New coaches often inherit teams short on wins and long on challenges.
That’s not the situation at Sandpoint, where George Yarno Jr. takes over a program that advanced to the 4A state championship game last year. Yarno tipped his cap to Satini Puailoa, who returned the program to prominence in his four seasons. Puailoa is listed as director of football on Sandpoint’s roster.
“I’m excited to take over for a guy that did a great job rebuilding the program and a great coach,” Yarno said. “We’ll see where we’re at. You don’t know until you line up and play somebody else but I feel we’re heading in the right direction.”
The Bulldogs will play three of their first four games at home before construction begins at Memorial Field. Sandpoint will face Moscow in the regular-season finale at Lake City High. If the Bulldogs host a playoff game, potential sites could be Lake City or the Kibbie Dome.
Yarno said he’ll adjust to his personnel as he blends his philosophies into the program but he made one point clear.
“I’m going to focus on running the ball,” said Yarno, a former All-Big Sky Conference center whose late father, George Sr., played and coached in the NFL. “I’ve always believed in that.”
All-IEL running back Levi Irish (5-foot-4, 190 pounds) should be in for another productive season. Junior Robbie Johnson, who saw time at safety last season, moves over to quarterback. The offensive front lost three first-team All-IEL selections and Chris Collado, who was the league’s offensive lineman of the year. Several seniors return and Yarno said the unit “has decent size and they’re pretty strong.”
The defense includes safety/fullback Clayton Fournier, All-IEL last year, and middle linebacker/fullback Walker Jacobson, the 2015 IEL defensive newcomer of the year. Seniors Brock Browning and Zack Alamino are mainstays on the line.
“We’ll try to play as many guys as we can so guys are fresh,” Yarno said, “but in key situations we have to put the best 11 on the field.”
The Hawks took their lumps last year with just two seniors. Not all the underclassmen returned but the Hawks are a year older and hope to dish out some bruises this fall.
“I still say we’re young,” coach Tim Kiefer said of his 36 varsity players. “We’re probably 50-50 seniors to juniors. A lot of coaches like to see a football team senior-dominated.”
All-IEL defenders Josh Brandt (linebacker), Jared McDaniel (linebacker) and Dylan Vahey (safety) return, along with linebacker Owen Dickens and tackle Jordan Plonka.
Ryan Pote steps in at quarterback with Josh Neilson and Dylan Norman providing versatility at receiver and in the running game. The front features Jack Peed and Nathanael Dansereau.
“We’re going to run the ball, normal Lakeland football,” Kiefer said, “and I think we’re going to be OK at it.”
The Bears should be strong up front, with All-IEL honorees Tanner Newton, Pat Coulter and Wyatt Youngblood, as well as Adam Wallace, Nate Davis and Caleb Couch. Moscow turns to junior quarterback Peyton Broenneke, RB/LB Collin Mattson and Bryson Bennett to operate behind a talented line.
Many of the those names will line up on defense, joined by LB/TE Marshall Kwerer and LB/TE Brysen Gottschalk, because the Bears don’t have much depth.
“If we start losing kids it makes it real tough,” coach Phil Helbling said. “We have to be clever with rotations, getting guys off the field on special teams. We’ve been that way the past few years.”
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