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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Whitworth football: Pirates don’t get a spring game, but they have fun by other means

UPDATED: Sat., May 4, 2019, 8:50 p.m.

Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg congratulates his players after defeating Lewis & Clark and winning the Northwest Conference championship on  Nov. 3  at the Pine Bowl. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg congratulates his players after defeating Lewis & Clark and winning the Northwest Conference championship on Nov. 3 at the Pine Bowl. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Zach Hillman would prefer to put on shoulder pads, buckle his chinstrap and proceed to lay a clean hit on a receiver coming across the middle.

That’s what the Whitworth senior safety and former Post Falls standout has done the last three seasons at the Pine Bowl.

The Pirates – and all other NCAA Division III programs – aren’t allowed to suit up during the spring, though.

NCAA Division I and NCAA II programs can. So can NAIA and junior college programs.

Potential facility and training staff strains at the Division III level are among the reasons administrators are against full-contact football in the spring, according to an NCAA.org report.

Whitworth doesn’t get a spring game like neighboring Washington State, Eastern Washington and Idaho.

“I like defense because I like hitting people, but we get out here and do what we can,” Hillman said. “We like to compete and just have fun.”

And that’s what about 100 shorts-and-jersey-clad football players did Saturday.

Whitworth ended its spring football drills with its fan-friendly Spring Fling event, which included more than a dozen team and position competitions and a barbecue.

The defending Northwest Conference champion Pirates worked on technique the past four weeks, but on Saturday they also took part in some fun – sometimes wacky – competitions in front of about 300 spectators.

Offensive and defensive lineman caught punts and ran routes. Cornerbacks played wide receiver. There were even obstacle-course relay teams.

Whitworth head coach Rod Sandberg would prefer tackling and pads in the spring, too, but since NCAA legislation doesn’t agree, he’s making the best of the rule.

He takes solace in not losing players to injury this time of year.

“We take the fun serious,” Sandberg said. “There’s too many places around the country where playing the greatest game ever invented is not fun.

“We’re going to make sure it’s fun, but we’re also going to compete and work our tails off.”

Whitworth offensive lineman Isaac Kimmet – a former Northwest Christian standout – could be seen running through a series of drills that included a balance beam, in which the 340-pound sophomore carefully toed across the wooden bar before rolling over garbage cans.

Hillman and his teammates wouldn’t get to witness their big linemen’s agility in a gantlet-like setting in a regular, fully padded spring game.

“The spring time is getting our technique right,” Hillman said. “(Spring Fling) allows us to grow and have fun, and it’s what makes Whitworth such a special program. We’re very close.”

Hillman was among four players named team captains for the 2019 season.

Fellow returning starters Leif Ericksen (quarterback), Kale Wong (linebacker) and Taylor Hall (receiver) round out the leaders.

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