Season after season, Coeur d’Alene is favored to win the 5A Inland Empire League title and expected to compete for a state championship.
Same thing this fall, but the Vikings aren’t alone. Lewiston, which went from 1-8 in 2014 to 9-2 last year, has similar aspirations.
“I’m putting us as the favorite but you have to get through Coeur d’Alene,” Bengals coach Shawn Nilsson said. “We haven’t gotten over that hump.”
Said Vikings coach Shawn Amos: “If you look at quarterback and skill guys (Lewiston) should be pretty darn good. But you never know in our league. Post Falls is always a physical, hard-playing team and Lake City is our rival.”
The league’s two new coaches are well-known to their 5A counterparts and to football fans in the Inland Northwest and beyond. Bryce Erickson, son of former Idaho, Washington State and NFL coach Dennis Erickson, takes the reins from Van Troxel at Lake City. Blaine Bennett, who played quarterback at Idaho for Dennis Erickson and later at Whitworth for his father “Shorty” Bennett, is the interim head coach at Post Falls. Longtime Trojans coach Jeff Hinz passed away in July after a near three-year battle with cancer.
Coeur d’Alene Vikings
The Vikings have another talented roster, another premier quarterback and another rugged nonleague schedule.
“They’ll work and they have good attitudes,” Amos said. “Things tend to work out when you have those things.”
Junior quarterback Colson Yankoff leads the offense after splitting time with Austin Lee last season. Yankoff, who has committed to Oregon, has size, athleticism and a big arm.
“We’ll run basically the same stuff,” Amos said. “We’ll probably end up running him a little more like we did with Gunnar (Amos) because he’s a good run threat, but we’re always striving for that 50-50 balance.”
For good reason. CdA has options at running back in Joe Vang, Caleb Beggerly, Noah Throm and Gavin Anderson, and at receiver with Cole Ramseyer, Joey Naccarato, Jackson Sumner, Kyler Prendergast, Taylor Dawson, Ross Chadderdon, Sam Matheson and Brody Lundblad (suspended for the first four games). Many of those players are key members of the defense, too.
The lines should be solid with Isaiah Skinner, Alex Marshall, Devin Payton, Gabe Zanetti, Michael McIntire, Gaige Howard, Noah Gunn, Trevor Lucky, Ramseyer and Naccarato.
The Bengals returned to the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008, and many of the reasons for their resurgence are back.
IEL MVP and strong-armed quarterback Colton Richardson has dropped 25 pounds. He’s drawing Division I interest. Receiving targets include Riley Way, Troy Ahlers, Alex Light, Jaret Driskill, Keeshawn Clarke and 6-foot-5 Braeden Wilson, who also plays basketball. Several of those players will pull double-duty in the defensive secondary. Way and Clarke should see time in the backfield along with Kyler Fletcher and Zachary Moore.
Nilsson likes the potential of his offensive and defensive fronts, but said the units need to stay healthy. All-IEL first-teamer Dustin McLean returns, but the Bengals are replacing four other starters on the offensive line.
“The biggest issue is our depth at a couple of spots,” Nilsson said. “One (OL) spot is still up in the air but the four others are pretty solidified. If we have the right kids on the field, we could have one of our best defensive lines.”
Lake City Timberwolves
The Timberwolves are talented but not particularly deep. It was a similar situation last year when injury riddled Lake City missed the playoffs for the just the second time in 19 seasons.
“I know this group is hungry and they work their tails off,” Erickson said. “I think we can compete with anyone if we stay healthy.”
Mobile quarterback Matt Duchow triggers the offense. Newcomer Grant Clark has big-play ability at running back and as a kick returner. Jason Pierard and Connor Watkins will be featured in the passing game.
The offensive line could be the team’s best unit with center Brady Nope (6-2, 285), guards Seth Yost (6-7, 320) and Anthony Donofrio (6-5, 305) and tackles Ryan Hinman, Logan Vessar and Kyle Torres.
True to his family roots, Erickson said, “I love to spin it, no doubt, but we’re going to formulate our offense around what our strengths are and our weaknesses are.”
Hinman and Torres will also see time on the defensive front alongside nose guard Cameron Chun. The T-Wolves return All-IEL performers in safety Kyle Kazmierski and outside linebacker Chase Moyer, who was at defensive end last season.
Post Falls Trojans
The Trojans probably return the least amount of varsity experience with just four starters and 10 lettermen.
“We’ll have a lot of juniors out there,” Bennett said. “We’re a little green with seniors but it’s a real strong junior class.”
Senior linemen Nate DeGraw and Bradley Noesen, both All-IEL last season, anchor a promising defense. Linebacker Justin Lyon and defensive backs Isiah Gosney and Cameron McKeown are others to watch.
“I think it’ll be the strength of our team,” Bennett said. “We’ve tried to make sure we have some excellent players over there.”
Bennett expects senior Mark Haines and junior Nate Buer to get reps at quarterback. Kaden Nelson, Braden Vaughan and Dusty Weeks will see time in the backfield and in the defensive back seven. Wide receiver/defensive backs include the Mills brothers, Matthew and Michael, and Parker Walton.
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