WAITSBURG — The Waitsburg-Prescott football express keeps on rolling.
W-P has enjoyed three straight runs deep into the Class 2B playoffs, with finishes in the semifinal (2010), a state title (2011), and an 11-2 march to a semifinal loss (21-7) to eventual 2B champion Lind-Ritzville-Sprague in 2012.
“We have a big turnout (44), which is again a plus,” W-P coach Jeff Bartlow said as he heads into his 15th season. “That tells us things are going in the right direction. We’ve had as good of a start as I’ve had in 15 years, regarding chemistry, leadership, and all the intangibles. They are excited about being out there and I’m liking what I’m seeing.”
It’s not all roses for W-P as it must replace versatile Dalton Estes and record-setting quarterback Stirling Eastman (who had 2,701 passing yards last season), as both have graduated.
Add the loss of 2012 leading tackler, junior Danny Stansell, who transferred to Idaho, and the appendix problem of projected starter, senior Dalton LaRue (5-foot-11, 166 pounds), and the 2013 edition will have some speed bumps to overcome.
But the W-P manpower, experience, and tradition seem in place to overcome those bumps.
“We have a solid senior class and all eight will contribute,” Bartlow said. “We have a strong junior class with three of them having started as freshmen. That makes us pretty tough.”
Senior Nick Pearson (5-11, 231) returns to start at center for the third consecutive year and leads an experienced offensive line.
Senior Nate Bartlow (6-0, 225) returns as a second-year starter in the offensive line; senior Trenton Kitselman (5-11, 150) is in the O-line mix; and LaRue, once healthy, returns for his second season as a starting O-lineman.
Senior Chad Pearson (5-11, 196) has been moved to offensive line to provide depth and size, and senior Cory Brownlee (5-10, 187) will see action on the line and at running back.
“Nick is rock solid as an offensive lineman and is our team captain,” coach Bartlow said of the Waitsburg ASB president Pearson. “He has 27-straight starts at center. We have no problems with snaps.
“Cory is a guy no one knows about,” coach Bartlow said. “He was hurt last year, but he is a football guy and will contribute immediately.”
The defending 100-, 200-, and 400-meter Class 2B state champion, senior James Thompkins (5-6, 135), returns to a wide receiver spot, and senior Kevin Aquino (5-8, 144) will see action at receiver and defensive back.
“James is the fastest guy in the history of our school,” coach Bartlow said. “Speed is a component that wins games. We have to get him the ball in space where he can move and make plays. If we don’t get him the ball 10 times a game, we are fools.”
The junior class lost Stansell, but regained Devin Acevedo (5-11, 209). Acevedo missed his sophomore season with an ankle injury, but is back at wide receiver and linebacker.
“Devin, as a freshman had almost 400 yards receiving and was really missed (last year),” coach Bartlow said. “Devin has the best hands on our team. He’ll catch anything. He’s a huge player that we’ve got to have.”
Junior Owen Lanning (6-0, 152) steps into the quarter back role.
“He has big shoes to fill,” coach Bartlow said. “He runs our spread option really well. We will have improvement from our quarterback on the ground. He’s a good running quarterback. His arm strength is improving. He will make good decisions.”
Junior Luke Alexanko (5-8, 158) will start at receiver and linebacker.
Michael Grant (5-11, 173) will be a two-way junior starter. Grant holds down the left tackle and linebacker spots for W-P.
Junior Chance Leroue (6-2, 198) will be counted on to do whatever W-P needs.
“Chance started as a freshman,” coach Bartlow said. “He’s going to be a running back and maybe an offensive guard for a game. He’s a man-child. He’s a pretty good athlete and a team captain.”
Junior Talen Larson (5-8, 143) and Kobie Brown (5-9, 145) are pencilled into starting safety spots in the defensive backfield.
W-P has 10 sophomores that will provide support and depth to the 2013 campaign.
Another of Estes chores in 2012 was place kicking, and W-P is looking to sophomore Antonio Bennito (5-7, 203) to fill the void.
“He can kick,” coach Bartlow said. “He’s kicking 40 yards. He is the only one on the team with orange shoes. I told him that since he’s a kicker, he can keep them.”
And the W-P future gets brighter as 17 freshmen have turned out.
“They are a bunch of good kids,” coach Bartlow said of the freshmen that went 6-0 as eighth graders. “They like football and they like Waitsburg.”
W-P looks to be in the hunt for a Southeast 2B title run with DeSales and Tri-Cities Prep nipping at its heals.
“We’re working on getting the best 11 athletes out there so we can compete,” coach Bartlow said. “Our offensive line is strong and deep. The D-line and linebacker crew are solid with returning players. I pick Tri-Cities Prep to be in the title hunt with ourselves. DeSales has a loaded junior class and will be very good and they will be in the hunt as always.”
W-P kicks it off at Pilot Rock Friday.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” coach Bartlow said. “Things are good right now. We’re trying to move forward. We lost a lot of good players, but we’ve got enough kids to be very competitive.”