Coach Craig Whitney is no doubt glad his West Valley Eagles have earned a little preseason praise.
The Seattle Times’ preseason rankings have them ranked No. 6 in Class 2A – as much a recognition of the team’s 31-5 record over the last three seasons as it is a prediction for the season ahead.
West Valley won the Great Northern League championship last season and finished 9-2, but lost its first-round state game at Ellensburg 6-0 when the Eagles left too many chances in the red zone go without points.
Point out the ranking and Whitney will tell you that preseason rankings don’t mean a thing; he puts no stock in them.
“You have to do it on the field,” he said.
Still, the Eagles are the consensus favorite to win what is likely the final GNL league title.
The Eagles aren’t exactly reloading this year. The running game loses some of its muscle with the graduation of Marshall Meleney, who ran from scrimmage with the same punishing intensity with which he played linebacker as the league’s defensive MVP. In the open field Meleney was his own blocking back, blowing through would-be tacklers.
What the team lacks in power it makes up for with speed.
Kobin Carver Jr. was a second-team all-league running back a year and will be a prime option in the run game. Malachi Clark was a speedy reserve a year ago and will also play a bigger role.
But the key to WV’s attack is senior co-MVP Matt Allen, a dual-threat quarterback in his third year as the team’s starter. In his first seasons under center he guided the Eagles into the state playoffs.
An injury kept Allen sidelined during summer workouts, but he was hardly idle.
“It’s not up to me, of course, but I think we need to get back to the passing game,” Allen said. “We need to throw the ball more.”
Setting aside the fact that most quarterbacks would make that statement, given the choice, Allen’s point is that Meleney gave the team a power running game that set up the rest of the offense.
Forcing defenses to respect a quick pass attack should make for better running games for the team’s quicker, speedier running backs.
In addition to losing Meleney, the Eagles also graduated All-State Garrett Sheppard
Zach Feist was a first-team All-GNL pick last year and Jared Anselmo was a second-team selection. Both return to anchor the offensive line. Alyjouah Rollins was a two-way second-team all-league pick last year as a wide receiver and defensive back. Junior Tanner Cassell was the second team All-League tight end a year ago.
In alphabetical order. Records listed are 2018 results.
Cheney Blackhawks (6-4, 1-3): Coach Bobby Byrd’s Blackhawks saw four first-team all-league players graduate plus two more second-team picks.
Still, the cupboard is not bare. Shane Moore and Tayven Ewen were second-team All-GNL players a year ago. Moore returns to anchor the offensive line while Ewen pays tight end; both are also linebackers.
“Our strength will be our returners on both sides of the ball,” Byrd said. “We will be counting a lot on our returning starters. They have made a lot of improvements over the summer and have brought along their teammates.”
Quarterback Alex Long returns along with running back Trevor Rains and they will work behind a veteran offensive line. The linebacking corp is a veteran group and the defensive secondary is experienced.
East Valley Knights (0-9, 0-4): Coach Tom Griggs did not win a game in his first season at EV, and his Knights will be young again this year.
The team lost all-state offensive and defensive lineman Zack Holt to graduation but return second-team All-GNL running back and linebacker Zach Honegger. Center and inside linebacker Carter Jamison returns to anchor the middle of the field.
Caden Katsel suffered a broken back last year and returns to take over at running back as a junior.
Junior Henry Stevens takes over at quarterback and sophomore Ryan Conrath will be a primary target in the passing game.
“Our team must stay disciplined and focus on little things to improve each week in order to be competitive this season,” Griggs said.
Pullman Greyhounds (7-3, 3-1): The Greyhounds finished second behind West Valley a year ago but must find replacements for three first-team all-league players lost to graduation, including quarterback and co-offensive MVP Konner Kinkade.
Riley Pettitt will take over under center and he will have first-team All-GNL wide receiver Isaiah Strong and returning starter Sam Tingstad as his primary targets. Second-team all-league offensive and defensive linemen James Gray and Azo Elsahati will anchor both sides of the ball.
Clarkston Bantams (6-4, 2-2): Clarkston figures to be skilled, especially at skill positions. The Bantams return their starting quarterback, leading rusher and top three receivers from a year ago.
Kaeden Frazier was the second-team All-GNL quarterback a year ago. Running back Eddie Berglund was also a second-team pick.
Receiver Tru Allen was a first-team receiver last year. Austin Armstrong and Steve Baiye also caught passes last year while Baiye was the first-team All-GNL kicker.
The Bantams will need to develop along the offensive line to give Frazier and Berglund time to work, but added senior offensive and defensive lineman Michael Harris, who transferred from Orofino.
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