Football: CWU looks to spring back

April 15, 2012 by  

Wildcats hope to rebound from first losing season under Bennett ||

YAKIMA, Wash. — This will be a different spring for Blaine Bennett.

In addition to answering the annual questions, filling the usual holes and making the requisite changes during Central Washington’s spring workouts, which begin Monday, Bennett will for the first time in his four-plus years as CWU’s head coach try to bring the Wildcats back from a losing season.

Central Washington quarterback Ryan Robertson throws the ball under pressure from Humboldt State’s Chris Peterson during the first half on Oct. 23, 2010, at Tomlinson Stadium in Ellensburg. (Sara Gettys/Yakima Herald-Republic)

By most accounts Central underachieved in 2011, losing twice to Humboldt State and also to Simon Fraser — the upstart Clan’s first NCAA Division II victory — en route to a 4-6 record.

After controlling the GNAC during Bennett’s first three seasons in Ellensburg, CWU went only 4-4 in a conference so lightly regarded nationally that newly crowned champion Humboldt was not chosen for the playoffs despite finishing 9-1.

And for Central, which had reached the postseason in three of the previous four years, hopes for a playoff berth evaporated with an 0-3 start.

So yes, it will be a different spring for Bennett. But not necessarily because the Wildcats are coming off an abnormal autumn.

“We were very disappointed that we didn’t have the kind of year we wanted, or the kind of year we expected,” Bennett said. “But I don’t think that changes anything you do in the spring. Whether you win a championship or you don’t, every spring means a new team.”

How good the new Wildcats will be when the new season starts on Sept. 1 at Texas A&M-Kingsville — the first of three straight road games — depends on a number of factors to be impacted during 15 practices over the next 27 days.

Among the most vital are how thoroughly quarterback Ryan Robertson has recovered from a dislocated right hip suffered last Oct. 15, and whether he will be up to challenges from two junior college transfers.

Offense figures to be Central’s strong suit, since only one senior (wideout Justin Helwege) started the season finale against Dixie State and the defense has been decimated by graduation and attrition.

In addition to the loss of seniors such as West Valley’s Taylor Tanasse and Kittitas’ Mike Reno, both standout linemen, safeties Genesis Fonoimoana and Deionte Gordon will also be missing despite being juniors last season.

Fonoimoana has left school, Bennett said, and Gordon has been suspended for this season, at least, for undisclosed transgressions. Fonoimoana was named all-GNAC second team after leading CWU with five interceptions, but missed a game for violation of team rules. Both had transferred from junior colleges in California.

For Robertson’s part, the 6-foot-4 senior has pronounced himself fit — mostly — for the spring.

“I’m not 100 percent, but I’m pretty danged close,” he said, mentioning that while his injury didn’t require surgery it prevented him from walking for nearly two months. “I’m starting to throw and take drops. I’m expecting to participate fully in spring ball.”

So are Darius Banks and Jeff Nelson, juniors from Fullerton and Sierra colleges, respectively, in California.

“They’re different types of players,” Bennett said. “Banks hasn’t played in a couple of years, but he’s a talented athlete. Nelson is a little more like Ryan, more of a pocket thrower.

“Ryan has the advantage, obviously, because of his knowledge of our system and his experience here. These two guys, if they’re not competing for the starting spot, should give us some backup options.”

Linebackers Stan Langlow, John Koopman and Stetson Shearer represent the Wildcats’ most experienced defensive area. And the kicking game should be efficient with placekicker Sean Davis and punter Josef Kistler back, though top return men Gaisie and Armahd Lewis are gone.

Joining Banks and Nelson among California JC transfers, meanwhile, are defensive end Gabe Bruno of Butte College; receiver Stevie Will of Riverside Community College; safety Osayande Aikhionbare of Glendale Community College; and linebacker Holman Faatili of Long Beach City College. Faatili is a Bellingham native.

Central, which prior to last year had not had a losing season since 2001, has scheduled its spring game for May 12. Its home opener is set for Sept. 22 against GNAC newcomer Azusa Pacific.

Spring Facts

Head coach: Blaine Bennett (5th year, 34-12 at CWU; 61-44 overall).

2011 records: 4-4 GNAC, 4-6 overall.

Returning starters: 14 (10 offense, 4 defense).

Significant returnees: Mike Nelson (all-GNAC 1st team OT), Joey Tivnan (all-GNAC 1st team C), Levi Taylor (all-GNAC 2nd team RB), Anthony Spain (all-GNAC 2nd team WR), Josef Kistler (all-GNAC 2nd team P).

Significant losses: Mike Reno (all-GNAC 1st team DL); Justin Helwege (all-GNAC 1st team WR); Armahd Lewis (all-GNAC 1st team KR, 2nd team WR); Dominique Gaisie (all-GNAC 1st team PR), Taylor Tanasse (all-GNAC 2nd team DL); Andrew Oney (all-GNAC 2nd team DL); Genesis Fonoimoana (all-GNAC 2nd team as junior, no longer with team).

Returning statistical leaders

Rushing: Taylor 698 yards, 4.6 per carry, 9 TDs; Ishmael Stinson 240 yards, 5.6 per carry, 2 TDs.

Passing: Ryan Robertson 125 comps, 219 att (.571), 1,415 yards, 10 TDs, 6 Int.

Receiving: Spain 40 rec, 521 yds (13.0 per catch), 4 TDs; Leon LaDeaux 25 rec, 263 yds (10.5 per catch), 3 TDs.

Interceptions: Stan Langlow 2; Stetson Shearer 2.

Tackles: John Koopman 30 solo, 28 assists; Shearer 28 solo, 25 assists; Langlow 28 solo, 18 assists.

2012 schedule

May 12 — Spring game

Sept. 1 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 4 p.m. PDT

Sept. 8 — *at Simon Fraser, 2 p.m.

Sept. 15 — *at Western Oregon, TBA

Sept. 22 — *Azusa Pacific, 1 p.m.

Sept. 29 — *Humboldt State, 1 p.m.

Oct. 6 — *at Dixie State, noon PDT

Oct. 13 — *Simon Fraser (homecoming), 1 p.m.

Oct. 20 — *at Azusa Pacific, 6 p.m.

Oct. 27 — *at Humboldt State, TBA

Nov. 3 — *Western Oregon, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 — *Dixie State, noon

* — GNAC game

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