Brawny Bobcats eye improvement

Aberdeen’s coaches are hopeful that the foundation for a football turnaround is being constructed in the trenches.

Bolstered by an big, experienced line and a shift to a new league, the Bobcats are optimistic about improving significantly on last year’s injury-riddled 1-8 campaign.

They open the season tonight at Montesano.

Due to several factors, the Cats may be the biggest unknown quantity in the Twin Harbors area.

They possess a couple of undeniable assets. They return Bryceson Talley, a power-running 230-pound fullback who earned second-team all-Evergreen 2A Conference recognition last year. He’ll be operating behind a talented, brawny offensive front that has already drawn praise from first-year head coach Terry Dion.

“Our strength is definitely our offensive line,” Dion said. “We’re pretty big and athletic and physical on the line.”

On the flip side, the Bobcats are inexperienced at some positions. A few of last year’s top underclassmen — particularly in the receiving corps — are not turning out for football this year. And Aberdeen’s vulnerability to opposition big plays, one of its chief difficulties in recent years, remains a concern.

“An issue with us is overall team speed at the skill positions,” Dion confirmed. “Containing really fast teams will be a top priority. We’re stronger than we are fast.”

Overall, however, Dion is upbeat about his team’s prospects.

“I think we’re going to be better than a lot of people think,” he said.

A former University of Oregon and Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman who was promoted from an assistant’s position following the resignation of head coach Ron Clark last winter, Dion is also excited about this season’s shift to the smaller Greater St. Helens 2A League for football after years of running the gauntlet in the ultra-competitive Evergreen 2A Conference.

Talley will be the focal point of Aberdeen’s offense, but Dion said the coaching staff will attempt to vary the manner of his carries.

“He’s going to be a workhorse,” he said, “but it’s not going to be a dive here, a dive there.”

Senior Justin Berkley will operate at the other running back slot in Aberdeen’s wing-T attack.

Junior Veek Cheema will likely get the starting nod at quarterback, backed up by senior Austin Kerrigan and possibly freshman Joel Dublanko. Although largely untested at QB, Cheema was cited by Dion for his leadership qualities.

The offensive line includes 265-pound senior Jaime Miranda and 270-pound junior Kaleb Levao at the tackles, 220-pound junior Chase Johnson and 225-pound senior Colton Dion at the guards and 220-pound junior Cory Mays at center. Jordon Logan, a 260-pound junior, will rotate into one of the line slots.

Senior Ashton Williamson will likely start at wide receiver, with 210-pound junior Lorenzo Ontiveros at tight end. Sophomore Austin Floch will open at the Z (or slot) back.

Miranda, an all-Evergreen 2A Conference defensive lineman last year, returns at nose guard to lead the AHS defense. Other key defenders include Levao and senior David Garcia at the ends and Talley, Ontiveros, Williamson and Mays at linebacker.

Two talented freshmen, Dublanko and lineman Chandler Craig, could well figure into the mix by season’s end. Both have played in national junior high all-star games. The versatile Dublanko could fill a number of roles on both sides of the ball.

One luxury of the change in leagues is that the Bobcats will have four non-leaguers before entering Greater St. Helens competition. Dion sees Mark Morris and Hockinson as the teams to beat in that circuit.

Former longtime Bobcat assistant Rich VanVolkinburg rejoins the AHS coaching staff this year. Other assistants include Scott Rice, Cory Martinsen, Jeremy Walker and Joe Fagerstedt.