The 2013 Grays Harbor Bearcats will take the field on Saturday night against a familiar foe and will feature a younger roster to back up a veteran starting corps.
Call it reloading, Bearcat style.
Seven key veteran contributors to Grays Harbor have retired and several other veteran players are moving around between offense and defense. Taking their places are younger, first-year players who will soon represent the future of the franchise.
It will all be on display at 6 p.m. Saturday at Stewart Field in Aberdeen when the Bearcats host the Renton Ravens in a pre-season semi-pro football game.
In 2009, the Bearcats finished their inaugural season by hosting a bowl game against the Ravens and lost, 20-3.
Grays Harbor (9-3 overall, 8-2 Pacific Football League North) begins PFL play next Saturday at Clark County Vipers and comes home on April 20 against the Portland Raiders.
“We have a strong core group of players returning,” Grays Harbor Bearcats co-owner and defensive lineman Chris Raffelson said. Raffelson will play in Saturday’s game, lining up with his son, Elma’s Nathan Raffelson, before retiring to the coaching staff.
“I don’t want to call it a rebuilding year. Talent-wise, we’re still good. We had some key players retire and we’ve restocked the roster with younger player. This is a very strong league this year and, over the last five years, the team has held its own. Our depth is a lot younger now.”
Defensive linemen Ron Strozyk (Willapa Valley) and Larry Raines (Elma) and offensive linemen Justin Shumate (Elma), Jeff Cole, Jon Tanaloa, and Dusty Sturgeon (North Beach) have retired.
Strozyk is the only all-PFL first-team player not to return from last year’s team. Shumate was a second-team selection, while kicker Jadon Carrosino (Aberdeen), a second-team selection, has moved to Spokane.
Running back Tim Lee (Ocosta), a 2011 Bearcat, will see the team again this year as a member of the Yakima Mavericks.
While the Bearcats will miss these players, a talented group of younger players will fill in to solidify the roster depth. Playing time, however, will be tough to come by as the team is still loaded with veteran experience at nearly every position.
All-PFL first-team center Donnie Orton and second-team lineman Shane Dayton will anchor the offensive line, while veteran defensive tackle Matthew Brown will return to anchor the defensive line.
Behind center, veteran quarterback David Evans (PFL second-team) returns and will have a stable of running backs behind him. Starting with the PFL’s leading rusher, Jeff Gates (Hoquiam), Evans will also have Vincent McCrory (Taholah), Cameron Smith and Cameron Parker carrying the ball. Jack Traxtle (Hoquiam) will move from strong safety to fullback this season.
At tight end, PFL first-team pick Joe Winther will be one of Evans’ main targets, along with Devin Sturgeon (North Beach). Chris Jackson, the PFL’s special teams player of the year as a kick returner, is the No. 1 option in the wide receiver corps. Hoquiam’s Jeremy Walker and Daniel Hargrove and Tamboura Hines will also return as wide outs.
Defensively, the Bearcats saw a lot of spread offenses over the past three seasons. The unit’s ability to hold teams to negative yardage on the ground had something to do with it, led by PFL Defensive Player of the Year Joel Brown (Taholah) at linebacker. Brown will be joined by Daniel Brown (Taholah) and Kory McElravy.
McElravy, a longtime semi-pro player and coach, will split time on and off the field as a defensive assistant coach.
Matt Brown will be joined by Chris Cook and Eric Dixon taking over the ends on the defensive line. Cook earned first-team all-PFL honors as a defensive lineback as well as an offensive utility player (tight end/fullback).
Kick returner/defensive back Robby Lisle (Elma) and safeties Jerry Mancuso and Jake Early (Elma) will solidify the defensive secondary for the Bearcats. Loyal Linton (Aberdeen) and Chase Raines will see time as defensive backs.
Returning to the Bearcats this year is fifth-year head coach/offensive coordinator Todd Hoiness.
Paul Christiansen is the defensive coordinator, with Brad Russell on special teams and Jeremy McMillan as an offensive assistant and McElravy as a defensive assistant.
Nearly every PFL team, including newcomer Seattle Stallions, have reloaded their rosters this season. The Stallions, playing in the Western Washington Football Association, lost to the PFL Champion Portland Monarchs in the 2012 Great er Northwest Football Association title game, 56-50.
The Bearcats will host the 2013 Pacific Football League Championship Game and All-Star Game this July. More details on the games will be announced later in the season.
The Grays Harbor Bearcats have their first retired number — 42. Jon Favro, who played for the Bearcats as a fullback and lineman in 2009-10, died last year and he wore that number during his time on the team. The franchise, through its Bearcats Foundation, has also established a Jon Favro Memorial Scholarship for Pee-Wee football players. For more details on the scholarship, visit ghbearcats.com. … Lana’s Hangar Cafe at Hoquiam’s Bowerman Field is offering two Bearcat-themed dishes this season — a Bearcat Omlette (three eggs, all meat, hashbrowns and sausage gravy) and a Bearcat Burger. … The Bearcats will offer, for the second year in a row, a live stream of all of their games (home and away) at ghbearcats.com through NW8Man.com. Eagles TV will also tape the games and rebroadcast them on Eagles TV (Comcast Channel 26).