WAPITI FOOTBALL SEES YEAR OF CHALLENGE
By Raenelle Kwock
Observer Staff Writer
Wapiti League football will undergo significant changes next year. Imbler and Joseph will drop from Class 2A to 1A leaving Elgin, Enterprise, Nyssa, Grant Union and Union left in the league.
Pine-Eagle has already left the conference and is playing an 8-man independent football schedule this season.
This season promises to be an exciting one before the changes take effect.
The Imbler Panthers (8-1 overall, 6-1 league) wound up in a three-way tie for league champion but were denied the playoffs last season because they came out on the short end of a tiebreaking formula.
Imbler coach Lee Lowe said a lot of the success this season will depend on the line of scrimmage.
"We're already green on the line of scrimmage," he said. "We're even more green."
Two lineman transferred and four first-team all-league lineman have graduated.
The Panthers return junior Jeff Smith, who was an honorable mention all-league offensive lineman.
The rest of the line will be made up of sophomores Derek Williams, Corbin Hohstadt, Max Nilsson; and junior Jake Westover.
"We have skill people back," Lowe said.
The returnees are honorable mention all-league senior quarterback Trevor Crow, first team all-league senior running back Justin Volle, backup senior running back John Bartell, second team all-league senior wide receiver Travis Hoskins, second team all-league junior wide receiver Tanner McIntosh, senior defensive end Craig Wyatt, junior wide receiver Alan O'Donald and junior defensive back Olan Fulfer.
"Skill-wise, we have four or five people that have experience and have some skill and can be a threat if things happen for us on the line of scrimmage," Lowe said.
He said time to throw and having somewhere to run depends up front.
Lowe said the kids are working hard and are learning as quick as they can.
The Panthers host Weston-McEwen at 3 p.m. Friday.
For the third time in three years, the Union Bobcats have a new coach.
The Bobcats were winless last season, but they were very competitive in their opening game of the year Saturday, losing 14-0 to Lapwai.
First-year coach Steve Colkitt coached at the junior varsity level for 10 years.
"Overall, their attitudes are pretty good," Colkitt said.
He said the team is enthusiastic. Colkitt will be assisted by Roy Baremore, Milt Hooton, Cedric Samples and Mel Towne.
There are 15 returnees on the varsity which will be led by seniors honorable mention all-league center Matt Fiorito, Willie Duncan, Dan Blair, Chance Moore, Brian Kausler and honorable mention all-league wide receiver Ben Williamson.
Union hosts Stanfield at 7 p.m. Friday.
Elgin first-year coach Tim McGinness is looking forward to the season.
"Expectations are to be a positive team and to have physical, hard-hitting games," he said.
The Elgin Huskies (2-7, 1-6) return senior running back Blake Eckstein, junior quarterback Charlie Schumacher, junior quarterback and running back Codi Burgess, senior running back Skyler Payne, tight end and defensive end Ricky Foster, and senior running back Chad McDonald.
Eckstein was an all-league first team defensive lineman and second team all-league running back last year. Schumacher was an all-league honorable mention tight end. Payne was first team all-league punter and second team all-league defensive end. Foster was second team all-league linebacker.
The returning lineman are Mitch Page, Seth Follett, Vance Horn and Cooper Wilhelm.
McGinness said transfer Spencer Matte will play on the line.
He also said freshman Bill Miller will be another new face on the team.
Elgin plays at Waitsburg Friday.
Enterprise (4-5, 3-4) returns 10 players from last season.
The main returnees are junior quarterback Tony Swart, junior running back Craig Swart, senior tackle Steven Immoos, senior guard Collin Cunningham, senior guard Matt Williams, junior guard Brinn Jones, sophomore running back Jake Vanderzanden and senior wide receiver Jake McCleary.
Immoos was an honorable mention all-league defensive lineman last season. Cunningham was an honorable mention all-league linebacker.
A new face on the varsity is senior tight end Clay Freels.
"We want to be competitive, always challenging for a playoff spot," Enterprise coach Randy Morgan said.
He said the team does not have much depth.
"We can't afford any injuries," Morgan said.
He said after the starting lineup, he will look to the freshmen. There are 33 players and 13 are freshmen.
Mitch Frye is a new assistant coach.
Enterprise lost on the road to Heppner last weekend. It will host McLoughlin at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Joseph Eagles (3-5, 2-5) return 20 players from last season.
Seven will be back on offense and six will be on defense.
The returners include junior Michael Marks, junior Clayton Lowe, senior Sterling Shetler, junior Clay Hayward, junior Tristan Gorsline, senior Cole Lathrop, junior Kyle Hook, junior Lance Strickland, senior Randall Eschler, senior Christian Ambroson, junior Tanner Stewart and junior Mike Gamboa.
Joseph coach Rusty Eschler said senior Andy Hayes will be a new player on defense and freshman Tyler Coppin may see time on the varsity.
"We have size and speed this year," Eschler said.
All-league first team defensive back Randall Eschler will play running back or quarterback or slot this season.
"He's the jack of all trades," coach Eschler said. "He's the master of none."
"Our strength now is the offensive line," Eschler said.
Marks and Lowe were second team all-league selections. Hayward is the returning center, Alex Sealey is a tackle and Shetler is a returning guard.
"They're an athletic group," Eschler said. "They have good footwork. They've been very impressive in practice."
Lathrop was a first team all-league wide receiver last season.
Hook will be the starting quarterback.
The Eagles will play at Pilot Rock Friday.