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Cusick lost a lot of talent to graduation, but excited about replacements

The true test of a high school football program comes the year after a great senior class graduates. Does it fall back, or does it just reload?

A year ago Cusick reached the state Class 1B semifinals, where the Panthers fell to eventual state champion Liberty Christian. To get that far, they got stellar play from a determined senior class.

A year later, coach Sonny Finley figures his squad will challenge once more for a state title, despite having just 13 players out for the first week of practice.

“I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I think we’re going to replace some all-state caliber players with some future all-state players,” he predicted.

Cusick will get an early test when it plays host to 2011 state champion Neah Bay, which lost on the final play of last year’s state championship game to the Patriots.

“We’re really excited to have them come over here for a game – it took a number of conversations between the coaches to make it happen,” Finley said. “I expect them to be back in the state championship one more time this year.

“When I first got here we would always play such a tough schedule and they’d all be league games. Now that we have the two divisions, we can schedule some nonleague games with some really good opponents. I would love it if this game could turn into an annual game. We’d be glad to go over and play them on their home field next year.”

Finley said he has emphasized conditioning when he got to Cusick, and it’s now a source of pride that the Panthers are in better shape than their opponent.

“We make sure kids are in great shape,” he said. “When you don’t have that many kids, you have to be.”

Sophomore Tyson Shanholtzer takes over at quarterback for the graduated Ryan Sample, and Eli Peterson steps into the starting job at running back for Derrick Bluff.

“We like the way Tyson gets the ball where we want it to go, and Eli is very much like Derrick,” the coach said. “Speed, quickness, hands – I would have to say that he’s eerily similar to the way Derrick played for us.”

Spirit White gets the start at fullback and middle linebacker, replacing injured Alex Bluff, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and may or may not return to the field this season.