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All-league quarterback Connor Ramm, who also plays defensive back, is part of a very focused returning core of players for the East Valley Knights. (Dan Pelle)

Smaller Great Northern League should still provide interesting title chase

Ramm tough.

That could be East Valley’s motto as it tries to defend its title in a smaller but more competitive Great Northern League.

“My guys are pretty focused, pretty driven, with a core group that’s very determined.” said EV coach Adam Fisher, who led the Knights to 5-1 league record, 6-4 overall, and barely lost in the 2A playoffs to Othello, 25-20.

That attitude may be a reflection of quarterback Connor Ramm, a first-team all-GNL performer who’s been in the EV system since the sixth grade.

That’s not so unusual, Fisher said, unless you consider Ramm didn’t show up with a football background; he just showed up – again and again.

“I’ve never had anybody do that who isn’t a coach’s kid. He just wanted to be there, and to see him become a senior and such a great athlete, is pretty remarkable,” said Fisher, who added that the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Ramm might be a lineman today had he not “worked himself into being a very good quarterback.”

Last year, Ramm completed 83 of 165 passes for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns to lead the Knights to the postseason. In his spare time, he started at defensive back.

Another key performer for the Knights is senior lineman and fellow team captain Hunter Mullin, a two-way first-team all-GNL pick last year. “He’s a very quiet kid but he does his job,” said Fisher, now in his 14th year.

Even with 11 returning starters, the Knights face a daunting task to repeat in a league that looks even more competitive now that Colville and Deer Park dropped to 1A. EV, West Valley, Pullman and Cheney all look capable of taking the title.

“It’s any given Friday in this league,” said new Cheney coach Bobby Byrd, recalling a four-way tie for the title in 2012.

West Valley is the favorite partly because the Eagles return almost everyone. “They also have our number,” lamented Fisher, whose team suffered their only GNL loss to the Eagles, 39-26.

“We need to match their energy level,” Fisher said.

Eagles after stronger finish

Last year, West Valley had a playoff spot in its sights, but lost by six to Cheney and by three to Pullman in the last two games of the season to finish 3-3, 4-5.

A veteran team should take that lesson to heart; coach Craig Whitney hopes to be back in the playoffs after a one-year absence thanks to the return of 21 starters.

“Last year was one of those situations where we didn’t have many seniors that turned out, so we were able to get a lot of those underclassmen a lot of playing time,” Whitney said.

Whitney said he likes his team’s overall speed, which begins with all-GNL wide receiver Tevin Duke, who also plays defensive back.

“Tevin is a great kid, doesn’t say awhole lot, but he’ll do anyting you ask,” Whitney said.

The Eagles also return 240-pound running back/defensive lineman Jace Malek. “He just benched 375 today, so he has a lot of tools,” Whitney said.

Two other key returnees are all-league defensive back Alex Hall and quarterback/punter Austin Lee.

“We’re very optimistic, but we have a lot of work to do,” Whitney said.

Hounds look to Druffel, Petrino

Pullman (4-2 GNL, 6-3) missed the playoffs last year largely because of a 52-36 shootout loss to the Knights. The Greyhounds lose GNL offensive MVP David Ungerer at running back, but return his backup, all-GNL second-teamer Sam Druffel.

That puts even more on the capable shoulders of junior quarterback Mason Petrino – the son of Idaho coach Bobby Petrino, Jr. – who last year completed 85 of 141 passes (60.2 percent) for 1,310 yards and 11 scores.

Cheney’s Williams a big target

The big news is the hiring of new coach Bobby Byrd, who takes the helm from Jason Williams, who resigned last winter. Byrd, a four-year starter on the offensive line at Washington State from 2004-7, inherits a team that went 3-3 in GNL play and 7-3 overall, and returns one of the most dominant players in the league in Keenan Williams.

“He’s been rock-solid for us, a dominant blocker and a good threat at tight end,” Byrd said of Williams. A Division I college prospect, the 6-3 Williams was a first-team all-GNL pick at tight end and second-team as a defensive end. Another two-way all-star candidate is Ty Graham, a running back and safety.

Sizemore, Sperry lead Bantams

Clarkston (0-6, 1-9) is coming off a last-place finish, but hopes to plug some holes with returning all-league lineman Hunter Sizemore, a junior; and senior wide receiver Trevor Sperry.

1. West Valley4. Cheney
2. East Valley5. Clarkston
3. Pullman