a good example of how close this league is,” Vikings coach Shawn Amos said. “We lost two games by four points and six inches or so.”
Vikings’ expectations high
Most schools would be thrilled with a 7-4 season and one playoff win, but Coeur d’Alene’s run of success has created lofty expectations.
“What we say is work like state champions and see what happens,” Amos said. “You’d think we were coming off a 2-8 season the way our coaches and players want to get back out and try to reach the highest level.”
Every school would be thrilled with a returning all-league quarterback who has piloted a state championship team. Austin Lee came on in the 2013 semifinals when Amos’ son Gunnar was injured. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Lee, now a senior, put up solid numbers last season but he’s facing stout competition from sophomore Colson Yankoff.
“We’ll probably end up playing both of them. Game 1 Austin will be our starter, but what we’re going to do is play both at inside receiver, and they’re good receivers, too,” Amos said.
“You really need to be able to play two guys and the older guy needs to be an unselfish player or else it wouldn’t work. Austin has really shown his leadership and unselfishness.”
Yankoff, 6-4 and 190 pounds, has already been offered a scholarship by Texas Tech.
“He hit the genetic lottery,” Amos said. “Austin is going to be a college quarterback somewhere. They both can make all the throws. Cole doesn’t have the experience Austin has so we’ll see how he handles varsity football.”
Elsewhere, the Vikings may be missing the star power of recent years. For example 2014 standout LB/RB Drew Berger is at Boise State – but there’s no shortage of what Amos called “a lot of good high school players.” The coach listed nine names, including seniors KC Hutchings and Cayden Bonacci, at wide receiver.
None of the top six defensive linemen, a unit led by Alex Marshall and Dan Pierce, are expected to play on the offensive front. Senior Henry Gustin anchors the offensive line.
“This is one of our deepest teams, looking at every position,” said Amos, who has lined up a rugged schedule that includes Central Valley, Ferris, Idaho state champ Highland and Oregon state champ Hermiston.
Lake City rebuilds
Lake City graduated 10 first-team All-IEL selections – not counting MVP Jerry Louie-McGee and co-offensive MVP Michael Goggin – but the cupboard isn’t empty.
“Everybody we play is so damn happy (Louie-McGee) graduated,” Troxel said.
Collin Hunter moves from receiver to QB, safety/H-back Scott Helsper will see time on offense and defense and All-IEL left tackle Kyle Swenson shifts to center. He will also line up on the defensive front. “It’s kind of like a lot of rebuilding years,” Troxel said. “It may not happen Week 1 but we have a chance to get better as we go.”
Other expected two-way contributors: TE/LB/DL Nathan Colvin, TE/DE David Goggin, FB/LB Dakota Kielblock, OT/DL Ryan Hineman. Austin McMaster (WR, H-back and punt returner) and Kobe Murphree (punter, kicker and cornerback) will also wear multiple hats.
Post Falls regroups
Graduation hit Post Falls hard but the Trojans have returning first-team All-IEL defenders in MLB Gunner Sciortino and DB/WR Zach Hillman.
The Trojans, like Lake City, are moving a wide receiver to quarterback. Nathan Gregory takes over from Dalton Thompson.
Projected starters include CB Kamden Johnson, RB Austin Jensen, RB/WR/LB Kaden Nelson, DE Brad Noesen, OL/DL DJ Luby, OL/DL Dylan Haag, DB Preston Bourgard, TE/DT Kameron Welker and WR/LB Hunter Harmon, who was injured last season.
“In some places we have nice parts and in some places we are rebuilding,” coach Jeff Hinz said. Hinz wants his team in top form for “the Big Three” – October dates with Lake City, Lewiston and CdA that will determine if Post Falls returns to the playoffs.
Lewiston loaded with vets
Lewiston boasts 18 returning starters and 40 lettermen. Many of the same players that took their lumps during last year’s 1-8 campaign are looking to dish out some bruises this season.
Junior quarterback Colton Richardson, 6-4 and 225 pounds, directs the offense.
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