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2017 GSL 4A preview: Gonzaga Prep loaded for another deep state run

Dave McKenna stops short of gushing when he talks about the summer his Gonzaga Prep football team had.

Does his Bulldogs have the makings of the team that went 14-0 and captured the State 4A championship two years ago?

Time will tell. The Bullpups are favored to capture a Greater Spokane League championship for a fourth straight year. They’ve won four of the last five.

By any measure, that’s a dominant stretch.

“It takes practice and it’s going to start in practice,” McKenna said succinctly. “We expect to be at the top. They’ve done a great job this summer. But it’s the grind and they have to do it every day in practice.”

Three teams advance to games against Mid-Columbia Conference teams to decide state playoff berths.

Gonzaga Prep Bullpups

Few teams in the GSL will have the breadth of weapons G-Prep will put on the field.

The Bullpups have direct ties to the title team with three-year starters Sam Lockett and Devin Culp.

Culp was the all-purpose player of the year last season and Lockett was a first-team pick at defensive back.

Lockett will continue to roam the secondary where he loves to apply bone-rattling hits similar to the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor. Lockett will also see time on offense.

Culp, who has given Washington an oral commitment after decommitting from Oregon, will be a threat again at wide receiver. In G-Prep’s scheme, he’ll get several opportunities to run the ball as well.

Anchoring the offensive line will be right guard John Perko, a returning first team all-league selection.

Perko is solidly built and will open holes. He’ll be the leader in the trenches.

Just who will be commanding the offense at quarterback is a question mark. A handful of athletes have showed McKenna they’re capable, but for a second straight year he’s thinking of taking an athlete proven at another position.

Last year, McKenna moved receiver Ryan Gross to quarterback and that worked out well. The leading candidate this season is junior Connor Halonen, who had a breakout season at running back last year.

“He ran with the (starting unit) this summer,” McKenna said. “We have a couple other guys I’d feel very comfortable with in a game.”

McKenna says the league race is wide open.

“I think the league will be very balanced,” McKenna said.

Mead Panthers

The Panthers are expected to return to the state playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Mead featured a prolific offense last year, and the Panthers could be as productive again. They return senior wide receivers Joseph Heitman and Lucas Bacon, both of whom were first team all-league picks last year.

Mead also returns its entire offensive line, led by first team all-league selection Orom Opiew, a senior.

The question Mead must solve is on defense. It ranked last among the 4A schools last year.

Mead took third last year, a spot out of a postseason berth.

“We are curious to find out how good we can be,” third-year coach Benji Sonnichsen said. “We want to be better than we were in 2016. We are eager for a playoff run.”

Central Valley Bears

The Bears will challenge for a top-three finish – but they have some holes to fill.

Even though CV has more numbers than any other GSL school, coach Ryan Butner said depth is an issue at some positions.

Senior Jase Edwards, a three-year starter at wide receiver and defensive back, is the Bears’ top returner. He was a first team all-league team on defense last year.

Senior Grant Hannan and sophomore Matt Gabbert are in a tug of war at quarterback. Butner said he plans to play both until one separates from the other.

“I like the potential of what our offense can do if we get on the same page early,” Butner said. “And I’m looking forward to an active and vocal defense that can play with any type of offense.”

Lewis and Clark Tigers

The Tigers could be a team that pounces on an opportunity if one of the favorites stumbles.

They return nine starters. They’re led by seniors Josh Via, a returning starter at linebacker, and Ryan Meyer, a returning starter at receiver.

“Our front seven on defense will be very solid and our receivers will be a team strength,” coach Dave Hughes said.

LC fielded one of its smallest teams physically last year. The Tigers have benefited from a year of maturity.

“We had a very good summer of camp and workouts,” Hughes said. “We are going to be competitive in all our games. We look forward to the many opportunities and challenges that await us.”

Ferris Saxons

There’s a new/old coach in the GSL.

Tom Yearout, who coached LC to a state championship in 2007, takes over for Jim Sharkey, who was dismissed.

Yearout resigned at LC following the state title season, but remained on staff as a defensive coordinator.

Not only are the Saxons new to Yearout, but most will be new to the starting lineup. Ferris returns just four starters.

Yearout said the Saxons will have speed and athleticism at most positions.

“We have some skill at key positions and we think it matches up with much of the league,” Yearout said.

University Titans

The Titans are tossing out finesse for power.

U-Hi will be ground and pound in coach Adam Daniel’s second year. The Titans average 275 pounds across the offensive line.

“They’re tough, big, physical and athletic,” Daniel said.

Returning to anchor the line is senior Campbell Barrington, who committed to Brigham Young University as a sophomore but missed last year because of an injury.

Daniel said his team could be the anomaly in a spread-based league.

“Nobody does it anymore – I formation, counter, power, trap,” Daniel said.

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