Graduation left all the Northeast A League football teams with holes to fill this fall.
No school took a bigger hit than Chewelah, which went through league play undefeated last year led by a senior-heavy group.
Chewelah graduated 17 seniors, 12 of whom started. Six were two-way starters. Making matters worse, coach Jim Fisk reports just seven seniors on the team this year.
“We lack experience,” Fisk said. “We’re back to being green.”
The team given the nod to dethrone Chewelah is Freeman, which finished runner-up a year ago.
Freeman returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
“We’re pretty well rounded,” Freeman coach Jim Wood said. “But we lost some key kids just like the other schools. We’ll be in the mix. We’re not going to go out and destroy everyone.”
Medical Lake, which finished third, is expected to challenge Freeman.
Lakeside coach Brian Dunn was to the point when he talked about the favorite.
“We’re all chasing Freeman,” Dunn said. “They’re going to be pretty good and Medical Lake should be dang good.”
Dunn expects the level of play across the league to be much more competitive than it was last season.
“It’s been down, top to bottom, the last few years,” Dunn said.
Dunn believes his team could be in the mix.
“If we pull it together we should be contenders,” Dunn said.
One NEA player has declared where he’s going to play in college. Freeman’s 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior offensive and defensive lineman Jordan Rose gave Washington State an oral commitment last week.
“He has all the ability in the world,” Wood said. “He’s got what it takes.”
Said Dunn: “He’s an (NCAA) Division I lineman.”
While Chewelah’s senior class is low in numbers, it has three solid seniors who played key roles last year. Fisk will have to plug the other holes with 18 juniors and a hand full of sophomores.
“Regardless of what he (Fisk) has, Chewelah is going to be a well coached team because they have a solid program,” Fisk said.
Chewelah’s lone senior anchoring the offensive and defensive lines will be Dustin Olson, a two-way starter last year who was an all-league selection on defense.
Also back are senior twins McKenzie and Nathan Miller. McKenzie started at slot back and was the backup quarterback. Nathan was a starter at cornerback.
McKenzie and Blake Owens, a starter last year as a sophomore at linebacker, will share the quarterback and fullback positions.
“They will be in the backfield all the time,” Fisk said.