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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

2021 football preview: Capsules for Greater Spokane League and Eastern Washington

Brodey Shimp (3) and Deakon Sell vie for a long pass during a football practice at Ridgeline High School in Liberty Lake on Aug. 24. Ridgeline is the first new high school in Spokane County in more than 20 years, so this is also the Falcons’ first football team.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)

The Washington high school football season kicks off Friday with games across the region.

Here’s a preview for the Greater Spokane League 4A, 3A and 2A, plus Northeast A and B teams in the area.

Teams in alphabetical order by classification. Records listed from spring 2021.

Greater Spokane League 4A/3A

Central Valley (5-2): The Bears have to win the award for most letter winners returning to the program with a whopping 45 players with experience, including 11 starters. It all starts with senior QB Luke Abshire, who provides a strong arm and natural leadership. Abshire will be handing off to younger brother Zac and looking for sure-handed Nic Saunders downfield. This season also marks the return of LB Brandon Thomas, who is making a comeback after losing a leg to cancer. “We could have a very balanced and explosive offense,” coach Ryan Butner said.

Cheney (2-3): The Blackhawks competed well in the spring in their first go-round in the GSL. Seventh-year coach Bobby Byrd loves the atmosphere in camp. “We have a great group of kid who love being around each other and playing the game,” he said. Cheney looks to be strong up front, with returning junior linemen Cole Palmer and Matai Jarms Odood. Junior Jakeb Vallance is the starter at QB and last year’s starter, Josh Whiteley, moves to receiver.

Gonzaga Prep (5-0): Coach David McKenna’s Bullpups are skilled, experienced and deep – just maybe not yet on the offensive line, where five starters graduated. Back for his senior season is three-year starter Ryan McKenna, the league offensive MVP in the spring. The defense should be suffocating, with DE Kaz Melzer receiving DI offers, all-league DT Ephraim Watkins, LB Lucio Reynolds and DB Gregory Flynn.

Lewis and Clark (2-5): There were some growing pains for the Tigers last season in coach Joe Ireland’s first with the team. He has 24 letter winners and seven starters back, though, including the inside-outside RB tandem of Matt Heer and Gentz Hillburn, both all-league picks. The Tigers return six starters on defense.

Mead (4-3): Keith Stamps left the athletic director position at Deer Park to take over the Panthers football team. He’ll have nine total starters back, including all-league linemen Spencer Lyman and Kris Prince. Junior Colby Danielson will compete at the QB position.

Mt. Spokane (5-1): The highest-rated college prospect east of the Cascades is Ethan Moczulski, who spent his summer impressing national scouts at kicking camps. He’ll be doing his kicking for Texas A&M next season. “He forces offenses to gain extra yards. We are in scoring position once we cross the 50 and he has the potential to create a turnover with the height and distance he gets on his punts,” coach Terry Cloer said. There’s plenty of offense, too, with all-league picks WR Jordan Sands and RB Tyler Alm back for seniors seasons.

Ridgeline (0-0): Coach Dave Myers has an enviable but daunting task of building a football program from scratch at the new high school. He was an assistant at CV the past couple of seasons. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, open a brand new school as a head coach,” he said. “I feel really fortunate to have this opportunity at Ridgeline.” Nico Pena and Kole LeGrant will be an inside-outside tandem at running back.

University (0-5): The Titans remain a work in progress for coach Kaleb Madison, who has gone 2-12 in his first two seasons with U-Hi. He has nine starters back, including impact player WR/S Ricco Longo, lineman Gage Jorgenson and DE Lucas Reynolds. “We will play hard, fast and smart,” Madison said. “Our returning players are hard workers.”

Greater Spokane League 2A

Clarkston (2-5): Coach Brycen Bye enters his eighth season with some holes to fill, as 18 starters graduated – including five all-league picks. “We have seven quality receivers and four varsity-level running backs we feel good about,” Bye said. “Our QB (sophomore Carter Steinwand) is young, but we think he’ll be a quality starter.”

East Valley (3-3): The Knights turn to sophomore Diezel Wilkinson at QB after leading the GSL in receiving last season. Fourth-year coach Tom Griggs has 23 letter winners and 13 starters from his .500 team in the spring. Senior RB/LB Joe Hofstee and LB/FB Gage Bucher will be workhorses.

North Central (1-6): Fourth-year coach Sean Garvey has 14 letter winners and nine starters back, but will have to rebuild the entire defensive line from scratch. On offense, QB Carter Strom returns for his senior season, as does slotback Ryan Dewey. “We are still mostly young,” Garvey said. “Our upperclassmen have been doing a great job of leading the team by committee.”

Pullman (4-2): The Greyhounds lost six all-league picks to graduation. “I see this as a unique and talented group that is very balanced across the board,” fifth-year coach David Cofer said. Senior Riley Pettitt takes over at QB and he’ll have receiver Tanner Barbour to throw to.

Rogers (0-6): Coach Mike Dewey takes over a Pirates program that has gone 4-41 over the past five seasons. He brings with him three league titles and two state championship appearances from his stint at 2B Liberty. “We are very young and inexperienced,” he said. “Our focus is to get a little bit better every week and build a culture where players are committed to the program and feel valued.” Senior RB/LB Caber Taylor and junior WR/DB Gabe Skinner will be leaders.

Shadle Park (5-0): The Highlanders return starters all over the field – except at signal-caller. While coach Jim Mace figures out his quarterback position he’ll lean on RB/LB Tryson Town and WR/DB Liam Johnston, who’s a threat to go every time he touches the ball, and speedy transfer Nathaniel Joosten. There’s good size and experience on the lines. “We expect to be able to be physical and move people up front,” Mace said.

West Valley (6-0): Coach Craig Whitney, in his 17th season with the Eagles, lost 19 letter winners and 17 starters to graduation, including 2A MVP Malachi Clark. West Valley’s success this season will start in the trenches, where three all-league players return, including seniors Connor Rowett and Jacob Geiger. “We should be very tough up front on both sides of the ball,” Whitney said. “We have talented and fast skill players following our big guys.”

Northeast A

Colville (2-2): Eight starters return for coach Greg Mace in his second season. The strength of this team will be its lines, which will be anchored on both side of the ball by a quartet of seniors, led by all-league selection Kris Nussbaum. WR/DB Rhett Foulkes is dangerous any time he has the ball in his hands.

Deer Park (3-3): The Stags have eight starters back for coach Levi Hogan. Juniors QB Remi Scott and RB Seth Hickman will feature prominently in the backfield behind a deep offensive line.

Freeman (2-4): Third-year coach Ben Cochran has 18 letter winners and 14 starters – seven on each side of the ball – back for fall. Junior Boen Phelps, a potential league MVP, will take the snaps again and he’ll have plenty of targets. “To be competitive we need our (offensive) line to improve every week and our defense to limit points and create turnovers,” Cochran said.

Lakeside (5-1): Junior QB Kole Hunsaker, the league’s first-team pick, is entering his third season as the starter for the Eagles. Fifth-year coach Devin Bauer has eight starters back, including RB/LB Jesse James and WR/SS Dawson Tobeck.

Medical Lake (0-5): It was a rough spring for the Cardinals and coach Jeremy Bahr, who enters his fourth season with optimism. “We’re led by a strong senior class,” he said. Second-team pick RB/LB Jalijah Meacham, QB/DB Eugene Haas and RB/LB Joe Griffey will be counted on for production and leadership.

Newport (2-3): The Grizzlies have 23 letter winners and 16 starters back for veteran coach Dave Pomante, who said they had a productive summer.

Riverside (4-0): Sixth-year coach Buddy Wood lost some good players to graduation, but he has 17 letter winners and 11 starters back, including budding star senior Silas Ng at quarterback. “We are returning a lot of players on our lines,” Wood said. “I expect we’ll be tough again in the trenches.”

Northeast 2B

Colfax (3-2): The Bulldogs have 14 letter winners and four starters returning. Coach Mike Morgan, in his 23rd season, will be breaking in a new group of skill players, but “they each had a lot of playing time in last spring,” he said. Junior RB/LB Mason Gilchrist will be counted on, and Damien Demler moves from DB to QB for the fall.

Davenport (2-3): Coach Justin Young enters his 12th season with several all-league players, including all-state lineman Willie Waters and fellow seniors Cody Jenkins, Tate Foster and Jarrett Jacobson. “We have the athletes to be competitive this year,” Young said. “We are a little low on numbers so injuries could really hurt us.”

Liberty (4-1): Coach Brian Harrington has eight to 10 starters returning for his second season with the Lancers with a strong senior class, led by WR/LB Gage Holling, QB Logan Willson and RB/DE London Foland. Junior LB/FB Jake Jeske, a transfer from Rainier, Washington, will be an impact player. “What we may lack in size we’ll make up for in speed and athleticism,” Harrington said.

Lind-Ritzville/Sprague (2-2): The Broncos only had one senior out this fall, but many of the juniors started as ninth-graders. “We lack size this year, but we will have some of the best team speed we have had in a long time,” veteran coach Greg Whitmore said. Junior QB Chase Galbreath is a leader.

Northwest Christian (0-5): The Crusaders toughed out the spring season in coach Marshall Hart’s first season. Things should be better this season, with 20 letter winners back. Senior TE/DL Jonny Lester, at 6-5, 250, is garnering interest at the next level.

Reardan (3-1): Coach Erik Nikkola enters his 16th season with nine returning letter winners, including seniors RB/DB Cody Sprecher, RB/DB Abe Nelson and lineman Justin Murinko. Nikkola is auditioning quarterbacks and coaching up linemen.

Northeast 1B

Almira/Coulee-Hartline (4-0): Experience won’t be a problem for coach Brandon Walsh, entering his 23rd season with ACH. One of the top 1B teams in the state, the Warriors have 14 letter winners back, led by QB/LB Dane Isaak and lineman Reece Isaak, both seniors. “This might be the first time in my career that we bring back all starters,” Walsh said.

Cusick (2-3): Coach Sonny Finley is in the second season of his second stint with the Panthers. The program had 28 players turn out with 10 seniors and nine juniors. Senior QB/DE Colton Seymour, sophomore WR/DB Bode Seymour and senior RB/LB River Edmiston will be leaders.

Odessa (5-0): The Tigers are 62-6 in coach Jeff Nelson’s six years with the program, and he has 12 letter winners back – but just three starters. OL/LB Drew Hardung was a two-way all-league pick in the spring, and senior RB Daeton Deife will generate plenty of yardage. “We have a solid starting group on offense and defense who should continue to be very physical,” Nelson said.

Wellpinit (0-5): Wellpinit took some lumps last year in a growing season but returns 20 letter winners for coach Clark Pauls, in his 12th year at the helm. Junior Smokey Abrhamson will be behind center and he’ll get help from sophomore RB Kaden McCrea.

Wilbur-Creston-Keller (4-1): The Wildcats had a good spring but had only 20 turn out in the fall. Of those, 14 are letter winners for coach Darin Reppe in his 10th season. Senior Peyton Michel was an all-league all-purpose pick last season and will be splitting QB duties this year with junior Dru Becker. There’s good size up front.

Southeast 1B

St. John-Endicott/Lacrosse (0-2): John Hergert, who played for the Eagles, has eight letter winners and five starters to work with in his first season as coach, led by junior QB Tanner Fleming.