Ephrata is coming into the 2013 gridiron season with loads of experience, especially on defense.
Behind all-state lineman Jake Laird and nine more returning defensive players, the Tigers will be seeking a top-three finish in the Central Washington Athletic Conference. At this point, Othello and Prosser look to be the top teams in the league with the Tigers right behind.
“I think we are a playoff-caliber team,” coach Jay Mills said. “I think we are a top-three team.”
Mills, who has been the head coach at Ephrata for the past 10 seasons, believes the same top five teams from last year will again be competing for CWAC supremacy — Othello, Prosser, Ellensburg, West Valley and Ephrata.
“I don’t know what order, but I think those are your teams,” he said.
The Tigers team will enter as one of the most experienced in the CWAC. Laird will be joined by 215-pound state wrestling champion Tyrus Kemp as bookend defensive ends. The Tigers’ tackles will be Isaac Garcia and Jon Schmidt.
“Tyrus and Jake are our most experienced on the line,” Mills said. “They are very physical.”
As good as the pair is projected to be, Mills really likes his team speed at linebacker, with Brice Turnbull, Dalton Balentine, Justin DeHoog and Bryce Unruh.
“All four of those guys started games last year,” Mills said. “I like our speed at linebacker.”
The defensive backs are Tyson Martin, Tyler Lutz, Lloyd Burleson, Johnny Green, Nick Lobe and Austin Sandberg.
“This is out most open competition,” he said.
The offense returns eight players, losing the quarterback, a lineman and a tight end from last season. Senior Evan Brooks will take over as quarterback.
“He’s got a football head, an absolute football junkie,” Mills said. “He understands the offense and has an accurate arm.”
The Tigers return Balentine and Martin to the backfield.
“Balentine is our between-the-tackles guy,” Mills said.
Kurtis J. Wood is the sports editor of the Quincy Valley Post-Register.