RITZVILLE - They may play in arguably the toughest Class 2B football league in the state, but that won't deter the Lind-Ritzville Broncos from making a push toward the post season in 2010.
Led by sixth-year head coach Greg Whitmore, the Broncos return eight starters on both offense and defense this season from a team that finished the 2009 campaign with a 5-4 record, just missing out on a playoff bid.
Their two Northeast 2B League losses also came at the hands of Colfax, who lost in the state finals, and a Reardan team that got to the quarterfinals.
Once again those two teams will push for league supremacy, but the older, wiser, and speedy Broncos hope to crash the party.
"We probably return more starters than some of the other teams," Whitmore said. "Colfax and Reardan lost quite a bit of starters from last year but they are perennial powers. Experience is huge for us and we have a lot of starters that have played since sophomore year so they're ready to go."
It's been awhile since the Broncos sniffed serious playoff success - they made it to the Class 2B state semifinals in 2005 - but Whitmore has been there before and he had the athletes that could make this year another one for the scrapbook.
"We are athletic and since we don't even average 200 pounds across the line, we can move," Whitmore said. "Those guys are pretty tough in the open field. That's why we run the spread option because we do want to run the ball a little bit. We used to want to be a power team; we just can't do that anymore."
Whitmore will look to the play of Jake Eichner at quarterback and Micah Brown at running back.
"They will get most of the touches during the year," Whitmore said. "They are both very tough and effective in the open field."
Other Broncos of note could be receiver Cameron Kiesz and tight end Chris Steinmetz.
"Offensively, we will try to spread the field out and try to create space to maximize our players quickness," Whitmore said.
Defensively, Lind-Ritzville will count on returning First-Team All Conference player Traven Smith at linebacker.
"While he is a very effective offensive lineman, he is a beast at middle linebacker," Whitmore said.
Overall the defense will need to be worked on aplenty as the Broncos hope to do battle with the 2B heavies in their league and around the state.
"Defensively, we will need to shore up our run defense," Whitmore said. "We gave up too many rushing yards last year. We also need to improve in the turnover takeaway-giveaway category. A lot of it is due to size like last year. Teams that want to run it right at us, they will pound us. We can't tackle with one or two; we need to tackle with many more kids."
"Colfax is pretty balanced while Reardan is mostly run, but I call this mostly a running league," Whitmore said. "Our strategy is always to stop the run first and force teams to beat us throwing the ball. We just really focus on having everyone rally to the ball. We would like to have 11 hats on the ball if we can."
If the defense can come together Whitmore believes his squad could make noise in what is considered an elite football league.
"Over the last few decades this has been known as the toughest league in the state," Whitmore said. "The power is balancing around the state but we will continue be one of the more respected leagues in the state. Our league is getting tougher after a lull these past few years."
The one positive to the Broncos' schedule sees them host both Colfax and Reardan on back-to-back weekends starting on Oct. 15.
Other teams in the league include Kettle Falls, Liberty, Davenport, and Mary Walker.
"We will be right in the mix," Whitmore said. "Colfax and Reardan are the perennial powers but we have them both at home and we know the league championship goes through them."
Head coach: Greg Whitmore (Sixth year, 32-17 overall)
2009 Record: 5-4 overall, 4-2 in Northeast 2B League
2009 Post Season: Did not qualify
Number of Returning Starters on Offense: 8
Number of Returning Starters on Defense: 8
State Titles: Two (1980 and 2004)
Schedule: (all games scheduled for 7 p.m. unless noted): Sept. 10 - at Warden; Sept. 17 - vs. Kittitas; Sept. 24 - at Mary Walker; Oct. 1 - vs. Liberty; Oct. 8 - at Kettle Falls; Oct. 15 - vs. Colfax; Oct. 22 - vs. Reardan; Oct. 29 - at Davenport; Nov. 5 - District 9 Crossover; Nov. 12 - State Class 2B Playoffs
Roster: SENIORS: Jake Eichner, Cameron Kiesz, Micah Brown, Jarod Marecz, Zach Ellis, Izzy Valdovinos, Traven Smith, Brandon Gimmaka, James Hubbard, and Miguel Hayes; JUNIORS: Jake Dewald, Chris Steinmetz, Jesse Miller, Palmer Phillips, Grayson Morris, and Brent Stromberger; SOPHOMORES: Tyler Greenwalt, Dustin Kommes, Keanu Niezwaag, Lee Hubbard, AJ Hilzer, Zach Swanger, Ricardo Guizar, Ethan Melville, Matt Fryberger, and DJ Sullivan; FRESHMAN: Kelley Tyler, Dylan Hartz, Connor O'Neill, Ryan Whitmore, Bridger Smith, Bo Rice, Tyler Frederick, Nicholas Quintana, Dustin Norton, Ian Ritz, Jaradd Morley, and Logan Morely.