If you are going to attend Grays Harbor Bearcats games this season, make sure you pick up a roster to identify the players. The Bearcats are beginning to turn over their roster and have gotten younger for the 2014 season.
Today, the Bearcats will debut their younger roster in a non-league contest against the Portland Monarchs at 6 p.m. at Stewart Field. Tickets are $5 for adults, with children 12-under and seniors 65-over free, and home season tickets will be onsale for $25.
The Bearcats will enter their sixth season in semi-pro football with some of their most recognizable players retired or taking the season off — tight end Joel Winther, lineman Justin Shumate and quarterback David Evans have retired, while running back Jeff Gates is taking the season off to recuperate from injuries.
“We got young, young, young,” Grays Harbor head coach Todd Hoiness said. “This is going to be an experience and we’ll be flying by the seat of our pants on some of these things. I’m excited to see what some of these guys can do against other people. I’ve seen what they can do in practice, now we’ll see it in a game-time environment.”
Veteran Bearcat Jack Traxtle (Hoquiam) will return at strong safety and will be joined by a rotation of safeties in the new defensive unit — Aberdeen rookie Filipo Cournoyer (weak safety) and Elma rookie Nathan Raffelson (safety/corner) and veterans Chase Raines and Jeremy Mancuso.
Cournoyer will also see time at running back, where he excelled at Aberdeen, and wide receiver on offense.
Hoquiam veterans Jeremy Walker and Daniel Hargrove will go double duty at cornerback and wide receiver. Former Bearcat Chris Jackson, who was one of the team’s key secondary members, will not return this season
Taholah veterans Dan Brown and Joel Brown will anchor the linebacking corps and the Bearcats will feature a mix of vets and rookies on the defensive line — Matt Brown and Gene Piffero at defensive tackle, with Brian Fields, Nick Fields (North Beach) and Colby Raffelson (Ocosta) in rotation; veterans Kory McElravy and Vernon McCrory at defensive end, with Harry Peterson, Josh Vessey and Justin Sturdevant (Elma) in rotation.
McCrory, a third-year player from Taholah, will be the main running back for Grays Harbor and McElravy will share assistant defensive coaching duties with defensive coordiator/co-founder Chris Raffelson.
“We have a very good starting rotation with the defense and players moving in and out to give them rest and keep them fresh,” Raffelson said.
Hoiness’ offensive unit turned over just as much as the defense, but features a veteran offensive line to anchor the team.
Veteran center and team co-founder Don Orton will anchor the offensive line, with brothers Steve and Shane Dayton on one side of the line as guard and tackle and Casey Elder, J.T. Hickman and Chris Pickernell rotating through on the other side of the line.
At tight end, jack-of-all-trades Chris Cook will replace Winther, but will also see plenty of time at wide receiver and fullback.
Behind center, Aberdeen veteran Loyal Linton will call the signals for today’s game. Linton saw plenty of time last season at wide receiver and will bring speed to the backfield. Hoquiam’s Cameron Parker will see time at quarterback later on in the season.
At running back, McCrory will be the main ball carrier, with Cameron Smith and Brian Dayton seeing time as well. McCrory and Smith took over the main running back duties last year when Gates went down early in the season.
Linton’s targets on the wings will be a rotation of receivers, starting with cornerbacks Walker and Hargrove, along with North Beach product Derek Archer, Aberdeen’s Dylan Rhodes and Taholah’s Richard Charlie.
“We’ll have to learn fast and learn the hard way,” Hoiness said. “We’ll be fine, if we stay healthy enough to improve and grow. Half of football is attrition.”
“We’re facing the toughest shcedule we’ve had in six years,” Raffelson said. “We’ll be in the PFL North, which is predominantly tough. The (Bellingham) Bulldogs and the (Seattle) Stallions, who we play twice, and the Portland Raiders have rebuilt. They’ve picked up new players and coaches and they’re predicted to make national title runs this season. We picked a great year to rebuild.”
The Bulldogs won the 2013 Pacific Football League championsip at Stewart Field, knocking off the South Lane County/Springfield (Ore.) Buzzards, 40-7. The Stallions held the league’s best regular-season record and the Raiders picked up a new coaching staff and players from throughout the Portland/Northwest Oregon region.
The Bearcats will have four non-North division league games this season, starting today against the Monarchs. The Raiders will be at Stewart Field in two weeks, while the San Diego Thunder, a powerhouse fall semi-pro team, will visit Aberdeen on May 31.
Raffelson noted that the team has a home game against the Polynesian All-Stars this season, but the game date has yet to be determined.
Helping Hoiness, who will again take on offensive coordinator duties, this season will be Raffelson (defensive coordinator), McElravy (assistant defensive coach), former Bearcat Jake Early (secondary coach) and Evans (quarterback coach).
Rob Burns: (360) 537-3926; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @RobRVR.