The 2022 varsity football team at Walla Walla High School is excited to start the season.
The Blue Devils will play their first game away from their league on Friday, September 2, at West Valley in Yakima.
“I’m excited,” said Greg Lupfer, the head coach of the Blue Devils, before his fourth season at Wa-Hi. “The kids we have out here have bought into this program and have been working hard.”
Lupfer sees that this year’s varsity players are talented and athletic, and that the program is also getting stronger.
After the first day of practices, 74 kids showed up to play football, he said.
Lupfer said, “No. 1, I really want to say this: I’m really excited about this freshman class.” “This first-year class worked out together the whole summer. Most likely, 24 to 30 of those kids were there lifting and throwing all summer. I’m very interested in that class.
“Last year, too, our second-year class was good. The other thing that makes me happy is our eighth-grade class. I know that our eighth-grade class will also be good, so if you have three good teams in a row, it says a lot about the program and what it can do in the future.
A lot of the pieces for this season are already in place.
The offensive line has a senior named Jon Smith at center. Last year, Smith got an honorable mention for All-MCC.
Smith is the leader of a group of blockers that includes juniors Ethan Kregger, Manny Sanchez, and Quinton Grimes, sophomores Ben Stillman, Kyle Mouch, and Jacob Humphries, and a senior tight end, Josiah Carpenter.
Lupfer said, “We’re not big up front, but we’re fast.” “It’s good to be able to get around defensive linemen. It’s not so much that you have to always throw them off. This is more about blocking angles and putting ourselves in the best position to win up front.”
With senior quarterback Zack Wood back, the line wants to open up chances for a group of athletic skill players.
Jaden Flippo and Josh Nelson, who are both seniors, play as running backs.
As receivers, the Blue Devils have Isaiah Roberson, Jessie Ocampo, Damian Romero Herrera, and Carter Shivell, all of whom are sophomores.
“We’ve got some tools,” Lupfer said. “These kids just need to keep working, stay confident, stick together, and try to build some team chemistry.”
This year, it’s still hard to keep bodies fit and healthy.
Several kids who play the most on offense will probably stay on the field for defense.
Smith, Kregger, Sanchez, and Carpenter are set to play on the defensive line. Carter O’Dell, Brendin McNeil, and Carson Casey will play linebacker with Flippo and Nelson.
The secondary is made up of Ocampo, Roberson, Romero Herrera, Shivell, and Grant Banister, who is a junior.
“In high school football, depth is always a concern, but you do what you can with what you have,” Lupfer said. “You know that our players always have to play both ways, and when they get here, they know that. And, you know, football just gives you more chances to play the game.”
Kooper Shields, a sophomore, is back on the special teams to kick and punt. Ocampo, Roberson, Romero Herrera, and Shivell are all options for returning.
Lupfer and his coaching staff are working hard to shape the team for 2022.
Chris Gradwohl is the offensive coordinator, David Blocklinger is the receivers coach, Bob LeMaster is the offensive line coach, and Zach Widmer coaches the running backs, defensive backs, special teams, and the junior varsity. Justin James is the assistant head coach and the defensive coordinator.
Matt Triebwasser is the head coach of the freshman team. Danny Mears was in charge of the offensive line, Ryan Martuscelli was in charge of the quarterbacks and the defensive backs, and Matt Schack was in charge of the receivers and the defensive backs.
Lupfer said, “We have a lot to work on, but we have some tools to work with, so that’s good.”
To get Wa-Hi into the state championship playoffs from the Mid-Columbia Conference, the Blue Devils will play against Kennewick, Southridge, and Hermiston, all of which are 3A teams.
Last year, Kennewick came in second at the state level.
Even though the MCC has bigger schools like Chiawana, Richland, Kamiakin, Hanford, and Pasco, the Blue Devils are ready to take on any opponent.
Lupfer said, “I’m really worried about the 3A teams, because whether we win or lose against a 4A team doesn’t really matter when it comes to the playoffs.” “It’s clear that Kennewick is going to be a great team—coach Randy Affholter has done a great job over there. And Matt Johnson has done a great job at Southridge. Hermiston’s quarterback is really good, so I know they’ll be tough.
“Every game we play will be a fight for us. And that is exactly what we need to get ready for. Then, when we play our 4A teams, we’ll bring our best game.
The 2021 Blue Devils’ first game of the season was at home against Kennewick. They lost 23-7 to the team that would finish second in the state.
This year, Wa-Hi starts the season on September 2 at West Valley in Yakima against a 4A team from the Columbia Basin Big 9 Conference.
Lupfer said, “You know, starting the football season with a non-league game is the best way to do it.” “If you look at college football, you won’t see a college team start the season with a league game. I’m not sure if it ever really happens. There are all the preseason games in the NFL.
“The way our schedule is set up, with us playing a non-league school first, is the way I think it should be. You play that non-league game, see what you have, make the changes you need to make in terms of personnel and strategy, and then go from there. Then you play in your league.
So, being able to go to West Valley and play in Yakima for a non-league game is, in my opinion, the best way to do things. Then we’ll play our first home game against Kennewick. I mean, it’s great that we can start the season with a game outside of our league.”