It’s finally time to open the 2023 high school football season this week.
It all starts with two games Thursday — Hermiston at Hanford (played at Hanford High School), and Pasco visiting Kennewick at Lampson Stadium. Both contests kick off at 7 p.m.
The rest of the region then picks it up on Friday. In the Mid-Columbia Conference, that means Kamiakin at Chiawana in a key early season matchup among two favorites. That game is at 7 p.m. at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco.
Walla Walla will open with a non-conference foe in West Valley of Yakima, at 7 p.m. at Borleske Stadium.
Big Nine Conference favorite — at least one of them anyways — Sunnyside opens at 7 p.m. Friday against Prosser, at Art Fiker Stadium.
Finally, Richland visits Southridge at 5 p.m. Saturday at Lampson Stadium. The contest was moved from its original Friday kickoff to Saturday due to lack of available officials.
We’ll talk about the smaller schools tomorrow, but here’s a quick primer on some of the outstanding talent in the Mid-Columbia among Class 4A and 3A schools.
10 non-linemen to watch
Abel Alatorre, Hermiston. This kicker and punter spent the summer going to Kohl’s Kicking Camps in Seattle, and then advancing to the finals in Tennessee. Kohl’s ranks the senior as one of the top 100 high school kickers in the nation. His legs will come into the game plan this fall for the Bulldogs.
Preston Bryant, Hanford. This two-way standout at receiver and safety will be a key player for the Falcons as a junior.
Isaac Corey, Hermiston. The Bulldogs have a lot of returning players at the skill positions, starting with this junior at quarterback.
DJ Duran, Chiawana. The Riverhawks senior is expected to lead the way on offense for Scott Bond’s squad.
David Kuku, Kamiakin. Started making a name for himself last year as a sophomore on both sides of the ball. Already has caught the eye of Nebraska coaches.
Noah McNair, Sunnyside. This guy has it all as a receiver and DB. The senior has already committed to playing for the Air Force Academy.
Alex Roberts, Kennewick. As a sophomore in 2022, he came out of nowhere to pile up the rushing yards when the Lions went down a man in the backfield.
Landon Shilhanek, Hermiston. A senior now, he was Corey’s top target last season at receiver. He’ll also lead the Bulldogs secondary.
Caden Wilson, Hanford. Standout wrestler is now a senior, and he’ll star at both running back and middle linebacker.
Josh Woodard, Richland. Now a senior, Woodard is what I call the Doug Flutie of the Mid-Columbia Conference. He makes big plays by either running for touchdowns or passing for them — all while being incredibly elusive to defensive foes. Worth the price of admission alone.
10 linemen to watch
Zack Alvarez, Chiawana. A big reason that the Riverhawks defense clogged up all running lanes, the senior is a leader.
Landon Biglin, Kamiakin. He’s a coach’s son (Dad Scott is Kamiakin’s head coach) who has the smarts to call out blocking schemes for the Braves as a junior.
Santiago Casas, Sunnyside. How good is he? Oh, he was named the Big Nine Conference Lineman of the Year by league coaches last fall as a junior.
Carson Condie, Southridge. He’ll be one of the senior leaders for the Suns, who lost a lot of talent to graduation.
Lucas Fransen, Hanford. He’ll be a force on both sides of the line. Last year as a junior, Fransen was named second-team All-MCC on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Lane Hedrick, Chiawana. The senior was first-team All-MCC last season on the defensive line. Standout wrestler also has exceptional footwork, a necessity for great linemen.
Nathan Knapik, Kennewick. Every year, it seems the Lions send a lineman to a university. This year, the 6-foot-7 senior is already committed to play at the University of Idaho.
Gavin McCallum, Kamiakin. The senior is another reason why the Braves may have one of the best offensive lines in the entire state.
Dylin McIntyre, Kennewick. He makes this list for for his defensive line work, where he was first-team All-MCC last year as a junior. Like Knapik, he’s committed to the University of Idaho.
Baker Mundy, Kamiakin. Like Biglin, Mundy is a junior. He can clear out lanes with the best of them.
10 more players who could shine
Gavin Allen, Southridge. Another senior who will be looked to for leadership, this tight end-defensive lineman is drawing interest from colleges.
Brody Bocek, Richland. Just a sophomore, Bocek made some big plays for the Bombers as a receiver last season.
Ayden Metz, Kennewick. One of the reasons Kennewick was so tough defensively last season was this tough, aggressive linebacker.
Ambrose Driver, Kennewick. He started last season as the team’s first-team All-MCC punter. But he stepped in at quarterback midway through the season and helped lead the Lions deep into the postseason.
Michael Hansen, Chiawana. This guy has size and a good set of hands. Expect him to be a favorite target for Duran’s passes.
Ben Larson, Hermiston. A two-year starter at running back and linebacker, Larson is finally a senior for the Bulldogs.
Aaron Lowry, Chiawana. The Riverhawks have a very good kicking game with Lowry and sophomore Morgan Dodson. Lowry was second-team all-MCC last year at kicker.
Neal Stasik, Hermiston. Last year as a junior, this linebacker was the Bulldogs’ leading tackler. He’ll work beside Larson.
David Wacenske, Kennewick. The senior will play receiver for the Lions, but where he did his most impressive work last season was at linebacker. Big playmaker.
Trent Woodhouse, Kamiakin. Started last season at quarterback, but an injury took him down in the opener and he never returned. He returns to lead the Braves’ offense.
Hanford High School will have co-head coaches this fall. James Beck and Ryan Harvey will share duties for the Falcons.
Nick Baker, who had previously been the head coach the past few seasons, has moved back to Seattle, where he will re-join the O’Dea High School coaching staff.
Jeff Morrow is former sports editor for the Tri-City Herald.