COLLEGE PLACE — Donald Ponds has navigated the College Place football program through its entire varsity program history, and begins the 2019 campaign with a program that has grown and improved along the way.
That growth has a buzz of high expectations running on the Hawk campus as fall drills conclude.
“We play in one of the toughest Class 1A leagues (South Central Athletic Conference East — Royal (winner of three of last four Class 1A titles), perennial 1A power Connell, Warden, Riverview, Wahluke, and Kiona-Benton) in the state, but that is beside the point. We are who we are,” Ponds said. “Each year our win total has increased. Our running goal is to get better than last year. My belief, and the team’s belief, is that we can run the table. Those guys — Royal, Connell, and Warden — because of their football tradition, are the main targets. Not to say that the others are not viable.
“Every game is going to be tough,” he said. “We cannot just walk out there and think we are going to win. We think we can compete and will look for a state playoff berth. That’s our goal. It’s a lofty goal. Can we do it? Yes, our minds are right, we have the buy in from the players to do it. It’s going to be exciting to see how the season unfolds.”
Football is a game of numbers, and without those numbers and the depth that brings, you are in trouble.
Another plus for the Hawks, they have the numbers.
“We have 50 kids out,” Ponds said of the Hawks, who finished 5-5 last season. “That is the most we have ever had. Our goal is to keep those kids and sustain the growth. This year 50, next year 60.
“Football is not a game where you just show up at practice time,” he continued. “You have to grind it out lifting weights and conditioning in the offseason. The good news is that our weight room numbers trended up this summer. We are visually stronger and that will provide us with confidence. We’re seeing guys running faster and hitting hard. Football is a grind, but our guys are working and want to do well.”
It all starts with the senior class, and the Hawks believe they have a good one.
It starts with returning starting quarterback Brian Jerald (5-foot-10, 185 pounds), wide receiver/free safety Tanner Schreindl (5-10, 150), and DE/TE Joel Jamison (6-6, 225). Those three are going to be relied on heavily to lead the Hawks.
“Tanner has started since he was a freshman. He’s a hard hitter who can catch the ball and make things happen,” Ponds said of one of his team captains.
“Brian (the other captain) is a very accurate and mobile quarterback,” he said of Jerald. “He’s a playmaker who threw for 16 TDs with only five interceptions last year. It clicked for him at the end of last season. He had an amazing offseason in the weight room and in film study. He will be a huge part of our success.
“Joel is back from a shoulder injury, and he’s hungry and ready to go,” Ponds added. “Those three lead our senior group. They are very talented and will make our team go.”
Those three will be surrounded by other talented seniors.
Nick Rooney (5-7, 235) is slated to start at offensive guard and anchor a linebacker spot on defense.
Parker Daudt (5-10, 205) will carry a load at running back and be on the defensive line at DE.
Both offensive and defensive lines will get a shot in the arm from first-year player Travis Bradford (6-3, 240).
A transfer, Eli Richards (5-9, 160), is being counted on at wide receiver and defensive back.
The Hawks’ kicking duties — punts, PATS, and field goals, will be left to the foot of Misael Saldana (5-6, 165).
Alec Chapman (5-10, 175) and Eduardo Romero (5-11, 170) round out the senior class and will provide important depth to the Hawk attack.
“It is a really strong senior class’” Ponds said. “We have guys that have been in the program awhile. The coaches are the vessels to guide this team, but it is their team.”
The junior class looks to be key in manning the trenches for the Hawks.
“They (the juniors) are the mainstays on the line and at linebacker,” Ponds said. “They really love football and playing for this team. They are our protectors being linemen and linebackers. They will get after it. The trenches is where games are won and the success of our team is determined.”
Joel Brown (6-0, 225) and Tice Hiner (5-7, 165) look to be the main “protectors” on defense as both will start at linebacker spots.
“Joel (Brown) is the star of stars,” Ponds said. “He is a legit prospect (for the next level). He has a nose for the ball, and will only get better as he is physical and aggressive. We are blessed to have him.
“Tice is our Swiss army knife,” he said. “We have moved him around, but we have found a home for him.”
The offensive line will be in good hands as juniors Brown, Edi Preciado (6-3, 280), Alexander Smith (6-0, 260) and Landon Davis (6-0, 200) will anchor a big offensive line.
Junior Brandon Nielsen (5-6, 155), who Ponds describes as “a quick scat back that will be fun to watch,” should bring excitement to the Hawks offense.
Kole Stubblefield (5-9, 145) is penciled in to help at wide receiver on offense and as a free safety on defense.
Junior Jordan Huenergardt will provide depth to the defensive backfield and to the receiving corps, while fellow junior Gerado Garcia will add to the Hawks depth.
The 12 sophomores will be counted on as the season progresses at the varsity and/or junior varsity level.
The Hawks saw a crew of 15 freshmen answer the opening bell for fall practice. Two of them look to contribute to the varsity immediately.
Ponds has freshman Noel Barajas (5-7, 140) slated to start at slot and at a defensive back spot.
Freshman Nick Josifek (5-11, 165) will start at wide receiver and cornerback.
“Both Noel and Nick have worked hard,” Ponds said of his freshmen starters. “We have talent on the freshman level, but these guys are going to play at the varsity level. They both embrace playing on the varsity level.”
The Hawks head into 2019 with numbers, size, experience and talent. Just maybe enough to meet those high expectations.
“I love this team,” Ponds summarized. “We are doing what we need to do.”