The air in the SWX sports studio was chock full of optimism on Monday.
It almost made me want to run through a blocking sled. Almost.
Powered by NWPrepsNow, The Spokesman-Review and SWX sponsored the first Greater Spokane League Football Media Day – two days before teams started fall camp – and coaches of all 10 schools and a couple of their top players participated.
Sure, by the time the standings shake out in late October, the pretenders will be separated from the contenders. But that’s the beauty of mid-August, when every team is undefeated and dreaming of a season that runs deep into November.
Some will be happy dreams and some will, well, just be unfulfilled ones.
Coaches and players from Rogers and North Central were just as excited as those from Gonzaga Prep and Mt. Spokane – the teams that will be favored to capture the 4A and 3A championships.
Practices began throughout the state on Wednesday.
Here are a few of the highlights from Media Day:
Gonzaga Prep: If coach Dave McKenna has a concern, it’s depth. He hopes that takes care of itself as camp progresses.
The Bullpups will field a team with talent on both sides of the ball. It’s no wonder they’re heavily favored to capture another league title.
“We expect to be at the top,” McKenna said. “We want to be excellent in everything we do on an off the field.”
McKenna said the Bullpups worry more about themselves than others.
“It’s not about beating an opponent, it’s about getting ourselves better,” McKenna said. “We’ll scout opponents but it’s really about what we do.”
Anchoring what should be a solid offensive line is senior right guard John Perko.
“Our senior leadership is the best it’s ever been since I’ve been at Prep,” Perko said. “We all trust each other. Trust is a big piece of the puzzle.”
Mead: The Panthers had the most explosive offense in the league last year, but that was coupled with the worst defense.
Coach Benji Sonnichsen made a change at defensive coordinator. He believes a change in scheme along with new personnel will allow the Panthers to be much improved defensively.
Mead graduated 10 on defense.
“Sometimes you want to graduate people, that’s the way it goes,” Sonnichsen said.
He expects the offense to be as productive this fall.
“We expect big things,” Sonnichsen said. “We set our expectations really high.”
Sonnichsen admits all the 4A teams are chasing league power G-Prep.
“I’m not going to take anything away from Prep. They’ve earned it and done it,” Sonnichsen said. “We’re not working out for nothing. (Our kids) work really hard and our standards are really, really high.”
Two of Mead’s top offensive weapons are returning starting receivers Lucas Bacon and Joseph Heitman.
Bacon is coming off knee surgery and Heitman, who had a breakout year in football and track, has recovered from a broken orbital bone under his right eye suffered during 7-on-7 football this summer.
Bacon expects the offense to be as good as a year ago.
“There’s always room for growth,” Bacon said. “The sky’s the limit.”
Central Valley: CV grad Ryan Butner is beginning his second year at the helm and it’s obvious by the look in his face that he’s carrying less stress.
That tension of following in the footsteps of a legend has faded.
“I’m most excited about working with our coaching staff and the opportunity of the kids in our program another year,” Butner said.
Butner said the playbook has been expanded on both sides of the ball.
“We were pretty vanilla last year,” he said.
CV has the biggest pool of students to pull from of any school in the GSL. Still, the Bears have some big shoes to fill.
“I really like the camaraderie, and the senior class is full of leaders,” Butner said.
One of those leaders is receiver/defensive back Jase Edwards, a three-year starter and throwback as a three-sport standout who’d probably do a fourth sport if possible.
“We have a lot of good players and the young guys are excited,” Edwards said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Lewis and Clark: The Tigers fielded one of their smallest teams in history last year.
But coach Dave Hughes couldn’t fault the effort.
“Our kids played hard every game,” Hughes said. “We were a little undermanned.”
Like all teams, LC has some strengths and areas of concern.
“Lack of effort will not be a problem,” Josh Via, a returning starter at linebacker, said.
University: Coach Adam Daniel starts his second year feeling much more secure in the foundation he’s implemented.
“I wasn’t really sure what our identity was last year,” Daniel said.
The Titans will feature one of their biggest offensive lines in recent memory. So Daniel has tailored the offense to his team’s strength.
“They’re tough, big, physical and athletic,” Daniel said. “Our brand of football is power – no finesse.”
Count fullback Hunter Gregerson as excited to be running behind a sizable line.
“I’m excited how we changed our offense,” said Gregerson, who noted he’s looking forward to laying some wood to would-be tacklers.
Ferris: The Saxons welcome a new coach who is familiar with football on the South Hill.
Tom Yearout was the head coach at LC when the Tigers captured the state title in 2007. He’s excited to be working at the top of the hill.
“When it (the Ferris job) opened, I thought I’ll finish at LC,” Yearout said. “When I looked at what I needed and what they needed, I thought it was a good match.”
Yearout said the most difficult challenge this summer had nothing to do with football.
“Communicating with the kids through the summer, having not seen them in the hallways, is the most challenging thing,” Yearout said.
Jake Zastrow, a returning starter at defensive back, said the transition to a new coach has been interesting.
“There was a feeling out period,” Zastrow said. “I got a couple buddies at LC and they said he was a good guy. So I was excited to meet him.”
Mt. Spokane: The Wildcats seemingly graduated their entire team a year ago and they found a way to capture another league title last fall.
And they did it despite sustaining multiple injuries. The good news is it cultivated depth for this year.
Mt. Spokane has six offensive linemen back that started at some point last year. That’s a solid foundation that will allow for a productive run game and play-action attack.
“We’re resilient,” coach Terry Cloer said when asked about his team’s strengths. “We’re going to have the biggest lines that we’ve ever had at Mt. Spokane. We have all the experience we need.”
Senior lineman and returning starter Risone Ama can’t wait to line up next to his familiar teammates.
“We have more seniors (this year),” Ama said. “We have more of a brotherhood type of thing.”
Devan Nelson, another returning senior lineman, isn’t taking his final season for granted.
“It’s the last ride for the seniors,” Nelson said. “I’m excited to play with the guys I’ve grown up playing with.”
Shadle Park: Fourth-year coach Jim Mace has much to work with as the Highlanders put perennial 3A power Mt. Spokane in their sights.
“We’re returning a lot offensively and our defensive front six will be very good,” Mace said. “Overall we’re in really good shape.”
Anchoring the offense will be senior running back Xavier Wicks, who has a chance to break Shadle’s all-time rushing record.
As soon as last season ended, Wicks couldn’t wait to get to this season.
“I’m excited to see what we can do,” Wicks said.
North Central: Coach Tom Griggs begins his third season and he’s sensing a better buy-in from his players in a key element that’s less physical and more mental.
“One thing we changed, as far as a culture, is a lot more discipline,” Griggs said.
Griggs said he has a group that understands discipline is key.
“To be successful you have to have a core group of guys that love football,” Griggs said.
NC’s strength will be in its offensive and defensive lines. The Indians return four starting offensive linemen.
“We have a lot of guys putting in the work to be successful,” said Casey Stangel, one of the returning linemen. “I think we’re on the right track.”
Rogers: Coach Ben Cochran said he’s laid down the law with his team this summer.
It was a different kind of “law” he taught his team at camp. In his definition, “l” stands for love each other; “a” stands for attitude; and “w” stands for work hard. Those are the expectations for his players.
Returning offensive lineman Cameron Jeske will command a solid blocking core at center. He’s looking forward to his senior year.
“I’m bringing everything and giving everything I’ve got. One last hurrah,” Jeske said.
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