August 29, 2001 11:00 pm
LEADING RUSHER: Casey Fenwick will lead the Tigers out of the backfield this season; he rushed for 553 yards as a junior. (The Observer/C.J. GISH).
LEADING RUSHER: Casey Fenwick will lead the Tigers out of the backfield this season; he rushed for 553 yards as a junior. (The Observer/C.J. GISH).

By C.J. Gish

Observer Staff Writer

La Grande took steps toward respectability last year in its first season in the Class 3A Greater Oregon League.

The Tigers football team posted its best record (4-5) since 1994 and its best league mark (3-4) since 1993. La Grandes fifth-place finish in the GOL was its highest league finish since 1993 when it was in the 4A Intermountain Conference.

We need to do a lot of things to get (the program) going, first-year head coach Randy Waite said.

La Grande, the largest school in the GOL, has 65 players out for this years varsity and JV teams. The Tigers wont field a freshman team. Last year, La Grande was the only program in the GOL with a freshman squad.

When you field three teams, you lose kids that way because they dont always experience success, so having only two teams might be a blessing, Waite said.

La Grande has seven returners on defense and five on offense.

Senior Casey Fenwick (5-9, 165) again will be the featured tailback. Last year, Fenwick led the Tigers with 553 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns and was second with 17 catches for 201 yards. His totals garnered him all-GOL first-team honors.

At fullback is senior Jon Henderson (6-0, 170), who started at the position late in the season and rushed for 41 yards and caught 10 passes for 135 yards. Senior Jake Simonis will also see time at fullback.

The quarterback position will be a battle between seniors Kyle Bomberger (6-1, 180) and Chris Wagner (5-8, 155). Both are moving from running back spots where Bomberger rushed for 64 yards and Wagner had nine last season.

Well be using a multiple set (offense) with some shotgun stuff. Well also be in the I and dotted I (formation) some, too, Waite said.

The other skill positions will include junior Greg Moulton (5-3, 170) and T.J. Frye at tight end, and seniors Weston Weaver (6-2, 165) and Jack Grant, and junior Tyson Stebbins (5-9, 145) at wide receiver. Stebbins is the only one of the group who had a catch last year a 46-yarder for a touchdown.

The line consists of seniors Cam Visconty (5-9, 220) and Joseph Waite (5-11, 190), juniors A.J. Frye, Dan Wells (5-8, 190), Chas Hatch, and Nick Drey (5-8, 215), and sophomores Brandon Boucher and Ryan Buffton.

The kicking duties will go to Simonis, and the punting position is a three-way battle between Henderson, T.J. Frye and Fenwick.

On defense, La Grande will go with a 3-4 formation. With seven starting returners, this should be the Tigers strength this season.

Visconty and Henderson are on the line, with senior Adam Kleck (5-9, 160) at outside linebacker, senior Rob Searles (5-10, 165) at middle linebacker and Bomberger at linebacker.

Fenwick, a first-team all-league defensive back, is slated for strong safety and Stebbins is a cornerback.

Vying for the other positions are Simonis at linebacker, senior Justin Funkhouser at safety, Grant at safety, junior Tyler Reddington at cornerback, Waite at outside linebacker and senior Rob Sloan at nose tackle.

On paper, we dont look deep, but if someone went down we should have the guys to step in, Waite said. We should be able to overcome most of the little things.

The top teams in the GOL this year will be Vale and Ontario, Waite said. Vale is ranked first in the 3A preseason poll and Ontario was sixth. Burns came in at eighth.

Vale has the best running back and Ontario has a lot of players, which gives them an edge, Waite said.

McLoughlin and Baker will be much improved, he added, and Riverside returns a solid core of young players.

Our goal is to make the playoffs. If things fall into place, we should have a shot, he said.

Nyssa at La Grande

Game starts at 7 p.m. Friday at Community Stadium.

Radio coverage will be on KWRL 99.9 FM, 6:45 p.m.