It was this time last year coach Robb Myhre was unsure what to expect out of Nooksack Valley’s skill position players. He had few seniors and a mostly unproven junior class.
What a difference a year makes.
Now Myhre’s problem is how best to divvy up playing time between all his athletes.
“Anytime you have a really large group of seniors, that’s helpful,” Myhre said. “Last year we had five seniors, I think, out there. To go from five to 17 or 18 or whatever we are at, you just need that leadership no matter what. That’s an exciting thing. Now they still have to go play, but we are excited.”
Experience starts at the quarterback position, where the Pioneers bring back Tanner Myhre for his third year leading the offense. He led the team in both passing and rushing yards last season and has a plethora of options to get the ball to, many of whom he’s already built a strong rapport with.
Nooksack Valley, in fact, returns players at every skill position. Josh Gimmaka, who is the Pioneers’ leading returning pass-catcher, is back for his senior year, as is Curtis Handy and Brady Wood. Running back Dalton Biehle is now at Meridian, but Nooksack Valley gained Adam Mydland, who will give the backfield a nice boost. Ryan Gelwicks also is expected to get some carries.
“I honestly feel we are 10 deep in the skill positions,” Robb said. “We have running backs and wide receivers I really like. That’s not what we’ve had in the past. On the flip side, we are not real deep on the line. We have to be really careful with our line group and stay healthy.”
The Pioneers want to move fast offensively, but have to pick and choose their spots given most of the offensive starters also play defense. Nooksack Valley’s up-tempo preference plays into their coach’s put-the-ball-down mentality he’s been employing.
“We are here to play. Put the ball down and let’s play,” Robb said. “We don’t care what just happened; they might have run a 30-yard play on us. Put the ball down we want to play again. Or we may have made a big play. Well, put the ball down. We want to have another big play right now.”
While the offense has the making of a high-octane attack, the Pioneers know they need to place an emphasis on defense. Nooksack Valley’s struggles were well-documented a season ago, when they gave up an average of 32.5 points per game as well as an underwhelming average of 253.8 rushing yards.
A trio of linebackers, which include Mydland, Handy and Willy Kingma, are the type of athletes Robb knows will help trim down opponents’ rushing yards.
“I think our three linebackers are all first-team capable kids,” Robb said. “We have three kids I really like — as good of a linebacking group as we’ve had as a whole.”
Lathan Halaapiapi is a big, athletic body along the defensive line, and the Pioneers also will be relying on Alex Boots, Parker Schram, Blake Williams and Kirk Veldman to make plays in the trenches.
Nooksack Valley returns a ton of experience in the secondary, with safeties Tanner and Brady and corners Beard and Gelwicks. Robb said the Pioneers may explore walking Tanner up into the box on occasion to help in the run game.
While Robb pointed out 2014 could be an exciting year, the Pioneers face arguably the most difficult non-conference schedule in the Northwest Conference with home games against Anacortes and No. 5-ranked Montesano and an away game against No. 2 Cascade Christian.