What Craig McCormick, the new coach of defending champion Pullman, fears most about this year’s Great Northern League is the awakening of sleeping giants.
Former Greater Spokane League schools Cheney, West Valley and Clarkston must eventually get things going and become dominant, McCormick said.
“When Cheney figures it out, they are going to be the best,” he said. “They are the biggest school, have the biggest guys and the best guys.”
He said West Valley has an unbelievable summer program and Clarkston has been traditionally strong.
“We’re beating our heads against guys that are tough,” McCormick said.
Since arriving in 2A in 2006, however, the three teams haven’t quite caught up with the GNL standard bearers.
McCormick, the longtime Greyhounds assistant, has replaced Bill Peterson. With a solid senior class, he will stick with the system that has earned Pullman six straight state appearances, two times reaching the finals.
Colville has been to state for the past five years.
“Each year we’ve been picked in the middle of the pack,” coach Randy Cornwell said. “At what point will we not be the dark horse?”
The answer is this year, what with 14 starters returning, including two-way all-GNL lineman Cruze Thompson and fourth-year starter Casey Cox. The Indians are the logical favorite.
But after what transpired last year, pardon McCormick if his fears about the others are justified.
Five games were decided in overtime and five more by a touchdown or less. Any of six teams could have reached postseason. While the Greyhounds won their fourth league title in five years, they weren’t unbeaten. Second-place Colville nipped them by a point. Deer Park, West Valley, Cheney and Clarkston all went 4-3, a game behind the Indians.
“This year will be as even as it’s ever been,” McCormick said. “It’s going to be a war and I’ll bet you a really large beer it won’t be decided until the last week.”
Nearly every team in the league returns a dozen or more regulars from last year. One who would like to intrude on the Pullman-Colville stranglehold is West Valley’s Tyler Poldervart. A junior entering his third year as a starter, Poldervart is switching positions.
He was first a fullback, last year was primarily at linebacker, and this year will go both ways – moving to guard on offense instead of in the backfield.
“You know, it started out talking with the offensive line coach last year just because of my size,” Poldervart said. “I just kept getting bigger and kept getting bigger.”
He’s grown from a 6-foot, 195-pound freshman into a 6-2, 223-pounder with 4.8-second 40-yard speed and college potential. But the Eagles went to a spread offense last year and had little need for a blocking back.
“I kind of outgrew my position and the line coach came to me and asked, ‘Do you mind switching?’ I was more than willing to help the team,” Poldervart said. “Learning hasn’t been a problem. Ninety percent of it is effort and I haven’t had a problem hitting people.”
The Eagles (7-3 last year) are among six teams that again legitimately have playoff aspirations depending upon the breaks.
“I would say this team probably has the most chemistry and had the best offseason of any group of kids we’ve had,” coach Craig Whitney said. “Whichever way the ball bounces will determine things. Hopefully, the ball bounces our way.”
Poldervart is one of 14 returning WV starters, including all-GNL quarterback Drew Clausen. Cheney (6-4) has 13 back, featuring stars DeAngelo Jones at QB and Dion-dre Moore-Young at running back. Deer Park (7-3) brings back 15 starters, four of them all-GNL selections, led by quarterback Alex Wolf and lineman Reid White. Clarkston is usually in the playoff mix.
Entering into it as a first-time football head coach is McCormick.
“I’ve been mostly a line coach and got nominated, you might say,” he said. “I grew up with this set of seniors and want to carry them through. I like what’s going on here and think we’ll be fine.”