Returners, role fillers solidify positive outlook
If you haven’t yet established an interest in Linfield’s football program yet, there’s never been a better time to do so than now.
Last season, the Wildcats captured a record of 12-1, battled their way to the semi-finals of the NCAA Division-III playoffs and finished the year ranked No. 3 in d3football.com’s Top 25 poll. The reigning Northwest Conference champions aim to continue their stellar play through to the next season, and with many returning starters, the pieces are in place for the ’Cats to shoot for the Northwest Conference crown once again.
“Our teams always feel the pressure of living up to the high standard that the previous Wildcat teams before them have set,” head coach Joe Smith said. “That is nothing new. Our guys are committed to sticking to the values and philosophies that have made this program consistently successful and that is what they need to be focused on.”
Perhaps the most familiar face to return for the 2010 season is senior quarterback Aaron Boehme. Last season, he threw for 3,261 yards and 33 touchdowns while also rushing for 466 yards and another 10 scores. Despite the fact that he has finished his degree,
he still retains a year of eligibility and will return to direct the offense one final season.
“I’m personally working on my decision making, my leadership and my footwork in the offseason,” Boehme said. “These are the things that will push me to be the best I can be, if I’m able to focus on them and improve every day.”
In addition, nearly every other offensive player is returning — except senior wide receiver Trevor Patterson. Although Patterson was by far Boehme’s favorite target during the 2009 season, Boehme will have largely the same unit to work with next season.
“I think that our mentality every possession is to score the ball,” Boehme said. “If we have that sort of goal every drive, every game we are going to do very well.”
On the offensive line, however, three key roles will need to be filled in the form of offensive tackles seniors Chris Buck and Aaron Heston and center Kyle Otineru. All three were named to the NWC All-Star team in 2009. Sophomore Jordan Barnes, also named to the NWC’s highest honor, will play a large role in filling that gap.
“There are a lot of guys returning on this team,” sophomore safety Drew Fisher said. “A lot of leadership is still present along with a ton of confidence. I think it’s just the right amount of confidence that gets us believing that we are going to win every game we play in.”
On the defensive side of things, many more impact players have hung up their jerseys for the last time. Senior linebackers Jaymin Jackson and Paul Partlow, who were both named to the NWC All-Star team, are the most noticeable absences.
Fisher will lead the remaining players in an effort to recapture the suffocating power that last season’s squad possessed; in 2009, the Wildcat defense piled up 30 interceptions, 39 sacks and 17 recovered fumbles.
“A few goals of mine are to solidify myself as a leader on this team,” Fisher said. “I’d like to take some young guys under my wing as well as fire up us veterans on defense by knowing the game plan week in and week out and performance on the field. If we can come together as one on defense, play fast and make up for lost leadership in our linebackers then all of our goals will be attained much easier.”
As always, Smith will lead the ’Cats. Smith was named both the NWC 2009 Coach of the Year and American Football Monthly’s 2009 Division III Coach of the Year. In his four seasons at Linfield, Smith has compiled a 30-10 record and is only improving his abilities as time rolls on.
“[Retired] coach Langsdorf used to tell us here that ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always gotten,’” Smith said. “The leaders on this team are committed to doing what we do here at Linfield: committing to team, excellence, attitude and class. If we all do that to the best of our ability, then we will accept however the chips fall.”
With so many returning starters and high optimism, look for the Wildcats to make a lot of noise in both the NWC race and the national picture. Linfield kicks off its season on the road against the University of California Lutheran Crusaders on Sept. 11 and will return for its first home game against Willamette University on Oct. 2.
Chris Forrer can be reached at