By Annie Fowler August 28, 2017 4:06 PM
A good football team is built on a strong foundation.
For the Chiawana Riverhawks, that’s the big boys in the trenches.
“I think that is the key,” Chiawana coach Steve Graff said. “They are a solid group that has been through everything. You have a good offensive and defensive line, that’s where it starts.”
Not only do the Riverhawks have experience on their side when it comes to the big men up front (four guys who have started for three years), but they also have size.
It all starts with returning all-conference first teamers Josh Alvarez (sr., 6-4, 285) and AJ Vongphachanh (jr., 6-3, 220), and second-team picks Ford Powers (sr., 6-2, 215, and in case you are wondering, he drives a Chevy) and Julian Benitez (sr., 6-0, 250). Toss in junior tackle Zayne Maughan (6-4, 260) and senior guard Joey Aikala (6-4, 345), and things just keep getting better.
“Julian, Josh and I have played together since the seventh grade,” Powers said. “We are really excited with the guys we have coming up like Zayne. They are very good, and we are excited to have them.”
Powers knows he and his linemates will have to hold the line for rookie senior quarterback Enoch Vargas (no relation to former running back Andrew Vargas) and running backs Ethan Garcia (sr., 5-11, 185), Tayden Jenkins (sr., 5-7, 160) and sophomore Gabe Schilz (5-10, 145), who was one of the top sprinters in the Mid-Columbia Conference last spring.
“We will see who will be the front runner after the first couple of games,” Graff said. “We’d like to be 50/50 with the run and the pass, but we will take what they give us. If they put nine in the box, we have to throw. We have to be able to execute that. (Vargas) didn’t have a good spring, but he is getting better and better as we go.”
That’s were the line comes in.
“We know it is a repetition thing,” Powers said. “They don’t have the varsity reps that we do, or the experience we do. We are trying to ease them into the speed of things, the flow of things, and how we run our offense. Once we do a good job of that this next week, we will be ready for the rest of the season.”
Defensively, Graff and his staff still are working out the kinks. Everyone knows he has an ace or two up his sleeve, but the cagey veteran coach never gives away his secrets.
“We have a lot of unknowns,” Graff said. “We have spots in the secondary and at linebacker that need some work. We need better communication between the line and linebackers. We still have a week.”
We’d like to be 50/50 with the run and the pass, but we will take what they give us. If they put nine in the box, we have to throw. We have to be able to execute that.
Chiawana coach Steve Graff
While the Riverhawks have a few question marks remaining on offense and defense, they’re special teams appear to be squared away. Kicker Ryan Lowry returns (second team all-MCC), and punter Elijah Perez can boot the ball a country mile.
Quest for a league title
The Riverhawks finished last season with a 9-2 record, relying heavily on running back Andrew Vargas — who rushed for 2,538 yards and 39 touchdowns, — and a defense that gave up just 216.9 yards a game (No. 2 in MCC).
Chiawana’s lone conference loss was to Richland, a 21-14 setback in Week 8. The Riverhawks’ second loss was in the first round of the state playoffs, 38-28 to Skyview, which Richland beat 35-7 in the 4A state semifinals.
“We had such a good team last year, and we went 9-2,” Powers said. “It’s incentive for this year. We won the league title when we were freshmen, but we weren’t really part of that. I know we have what it takes to compete. The big thing comes down to execution. You can have all the fire in the world, but if you don’t put any points on the board, you aren’t going to win. Once we get the execution part down, we will be ready to take on Richland for the league title.”
The Riverhawks open the season Friday, hosting Moses Lake. Chiawana plays at Richland on Oct. 20.