The request from Colfax football coach Mike Morgan was simple: “Try not to give us the Sports Illustrated jinx!”
But the truth is, there is no way to avoid putting the bull’s-eye on the Bulldogs.
The team that went 11-1 last year, losing to Asotin in the State B-11 playoffs, returns all but three starters and the expectations are high.
“As far as my time here, we always feel we should be in the title hunt,” said Morgan, who enters his 12th year as the head coach after six as an assistant. “We always do, that’s just us. That’s Colfax. That’s what drives all of us, high expectations.”
Morgan pointed to the two baseball championships under Mike Parrish, Sue Doering’s “100,” OK, eight, volleyball titles and Corey Baerlocher’s five girls basketball titles as proof that expectations come with the territory.
“Coach will have us ready for that stuff,” senior all-league receiver/defensive back Will Hatley said. “He just told us to take it game by game, don’t let it get in our head. We’re confident, but we still have to go out and do our job. Nothing’s guaranteed.”
“It just makes us work harder,” said senior all-league lineman Sam Mellor. “If everyone’s gunning for you, you still have to play the game no matter what.”
“We talk about this stuff,” Morgan said. “These kids are humble. They just like to go to work, like to play football, like to be around each other. They’re motivated. We tell them the polls are like poison, won’t hurt you if you don’t swallow it.”
Instead, the Bulldogs could be poison for anyone else.
It starts with an exceptional line.
Senior tackles Ryan Conrad (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and Tyler Morse (6-2, 195) and Mellor (6-1, 225), a guard, were all-league both ways last year.
Juniors Austin Neu (6-0, 170) at center and Tuffy Hickman (6-7, 280) at guard, fill out the line with some experience.
“I love offense and as much as I joke with line coaches, you can’t win any kind of football without front line of any size and ability,” the coach said. “Any year we’ve been good in football it’s because we’ve had a front line that is dominant, offensively and defensively.”
All-league second-teamers last year included junior quarterback Alex Teade (6-2, 180), Hatley (5-8, 150) and junior tight end Kellen Morgan (6-0, 165), the coach’s son.
Justin Beraducci (6-1, 160) seized a starting spot at receiver midway through last season.
Colfax graduated two outstanding running backs, but senior Stetson Steiger (6-0, 170), one of the top sprinters in the league, steps in at fullback and shifty junior Tyler McNannay (6-0, 170) is the tailback.
All the starters are expected to go both ways, but that doesn’t mean the backups won’t see action if the Bulldogs are half as powerful as they were in their first year in the Northeast 2B, when they outscored opponents 32-10 in the regular season.
“It’s a great league,” Conrad said. “I love playing in it. There are a lot of great teams, a lot of good ballplayers on every team. It’s good competition and I enjoy it.”
“It’s a fun league, good competition, guys hit hard,” he said. “I think now that everyone has seen the option it will be a little bit tougher. But I think we’ll be tougher.”
“We just struck gold last year,” Morgan said. “We were the new kids on the block and we came in and bloodied everybody’s nose. I told the kids these guys are going to take exception. These coaches are friends of mine. We’re all the same age, we’ve grown up behind legendary coaches. All these coaches will come back with a vengeance. We won’t surprise anybody. I think they’re going to be better prepared.”
“If you’re going into a fight you better have a big stick,” Morgan said. “Right now we have a big stick.”