SHS football brings back 19 seniors, looks to repeat trip to title game

The Sandpoint High School football team will begin its season ranked second in the state within the 4A classification and its for good reason.

The Bulldogs will be bringing back 19 seniors who were on the team that finished second at the 4A Idaho state football tournament a year ago.

“This has been the best offseason that I’ve ever been around,” Sandpoint High School football coach Ryan Knowles said. “After last year, we expected to be ranked high. We have a lot of guys coming back and my expectations are high.”

The key to a successful football team at any level is the big boys up-front and Sandpoint has no shortage of talent on its offensive line.

Both Wylan Dorrel and Carson Laybourne were ranked as two of the best offensive linemen in the state of Idaho.

Both Dorrel and Laybourne provide exceptional size upfront, with Dorrel coming in at 6 feet five inches and 288 pounds. Dorrell has also received a scholarship offer to play at the University of Idaho.

Laybourne is a lean 6 feet four inches and 308 pounds. He also notched all-state honors in 2021.

“They’re big guys even for football players,” Knowles said. “They’ll lead the charge up front and I’m really excited about what they can do.”

Dorrel and Laybourne will be responsible for protecting senior quarterback Parker Pettit.

Pettit earned offensive MVP honors for the 4A Inland Empire League last season and has been traveling the country during the offseason to showcase his talents.

“He went through a lot last year and took his bumps and bruises,” Knowles said. “He’s getting a lot of interest from coaches at the next level. He’s going to have a heck of a year for us this year.”

The senior will also have targets on the outside that he’s built tremendous chemistry with throughout his high school career.

Arie Vandenberg, Max Frank, and Koda Hartley will be some of the outside targets that Pettit will be connecting with for touchdowns in 2022.

“The more reps they get, the better they’ve looked,” Knowles said. “They’ve been working together for a while. They’ve been getting throws in after practice trying to build that chemistry together.”

It helps to have 19 returning seniors in the lineup, but the unity of the whole team has been a huge strength. Ever since the spring sports season came to a close, the Bulldogs have been working together.

“We had our summer camp and spring practices and there wasn’t much separation,” Knowles said. “When we started practice last week, we were seeing the whole process begin to come together.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be led by senior middle linebacker Weston Benfield.

“He’s a tackle monster,” Knowles said. “He’s a returning all-state player and he’s very intelligent. It’s hard to say that he isn’t the leader of our defense.”

Benfield’s intelligence comes from more than experience. According to Knowles, it stems more from his desire to play the game the right way.

“It takes a combination of experience and a burning desire to be better,” he said. “He understands that it’s more than just showing up and adjusting to what we call. It takes good positioning and level when you’re on the field.”

The coaching staff on the Bulldogs payroll is also an experienced group that helps these kids develop to an all-state level.

“All of our coaches share their experiences with these guys,” Knowles said. “These coaches make sure when fall camp starts these kids are ready to go.”

Benfield will play next to Levi Balison. Balison, who is a national-level powerlifter, is the strongest pound-for-pound player on the Bulldogs roster.

“He’s one of our more vocal leaders,” Knowles said. “He’s going to be a force and his football intelligence has come a long way. He didn’t play football until high school, so his ability to understand the game has come a long way.”

Sandpoint will also return 4A Inland Empire League newcomer of the year Jack Zimmerman.

Zimmerman will fill the nickel cornerback role, which is an important position for any football team.

“He’s super intelligent,” Knowles said. “He’s physical and is one of the best lifters that we have in the weight room. (Jack) has a lot of good football in front of him.”

After a second place finish at the 4A Idaho State tournament, the Bulldogs are ready to make another run at the championship game.

In order to do that, the Bulldogs just have to stick to the script, according to Knowles.

“We’re going to have to manage the injury bug and make sure we don’t have any self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “Everything that the kids can control, they have to control.”

Both Lakeland and Moscow will have new head coaches that will bring new schemes to the field, which will be an adjustment for Sandpoint. Their nonleague schedule also isn’t a breeze, playing teams like Alta (Utah), Coeur d’Alene, and Homedale.

“We’ll be anxious, but we have to always fight for the next rep,” Knowles said. “Hopefully we put ourselves in a position to host a state tournament game. It’s going to be a dog fight, but I’ll take our guys every day of the week.”

Sandpoint opens its season against Alta High School at Madison High School on Friday, Aug 27.

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