Flush with equal parts motivation and ability at the key positions, Linfield appears poised to again be among the top combatants in the battle for the Division III national championship.
The Wildcats came tantalizingly close to reaching the NCAA title game last season, falling to the eventual champion on the road by fewer than seven points. Coming as close as the Wildcats did to reaching the pinnacle of the small-college landscape served as added motivation for Linfield’s 58 returning lettermen and 14 incumbent starters throughout the offseason.
Linfield looks to keep several streaks alive as it begins the 2015 season. With five wins, the Wildcats can extend to 60 the nation’s longest streak of consecutive winning seasons. Linfield has not experienced a losing campaign since 1955, the year the first McDonald’s restaurant debuted and Disneyland opened its gates. The ‘Cats also aim to secure a seventh straight Northwest Conference championship.
Ball carriers Spencer Payne, Tavon Willis and Bryan Cassill provide a complementary blend of speed, power and agility. Strong-armed quarterbacks Sam Riddle and Tom Knecht are capable and fully versed in the Linfield playbook. Senior Brian Balsiger headlines a receiving squadron that includes Erick Douglas III, Samuel Robinson and Johnny Carroll. Eric Pitassi and Jacob Hanke anchor the line at guard and tackle, respectively.
Linfield is loaded at the defensive end position, with returning All-American Alex Hoff joined by fast-rising stars Asa Schwartz, Marcus McGovern and Jake Handran. The linebacker position relies on senior Eli Biondine and sophomore Jake Reimer with returners Kyle Chandler and Jason Farlow also contributing.
The secondary’s greatest strength may be at cornerback, where standouts Kyle Belcher, Kennedy Johnson and Dylan Lewis all return with starting experience. Mikey Arkans shifts from safety to monsterback this fall, Keanu Yamamoto returns to his rover position, and Skylor Elgarico is the new starter at safety.
Three talented kickers return in Michael Metter, Kevin McClean and Cayman Conley, giving coaches flexibility in game situations.