Is there a more wide-open football race this year than the Great Northern League? Let’s see: Defending GNL co-champion Clarkston was picked last by three of the five GNL coaches – and first by another. Pullman got two first-place votes, but another coach picked the Greyhounds to finish at the bottom. Then there’s East Valley. The Knights were picked last by one coach, in the middle of the pack by two others and at the top of the standings by another coach. Parity is nothing new for the GNL, which hasn’t had an outright champion since 2010.
“There’s a little bit of uncertainty,” said EV coach Adam Fisher, who noted that Clarkston lost heavily to graduation. “There are just a lot of question marks around the league,” Fisher said.
Fisher hopes that skill at the talent positions will make the difference for the Knights, who finished 5-4 overall and in the middle of the pack at 2-2 in the GNL.
EV has two of the most dynamic receivers in the league – “in the whole area,” Fisher insists – in seniors Colin Spendlove and Rodrick Jackson. Both are returning all-leaguers who “are very explosive.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Spendlove is also a baseball star “who has a knack for making plays,” according to Fisher. Jackson already has football offers from UTEP and Idaho.
“They’re very explosive at any level,” said Fisher, who returns 11 starters overall.
EV looks solid everywhere else. Two-way linemen Pat Coleman , Adam Kirk and Randy McDonald are back along with running back/defensive back Nik Young. The Knights hope to get a boost from two transfers from Ferris, running back Aldre Bracey and tight end/linebacker Treyshaun Bracey.
The Blackhawks will defend their 2015 co-title with defense. Coach Bobby Byrd has four all-GNL returnees, including linebackers Chris Fuentes and Cade Vanwormer, and defensive backs Cameron Hardt and Andrew Witt.
“If we can put some things together offensively and maintain our solid defensive performances from last year, I think we can battle for a league title,” said Byrd, who returns seven starters and 20 lettermen off a team that went 9-2 overall and 3-1 in league.
The biggest challenge: replacing five offensive linemen. “We have a good group to replace them but they’re untested at the varsity level,” Byrd said.
Other returning starters are defensive back Chase Reed, defensive lineman Kylar Peterson, fullback Logan Kendall and wide receiver Cameron Hardt.
The Eagles will field one of their most experienced teams in Craig Whitney’s 12 years as head coach.
Sixteen starters return including five all-GNL performers in two-way lineman Zach Duffie, receiver/defensive back Connor Whitney, offensive lineman Avery Richards, defensive lineman Connor Koker and kicker Chase Howat.
Eight of nine starters return on the lines.
“I really like our chances,” Whitney said. “We must hang on to the football and make tackles – every week will be a tough one in the GNL.”
The Greyhounds went 0-4 in league last year, but three of those losses were by a combined 13 points.
“We have a great group of young men that I am thankful to get to coach and be around – the outlook is awesome,” coach Dan Lucier said.
Pullman returns five starters, highlighted by all-league tight end/defensive end Ben Moos and Jake Cillay, who played fullback last year but is moving to quarterback.
Other key contributors figure to be linemen Lennon Rock and Dietrick Mueller, receiver Joe Tingstad and running back/linebackers Jed Byers and Cameron Lang.
No one in the GNL lost more to graduation than the Bantams, who will rebuild around five returning starters.
The most important are two returning all-GNL first-teamers in quarterback A.J. Davis and wide receiver Hunter Hansen. Both also were all-league defensive backs.
“If our players learn quickly to adjust to varsity level speed, we should be competitive in our league,” coach Brycen Bye said.
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