By C.J. Gish
Observer Staff Writer
IMBLER Sometimes you need a season to regroup before surging forward.
Imblers football team, after seven straight winning seasons, had to do just that last year. Armed with a team overwhelmed with underclassmen, the Panthers went 2-7 overall and tied for sixth place at 1-6 in the Wapiti League.
Imbler hosts Weston-McEwen Friday.
We had a lot of sophomores, and way too many freshmen, that played last year, said Lee Lowe, entering his 23rd season as Imblers head coach.
But sometimes putting something under extreme heat and pressure will pay off in the end. Like a lump of coal, hopefully the battle-tested returning group of players will shine like a diamond this season, leading Imbler to the state playoffs for the first time since 1996.
We took our lumps last year and I hope we can get back to being competitive, Lowe said.
Optimism is running high as Lowe fielded his biggest turnout in those 23 years. Thirty-eight players are out, including nine returning starters.
Senior Tyson Hoskins, an all-league running back, led Imbler with 903 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
Hoskins will be joined by his brother, Troy, a junior all-league tight end who led the Panthers with 12 receptions for 137 yards.
Senior Brandon Campbell split time at quarterback and wide receiver last year. This year, hell line up at receiver, where he caught five passes for 136 yards and two TDs. Senior Cody McKee and junior Zach Myers will also play at the receiver spot.
Sophomore Trevor Crow is slated at quarterback. Last year, Crow completed 10 passes for 224 yards with two touchdowns. He will be joined in the backfield by junior running back Steven Skillings, who had 319 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
The offensive line includes senior Eric Johnson and juniors Moose Hudson and Jesse Lene at tackles; juniors Jay Butts and Jeremy Wilson at center; and juniors Jason McKaig and Ian TrompVanHolst at guards. Junior Jake Hines, who didnt play last season, will also rotate into the mix at tackle.
Imbler will stick with the pro-set offense, which Lowe plans to throw more out of this year to take the pressure off Tyson Hoskins and Skillings in the running game.
We should have good depth this year, Lowe said. Were still young, but we have guys whove had some playing time who can get the job done.
The defense, which will be playing in a four- or five-man front, will be anchored by Johnson at end and Skillings at linebacker. Both were all-league selections last year.
Tyson Hoskins is at the other end with McKaig, Hudson, Lene and Hines also playing along the line.
At linebacker are sophomore Craig Wyatt and Troy Hoskins.
The secondary includes Campbell, Myers, McKee and two freshmen Lowe has been impressed with Tanner MacIntosh and Alan ODonald.
We have only six seniors out, so were still relatively young in a lot of respects, Lowe said. Our biggest challenge will be getting our young kids to step up.
Well have a better program than last year. These kids have been working hard.
Nyssa, Union and Joseph are the three teams Lowe said will be the ones to watch in the Wapiti League this season.
Nyssa just has the shear numbers. Union has 14 or 15 seniors back and some good skill people. Joseph has almost all of its skill people back, he said.
As for Imbler, I hope we get back among the respectable ball clubs in the league, Lowe said. We basically fielded a junior varsity team last year. We survived, but it left a bad taste in our mouth.