A new era of Walla Walla High School football is poised to take the field for its first game Friday night here at Borleske Stadium.
The Blue Devils and new head coach Greg Lupfer will start their first season together with a Mid-Columbia Conference showdown against Southridge beginning at 7 p.m.
Wa-Hi opened last year with a 28-0 victory at Southridge, but then again, the Suns would end up scoring three touchdowns all year and finish the regular season winless.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils scored all four of those opening night touchdowns in the first half, and then lost starting quarterback Keldan Swant to a shoulder injury that would sideline him for a month.
They wound up winning only one more game the rest of the season on their way to a 2-8 finish, with Eric Hisaw resigning shortly after his eighth season as head coach.
Lupfer was hired in late February, and with 24 years of experience as an assistant coach — mostly at the collegiate level — he would like for his debut season here to go in a different direction.
“The outlook is still up in the air,” Lupfer said. “My hope is to put a football team on the field that plays hard — and looks like they’re well coached because they are, I’ve got a great group of coaches — and to put a product a product on the field that the community of Walla Walla can be proud of.”
The coaching staff Lupfer assembled includes Justin James, David Thompson, Michael Najera, Tom Powell, Zac Widmer, Thad Sirmon, Clay Lindsey, Darnell Handcox, James Humphrey and Jose Chavira.
Wa-Hi begins this season with 79 players all together, a young roster including only eight seniors, but one that also offers the potential of some stability and the nice possibility of most kids returning next year as veterans.
“We’re setting expectations for our players,” Lupfer said. “This is what we do, this is how we practice. We talk about paying attention to detail in everything we do — tackling, route running, blocking — every aspect of the game.”
Wa-Hi must make up for the departure of all-state standouts like Patrick Utschinski and Jahmal Mangarero along with All-MCC stars Jared McAlvey, Heston Richmond and Tyler Neissl — each having graduated this past spring — the new coaching staff wasted little time in identifying players who can make immediate impacts this year.
Ryan Martuscelli and Dash Sirmon give the Blue Devils a very interesting quarterbacking duo, a potentially dynamic pair that could work off one another for more than just this season — Martuscelli being a junior, Sirmon a sophomore.
Martuscelli already has varsity experience, including four starts as a sophomore last year. He shined at times after being thrown out there on opening night when the senior Swant went down. Martuscelli finished the season with two touchdown passes.
A freshman last year, Sirmon really caught people’s attention in track and field on the state champion Wa-Hi boys team. He placed sixth at state in javelin (teammate Jahmal Mangarero, an all-state linebacker during the football season, was fourth in javelin).
“Ryan and Dash both are still competing for the starting position,” Lupfer said a week before their first game. “They’re both really good leaders. They’re getting a great grasp of the offense. Both have good enough arms to be able to throw all the routes we want to throw, and they’re both extremely competitive.”
Receiving options range from wideouts Josiah Wik, Hunter Polley, Anthony Parish and Reginald Byrd to tight ends Dylan Ashbeck, Logan Ashbeck, Joe Terry and Aaren Lindsey.
Meanwhile, running backs Ryan Moore and Jakob Humphrey stand to get most of the carries as Wa-Hi looks to establish a balanced offense.
“We want to be able to run the football, and for the offense we’re running, you’ve got to have a good tight end, guys that can block and also run routes to create issues for the secondary,” Lupfer said. “All those (tight ends) can do that. It’s a good position that we have, and I’m excited about it.”
As for the line, both offensive and defensive, Wa-Hi has All-MCC second teamer Cole Schmidt back anchor a cast that also includes Omar Cruz, Aden VanDyke, Angel Ramos, Jackson Owen, Ian Kopf and Noah Butler.
“A lot of our guys are going to have to go both ways so you’re really hitting on both sides of the ball,” Lupfer said. “Right now, we’re just a little short on the (offensive) line, (defensive) line. That’s really our biggest concern right now.”
Supporting the defensive line, versatile athletes like Joe Terry, Jackson Owen, Logan Ashbeck, Jakob Humphrey, Ryan Moore and Aaren Lindsey play as linebackers and ‘rovers.’
Josiah Wik, Hunter Polley, Dylan Ashbeck and Anthony Parish lead secondary coverage.
“They do a good job of communicating,” Lupfer said. “That’s extremely important that way we’re doing things with our coverage.”
On special teams, Wa-Hi welcomes back All-MCC second team kicker Seamus Hall.
Wik, an All-MCC honorable mention on special teams, returns kicks and punts alongside Ryan Moore, Dylan Ashbeck and Jake Humphrey.
Whether the Blue Devils kick or receive to open this season, regardless of how that coin falls, they will be excited to get going.