POMEROY — Tory Knebel’s graduation has left gaping holes on both sides of the football at Pomeroy High.
But not quite as gaping as one might surmise on first glance.
Because despite his 2,000-or-so yards rushing and 30 touchdowns on offense, and despite his rock-solid play on defense, Knebel was not a one-man gang as he led the Pirates deep into the postseason in Pomeroy’s second year as an 8-man program.
Quarterback Ryan Smith and running back Austin Reisdorph, both of whom rushed for in the neighborhood of 1,500 yards, are back for their senior seasons. Smith (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) also returns to the Pirates’ defensive secondary and Reisdorph (6-5, 220) will once again man one of the linebacker positions.
Furthermore, senior Mike Wymore (5-11, 221) is a returning two-way starter on the offensive and defensive lines and senior Brendon Lueck (5-10, 160) was a starting linebacker on last year’s team and was Knebel’s backup in the offensive backfield.
And when junior Cody LaMunyan (6-6, 205) is fully recovered from an off-season knee injury that required surgery, second-year coach Sanford Bates will have another experienced player to insert into his lineup. LaMunyan was a starting guard on the offensive line as a sophomore.
“Hopefully,” Bates said, “we will have him back by the fourth or fifth week.”
But perhaps more important than experienced personnel, Pomeroy’s 2012 prospects will be enhanced by last year’s success coupled with a complete transition from 11-man football to the 8-man game.
“After our success last year, we are looking to carry that on this year,” Bates said. “And if we do the things we are capable of doing, we will be competitive again this year.
“And I think that after two years of 8-man football, we are much more comfortable than we were at first. All of the intricacies you come across we are now familiar with.”
After posting a 3-3 league record (4-6 overall) in 2010, the Pirates finished 6-1 in the Southeast 1B-8 League last year and took the league’s No. 1 seed into the state playoffs.
The Pirates thumped Northport 72-28 in the first round of postseason play, thrashed Wellpinit 68-24 in the state quarterfinals and then lost to Almira-Coulee-Hartline 46-6 in the semifinals. They finished with a 10-2 overall record.
There were 22 players on hand for Bates’ first practice, a number that included six seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen.
“Last year we had 24, so we are basically the same this year,” Bates said of the turnout. “We could add to that number when school starts, but the players we have out now are the players we were expecting.”
Back in more prosperous economic times, when the Pirates enjoyed success in 11-man football, there were often 35-to-40 players on the Pomeroy rosters.
“But back then, there were 150 enrolled in the top four grades,” Bates noted. “Now we are down below 100.
“Until the last couple of years, farming wasn’t doing very well and the kids who grew up on the farms weren’t coming back here to live like they used to.”
Pomeroy’s other two seniors, Eric Wade (6-0, 203) and Sam Lindenkugal (5-8, 220), are likely starters on both sides of the ball this season. Wade, who played about 50 percent of the time as a junior, is being penciled in as a guard and defensive end while Lindenkugal moves up from the junior varsity team and has the inside track at center and nose guard.
Other than LaMunyan, the only junior on the roster with any varsity experience is Wyatt Hyer (5-10, 150), who will back up Reisdorph as a ball carrier and fit into the defensive mix at linebacker.
Taylor Lewis (5-8, 160), Riley Bott (6-6, 175) and Max Ruchert (6-2, 170) are juniors who will see their share of time on the field this fall. Lewis is an offensive lineman while Bott and Ruchert are tight end prospects.
Neither Bott nor Ruchert turned out for football as a sophomore.
“I am sure that part of the reason they decided to turn out this year was because of the success we had last year,” Bates said, underscoring the notion that success often breeds success.
Kheigan Bott (6-1, 163) and Kade Snyder (5-11, 155) head up a strong sophomore class. Bott is in line for a starting spot in the defensive secondary and is another tight end candidate. Snyder can play either split or tight end as well as defensive back, but just as importantly he will be Smith’s backup at QB.
“He is one of those utility kids who can play in a lot of different places,” Bates said of Snyder.
The other sophs are Bryan McGreevy (5-11, 150), who is competing for playing time in the defensive secondary; Kyle Hyer (5-9, 150), a running back/linebacker type; Blaine Reisdorph (6-0, 160), who can play wide receiver and linebacker; Nemo Morphin (5-6, 128), who is being worked at running back and defensive back; and Jackson Hall (5-10, 135), also a wide receiver and defensive back.
The four freshmen on the roster are Aidan Dixon (5-10, 135), Jack Niece (5-6, 120), Adam Herres (5-10, 150) and Havin Hytvelt (5-11, 140). Dixon is a WR/DB, Niece a RB/LB and Herres an OL/DL. Hytvelt is listed as a linebacker and the Pirates’ quarterback of the future.
Although the Pirates might not be quite as physical as they were in 2011, Bates isn’t concerned with his team’s offensive running attack. That said, he’ll be looking for a little more from the passing game in 2012.
“Offensively, we hope to run the ball just as we did last year,” Bates said. “We didn’t throw often last year because we didn’t have to, but we hope to do more this year, which should help our running game.”
Smith’s passing skills are showing improvement, Bates said. And while Reisdorph is more of an inside running threat compared to Knebel’s speed game, Reisdorph has proven he can be a threat in an open field as well.
“He has the speed to go all the way,” Bates said of Reisdorph.
And Lueck, who will line up alongside Reisdorph, will provide another speed presence in the offensive backfield, Bates said.
“He’s a little more like Tory,” the coach said. “A little more shifty, a breakaway type runner. We plan to give him the ball a lot.”
Defensively, Bates said, “We are going to come after people and make the stops that you need to make in the 8-man game.”
Bates looks for another well-balanced league race and was hesitant to name a favorite.
“I think every team has the potential to be in the race at the end,” he said. “Colton, Lacrosse-Washtucna, Touchet, they will all be tough. And Liberty Christian is eligible this year, and I know they have a lot of kids back.”
The Pirates open the season Saturday when they journey across the state to take on Lummi on the Olympic Peninsula.
“It’s a long trip that we are looking forward to,” Bates said. “Most teams are looking to make the playoffs and get to the Tacoma Dome at the end of the season, and this is an opportunity to get over to the other side of the state and play a quality team and have that experience.”