The Linfield College football program carried out its annual fall camp in August amid the high expectations that always surround the storied program but with many questions, as well.
According to head football coach Joseph Smith, an average day at camp can last as long as 13 hours. Players take part in drills, real-game scenarios and meetings, as well as strength and conditioning training exercises in the HHPA pool to prepare them for the rigorous demands of the season.
“We’re about where we expected to be,” Smith said. “We have some turnovers in some key spots that have yet to be filled, but I’m pleased with where we are.”
Among those departures are last season’s Northwest Conference Offensive and Defensive players of the year, quarterback Aaron Boehme and defensive end Eric Hedin, class of ’11. Both players began professional careers, with Boehme cur playing overseas in the German Football League and Hedin playing for the Arena Football League.
Additionally, Smith said that the presence of former Wildcat Paul Nishizaki will sorely be missed on the defensive line, as well as linebacker Bubba Kukahiko, class of ’11.
“Our defensive line was really tremendous with [Nishizaki] and [Hedin],” Smith said. “We’ll have guys that will fill in, but those guys were pretty darn good. The senior linebackers we lost hurt, too, and [Boehme] was amazing.”
Despite the loss of those senior leaders on either side of the ball, many outstanding players remain to anchor the ’Cats, including senior tailback Aaron Williams. Williams, who injured himself last season and had to sit out the second half of the year, will be a force on offense. On defense, junior linebacker Axel Cederberg will be a leader and help mentor a young linebacking core.
“Our running back core is strong,” Smith said. “Josh Hill and Aaron Williams are two very good backs.”
Furthermore, Smith said that a number of transfer students and freshmen have impressed the coaching staff in camp and could have an instant impact on the field. Specifically, Smith mentioned that transfer junior wide receiver Lucas Jepson has shown a hunger and energy that could put him in a position to play from day one.
“Lucas Jepson is playing good football right now,” Smith said. “[Running back] Zack Young, a transfer, is definitely talented enough to play. [Linebacker] Brian Dundis is another transfer who will figure in things as well.”
Thus far, Smith believes the team’s secondary is its strength largely due to strong senior leadership. Led by senior safety Drew Fisher and senior cornerbacks Taylor Skore and Nate Dixon, the veteran ball-hawks that have compiled numerous all-region and all-American honors, opposing teams will have to prepare thoroughly before thinking about passing deep against the Wildcats.
The offensive line has also been identified as one of the team’s strong areas, although camp has been punishing for many of the lineman. Returning linemen junior Kaston Gleason and senior Jordan Barnes look to build on the success the o-line found last season and lead the first-time starters.
“The secondary is outstanding,” Smith said. “Some good play makers, good solid tacklers. I look for them to be steady for us. The offensive line should be as well but they’ve been pretty banged up.”
Smith said the linebacking core and defensive line have been inconsistent so far due to the wear-and-tear that comes with camp, but should come together after having more time to play as a unit. He also emphasized that consistency at the quarterback position must improve for the Wildcats to find success on the field. Junior quarterback Mickey Inns is the heir-apparent but faces competition from sophomore Josh Yoder and incoming freshman Ben Bolton. All three have shown moments of brilliance, but no player has separated himself from the others yet.
“In reality, it’s been up and down,” Smith said. “We haven’t had the consistency there that we really want. Mickey Inns has had some good days, and when he’s in rhythm he moves the ball pretty well.”
With two weeks remaining before the team’s season opening game against California Lutheran University on Sept. 10, Smith remains confident his players have the potential to achieve the level of excellence Linfield fans have come to perennially expect in the Catdome. With strong leaders like Fisher, Dixon, Cederberg and Williams, this season’s football squad is sure to extend the program’s NCAA all-divisions record for consecutive winning seasons and make a strong run at capturing a third consecutive NWC title.
Chris Forrer/Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.