EVERSON — For Nooksack Valley, coming off a 5-4 (3-3 Northwest Conference) season in which they fell a tiebreaker short of a playoff spot, it’s no secret who will be leading the team’s offense this fall.
Senior quarterback Casey Bauman, entering his third season as the starting signal caller for the Pioneers, provides the experience and talent at the game’s most important position that many teams across the state can’t match. Committed to play NCAA Division I football upon graduation at Montana State University, the 6-foot-5 playmaker threw for 2,787 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2016.
“He definitely passes the eye test,” head coach Robb Myhre said of Bauman. “We expect more and more out of him each year.”
Luckily for the senior, Nooksack will also feature a bevy of speedy playmakers on offense this season, powered by a couple of experienced linemen up front.
On the offensive line, seniors Luke Winter and Kirk Veldman lead a group that includes first-time varsity player and junior Hayden Hester, juniors Landon Bruland and Cooper Clawson and senior Colton Hickey. Winter and Veldman are locked into their positions while everyone else is still fighting for starting nods on the line, according to Myhre.
Joining Bauman in the backfield will be senior running back Tre Silva, a wide receiver last season who Myhre calls “the fastest kid on the team.” Senior Austin O’Bryan and Evan Neitling will also receive carries and be used as re ceivers.
“We have some kids who can play multiple positions, so we’ll be able to give some guys some rest,” Myhre said.
At receiver, junior Baylor Galley and seniors Levi Tenkley and Jordan Veening are the main threats for the Pioneers. Senior Brenan Blankers will operate as more of an inside receiver while senior Kyle Veldman, an all-league performer last season, will provide another option.
“The nicest part for us is just rest and confidence in calling plays,” Myhre said of his deep offensive unit. “This group isn’t big, but they are quick and athletic.”
On the defensive line, Bruland, Hickey and Easton Zylstra are all fighting for the third spot behind Winter and Kirk Veldman. Kyle Veldman is the leader at linebacker with Clawson and junior Dane Winter filling out the group. Bauman, Silva, O’Bryan and Neitling give the secondary plenty of depth and experience.
Of Luke Winter, Myhre said he is “one of the strongest kids we’ve ever had in our program.” Winter received three all-league selections in 2016, at punter and on both the offensive and defensive lines.
He and Kirk Veldman have each received scholarship offers to play for Eastern Oregon University. Myhre said the two are critical leaders for the team as the program is built around the play of the offensive line.
Some of the key losses for the Pioneers from their 2016 roster include receiver Michael O’Bryan, running back Colton Kautz, offensive linemen Zach Daniels, Tyson Mergel and Alex Boots, and defenders Evan Blankers, Mark Coppinger and Jeremy Dykes. Kautz was the team’s leading rusher and second leading receiver last fall.
Playing in the same league as Meridian, Mount Baker and Lynden Christian, Myhre expects the competition to be as tough as ever in 2017, especially given that each team plays each other twice.
“We could all end 1-1 against each other,” Myrhe said. “Our hardest competition is getting out of our league. If you can get through it, you’re going to be competitive at the state level.”
Nooksack hosts a season-opening jamboree on Saturday at 4 p.m. before welcoming Blaine for the first game of the season on Sept. 1 at 7 p.m.