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Preps: Broncos look to repeat behind foursome of captains

RITZVILLE – If any team would have reason to be overconfident in trying to repeat as a state champion it would be the Lind-Ritzville/Sprague football team.

The Broncos return the nucleus responsible for leading them to the State 2B title last fall. And in the center of that nucleus are four senior captains – quarterback Dylan Hartz, running back Connor O’Neill, tight end Ryan Whitmore, the son of head coach Greg Whitmore, and left tackle Tyler Frederick.

Spend a few minutes talking with the foursome, though, and you come away understanding how thankful they are to have been part of such a special journey a year ago and how they’re humbly approaching the drive for a repeat this season.

There’s no haughty spirit here. Take, for example, their league opener Friday at Reardan. In any other year, Reardan would win the league title. Unfortunately for the Indians, they find themselves in the same league as LRS.

The Broncos expect everything they can handle from Reardan. And, yes, while they’ll be heavily favored throughout the rest of the regular season, their focus is solely on preparing for Reardan.

How good are the Broncos?

“It’s probably the most athletic team we’ve ever had here,” LRS coach Greg Whitmore said.

In a preseason questionnaire, Reardan coach Eric Nikkola was asked to identify impact players from other teams in the league.

“All of LRS,” Nikkola said.

It starts with the Broncos’ four captains.

Whitmore has been connected with his captains since they played with his son on a third-grade pee wee basketball team he coached.

All four start on both sides of the ball. Hartz and O’Neill are big stoppers in the secondary and Whitmore and Frederick are defensive ends.

Greg Whitmore says the leadership piece on the team begins with Hartz.

“He keeps everyone calm and doesn’t get caught up in the moment,” Whitmore said. “He always maintains his poise and he’s all about team. He doesn’t like it when we talk about individual stats.”

Hartz has been a four-year starter while the other three are three-year starters. As a freshman, Hartz stepped in and started at wide receiver before moving to quarterback as a sophomore.

“Dylan does things you don’t coach,” Whitmore said. “He just wants to win.”

As much as Hartz tries to shy away from the limelight, he understands it’s difficult. He plays the positions in football, basketball and baseball that put him at the center of the stage. He started as a freshman at shortstop in baseball and point guard in basketball.

“I like the pressure of being in the middle of things,” Hartz said. “I don’t feel pressure. It’s more of a challenge than pressure.”

Hartz’s career statistics show he’s passed for 3,142 yards, completing 250 of 426 attempts with 31 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 853 yards and 12 TDs.

He wants to relive the finish to last year’s season.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Hartz said. “Sometimes I still can’t believe that we won.”

Recently during the Adams County Fair, Hartz had the opportunity to watch the video of the title game three nights in a row.

“I saw something new each time that I can improve,” Hartz said.

O’Neill will finish with well over 2,000 career rushing yards. He has 1,639 on 238 attempts with 25 TDs.

“As gifted as Dylan is athletically, Connor is right there with him,” Whitmore said. “Everything comes easy to him. What’s nice is over the last couple of years he’s developed toughness. He runs well between the tackles.”

O’Neill remembers the early days playing sports with his friends.

“It was always the dream to do what we did last year,” O’Neill said. “To be able to accomplish that is awesome.”

Frederick is easily the team’s best offensive lineman and has made a big impact at defensive end. He’s had five interceptions three of which he returned for TDs.

“He’s the unsung hero of the four,” Whitmore said. “If we had more good offensive linemen he’d be a good fullback or tight end. He’s undersized to play at the next level but he’s been unbelievable for us. He’s so smart, quick and has good size for our level. He makes us so much better. If we didn’t have him we’d have some difficulty.”

Frederick embraces his role.

“It’d be nice to get more attention but the team takes 11 players and I don’t mind doing what I have to do,” Frederick said.

Frederick broke a rib early in the postseason last year and missed the last three games. So his goal is to stay injury free so he can be in the middle of the success come the playoffs.

“It sucked not being able to play with my teammates,” Frederick said.

He stayed involved, though. He put together a simplified playbook to help coach up replacements on a line that had to be patched together as injuries mounted late last season.

Whitmore has 55 career receptions for 743 yards and 10 TDs.

The roster lists Whitmore as 6-foot-7, but he stresses he’s 6-8 – even if his dad won’t change it on the roster.

“Of the four captains – and his mom probably isn’t going to like this – he’s probably the least athletic,” the coach said. “He’s gotten where he’s at through a lot of hard work. He doesn’t have great hands but he’s made himself into a great receiver. We’ve spent hours and hours throwing together in the backyard.”

Ryan Whitmore appreciates the team’s camaraderie.

“We lift each other up and don’t get down on each other,” Whitmore said.

He said the key to repeating is simple.

“We have to stay humble and stay hungry,” he said. “We can’t just settle; we have to keep pushing ourselves. It’s so special you don’t want to mess up. We have to keep our feet on the gas.”

Sounds like a coach. Or, in this case, a valued captain and the son of a coach.

YearState Tournament result
2012Final: LRS 21, Morton-White Pass 19
2011Quarterfinal: Waitsburg-Prescott* 42, LRS 7
2010Quarterfinal: Colfax** 27, Lind-Ritzville 0
2008-2009Did not qualify
2007First round: Asotin 37, LR 7
2006First round: Asotin* 14, LR 13