The Whitworth Pirates won’t get the chance to play for a conference football championship this season, and long ago Division III canceled its national postseason competitions for 2020 fall sports.
All they have planned before them are four games: two home-and-homes against Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran, the only other two Northwest Conference teams in Washington.
But last week, when the Pirates returned to practice, there was at least a little bit of normalcy to it, something the team hasn’t had much of since it last played a game on Nov. 16, 2019.
“We love to compete,” senior cornerback Bryce Hornbeck said. “I think that’s the beauty of it, that even though we only get four games, and you can find all the negatives, the positive is we get to get out and compete.”
The first of those four games is scheduled for Feb. 13 at the Pine Bowl against Puget Sound, which beat Whitworth 34-23 last season, one of the Pirates’ three losses.
Hornbeck said when he arrived for practice that score was posted in the locker room as something to fire up the team.
“We’re all feeling motivated,” Hornbeck said.
There is work to do – a quarterback competition to sort out, a new offense to learn, and a defense that needs to replace seven starters from 2019.
Junior Jaedyn Prewitt is one of the quarterbacks competing for the starting job in a new system he describes as similar to the Los Angeles Rams’ offense.
“A lot of new stuff. This is definitely a more versatile offense,” Prewitt said. “The coach inside of me loves it. We’re able to do a lot more things with it.”
Alan Stanfield, the former Shadle Park High coach who coordinated Whitworth’s spread offense the past six seasons, took an assistant principal job in Kalispell and has been replaced as coordinator by Ian Kolste.
This is Kolste’s third year on the staff after his playing career at Whitworth ended in 2017. He amassed all-time school records in passing yards (10,124) and touchdowns (85), going 26-6 as the Pirates’ starting quarterback.
In some ways, this four-game schedule will serve as a tuneup for next fall, when, Whitworth players hope, they will be able to play a full 2021 campaign.
“We’re all building up to the 2021 fall season, but we’re gonna take this very seriously,” Prewitt said. “Our goal is 4-0, and play together as a team, a family. We’re ready to go.”
The Pirates practiced some last fall, but since then many restrictions have loosened, and practices this winter look much more normal.
They feel that way, too, Prewitt said.
“In the fall we had modified practices, but we couldn’t do team, we couldn’t play against the defense,” he said. “But now we’re playing against the defense half the practice, and it’s good to be back to somewhat of a normal practice.”
Still, it is different practicing at the Pine Bowl in January and looking forward to games there in February and March.
“It’s definitely a challenge because our bodies aren’t used to practicing at this time of year and going (with a) full head of steam,” said sophomore lineman Dustin Burns, a Lewis and Clark High graduate. “But coaches are doing a really good job of spreading it out, getting our bodies warmed up for the challenge. We’re definitely used to playing in the cold later in November, so that’s not really a factor to us.”
Whether this spring’s seniors are able to return next fall is something of a discussion among players. The NCAA granted a blanket eligibility waiver that would allow them to come back, but not every player is able or willing to put the next phases of their education or career on hold.
Players are treating this winter schedule like it just may be the end for many of them, Hornbeck said.
“We’re trying to focus on the here and now,” he said, “and that’s the big thing.”
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