Josh Richard is a 2007 DeSales High School grad who can hardly remember when he wasn’t a member of the Irish football family.
“I’ve been part of the program since I was 7 years old in one shape or another,” said Josh, whose father Tom Richard was a DeSales assistant coach during those early years.
Josh became an assistant coach as well in the fall of 2009 under then-head coach Pat Graham. And this fall he takes on the reins of head coach in place of Mike Spiess, who stepped down at the end of the 2018 season.
“It’s going to be a benefit that I have been around the program for a long time,” Richard said. “The kids know what my expectations are, which is to get back up to that level DeSales used to be known for.”
DeSales’ football resume is highlighted by five Washington Class B-11 state championships and no fewer than six second-place finishes at state over the last four decades. But the Irish haven’t been back to the finals since their last state championship season in 2007, and they’ve enjoyed just one winning season in the last four as a member of the Eastern Washington Athletic Conference.
In large part, a dwindling turnout has accounted for DeSales’ dwindling number of wins in recent years. And because of the decline in numbers, school officials opted this fall to drop down in classification and compete at the 8-man level.
“Obviously, 8-man is a different game,” Richard said. “But it’s still football: Hitting and tackling and running, and I think there are some guys on our roster who can be very dangerous in the 8-man game.
“The main thing is being in shape and being able to tackle. If we can get those things dialed in, we could be a pretty explosive team on offense.”
DeSales finished the 2018 11-man season with fewer than 20 healthy players. When Richard called his first practice for the 2019 8-man campaign, he was greeted by 16 players.
“We lost six seniors to graduation, and they were all pretty much two-way players,” Richard said. “And after it was announced that we were going 8-man, we lost three players we were counting on. They all transferred for different reasons.”
Still, 16 players appears to be an adequate number to survive in 8-man football.
This year’s group includes six seniors, two juniors, six sophomores and a pair of freshmen.
The seniors are Bobby Holtzinger (6-foot-1, 190 pounds), Nate Anhorn (6-0, 180), Matt Miedema (6-3, 195), Ryan Rizzuti (5-9, 165), Bailey Lesko (5-10, 150) and Ken Worden (6-3, 240).
Holtzinger, who is expected to win the quarterback job, played football as a freshman and sophomore but sat out last season.
“Bobby is still learning the position for sure,” Richard said of Holtzinger. “But if he can get dialed in, he can be pretty good.”
Miedema, who also took his junior year off, is competing at tight end and wide receiver on offense and at outside linebacker on the defensive side.
Anhorn, who started at offensive tackle and defensive end as a junior, will start on both lines again this fall. And Rizzuti saw action as a running back and defensive back in 2018 and will see the bulk of his time in the offensive backfield this season.
“He is one of those kids, if we can get him in the open field he can do some things,” Richard said of Rizzuti.
Lesko played both defensive back and wide receiver as a junior, and he was the team’s backup kicker as well.
“He’s going to fill the kicking role,” Richard said of Lesko. “And he’ll probably start at wide receiver.”
Worden was a two-way starter on the line as a junior and was a unanimous all-conference selection. But he suffered a knee injury during the last game of the basketball season and is still recovering.
“He’s still doing physical therapy and we aren’t expecting him for at least the first month,” Richard said. “But we are hopeful. He could start on both sides of the ball for us.”
Drake Scott (6-2, 185) and Lucas Hicks (5-7, 140) are the two juniors. Scott was a two-way starter on the line last year while Hicks, who hasn’t played football since middle school, is a candidate to start in the defensive backfield and see time at wide receiver as well.
“He is another kid who is really explosive,” Ricahrd said of Hicks. “He could be really dangerous in the 8-man game offensively.”
Ryan Chase (5-10, 175), Aaron Kieldgaard (6-1, 190), Erich Kregger (5-9, 180), Seamus Doohan (5-5, 135), Jordan Bingham (5-10, 145) and Frankie Worden (5-10, 175) represent the sophomore class.
Chase was the Irish’s starting center as a freshman and will handle that position again this year and also play linebacker. Kjeldgaard is a tight end and linebacker, and Kregger is being moved from linebacker to nose guard defensively and can also play on the offensive line.
Doohan and Bingham are wide receiver-defensive back types who are battling for additional playing time. Worden missed his freshman season but is in line for playing time at tight end and defensive end.
Joe Baffney (5-9, 145) and Jack Lesko (5-4, 125) are the team’s two freshmen.
Richard is hopeful that Baffney, who is recovering from a broken wrist, will be available as a wide receiver and defensive back. Lesko is competing for playing time at the same two positions.
The coach is confident that his players are buying in to the 8-man game.
“In the beginning some of them weren’t too sure about it,” Richard said. “But I have tried to explain to them that it is still football.
“I have seen plenty of football games,” Richard added. “And kids are not any happier winning at the 4A level than those winning in 8-man. It’s all the same.”
The Irish will get their first taste of the 8-man game Friday when they host Sunnyside Christian in a non-league game. They are scheduled to make their debut in the Southeast 1B-8 League the following Friday at Colton.