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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

2022 football preview: Whitworth excited to bring the band back together as it looks to climb the Division III charts

Coach Rod Sandberg has a 58-17 record in eight seasons at Whitworth.  (Tyler Tjomsland photo/The Spokesman-Review: Staff photo illustration)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

As disappointing as last year’s 7-3 record was to the Whitworth Pirates, with nine returning starters each on defense and offense, they are getting a rare chance to redeem it with almost entirely the same roster.

Whitworth last made the Division III playoffs in 2018, but since then it hasn’t quite been able to get through an improved Northwest Conference, in which the Pirates finished fourth last season behind perennial power Linfield and rising programs Pacific and George Fox.

But the Pirates are sure they’ve got the pieces to right the ship.

“I think it’s more now about handling our business and ourselves,” running back Solo Hines said.

Side A (offense): The Pirates should be deep at quarterback, led by returning starter Jaedyn Prewitt. Their top two running backs from last year, Hines and Isaiah Jones, return as well. Four of their starting offensive linemen from a year ago are back, and after a year spent at Southern Utah, Ian Kolste has returned as offensive coordinator. “We have a lot of weapons on offense for sure,” Hines said. “Maybe too many.”

Side B (defense): Whitworth was vulnerable against the run last season but particularly strong against the pass, and its opponent third-down conversion rate (29.3%) was second best in the NWC. With three starters returning in the secondary (Colten Chelin, BJ Mullin and Jacob Hogger) and all three starting linebackers back too (Patrick Serrano, Derrick Platt and Dylan Ventress), the focus will be on whether the defensive line can stay healthy and become a strength throughout the year.

Extras (special teams): Senior kicker Nate RaPue earned First-team All-Conference honors last year, making 11 of 17 field goals and 36 of 37 point-after attempts. As a unit, the Pirates’ kickoff coverage ranked first in the NWC. Starting punter Alvaro Campos-Ontiveros is back, too.

Surprise hits: Prewitt praised junior receiver Riley Morrison, a transfer from Simon Fraser, the same program Hines came from a year before. Morrison caught 45 passes for 405 yards last season at SFU. Another transfer, Michael Workman, is also in the mix at wideout. Now a junior, the Mead High graduate spent the last two seasons with the Idaho Vandals but did not see any game action there.

Producer: Rod Sandberg enters his ninth season as Pirates’ head coach with a 58-17 record, looking to lead the Pirates to their second NWC title during his time in Spokane. The team’s 7-3 record drives the coaches, too, he said, to be better this season. “We reevaluate where we are off, what we can do differently,” Sandberg said. “I’ve never had a more motivated offseason personally.” Also, for the first time since his first few years of coaching, the defensive-minded Sandberg is working on the offensive side by helping with the running backs.

Album review: Linfield rolled through the conference last year, though they did so with Wyatt Smith, a Gagliardi Trophy finalist, who has graduated. George Fox and Pacific are more formidable than they’ve been. And the Pirates’ non-conference schedule provides stiff competition. It’s tough to see any team running the table in the Northwest Conference this year.

Prediction: 8-2