ILWACO, Wash. - With nine starters on offense and seven on defense coming back from last year's 4-6 squad, the Fishermen football team is poised to contend for one of four post-season playoff spots in the Southwest Washington League in 2005.

Coach Ned Bittner, while welcoming an experienced and talented group of athletes, is making changes.

The biggest is at quarterback where Mooch Smith, with most of his playing experience at fullback, is likely to call the signals.

"We will stay with the I-formation but run some wishbone (option) plays, " Bittner said. "We plan to stay more on the ground this season."

Bobby Crislip and Anthony Wirkkala at offensive tackle, Geoff Hylton at guard, Joe Goelz at tight end and Jeff Nesbitt at center average 215 pounds and all have experience as starters. They should open holes for the Ilwaco ground game.

Eddie Knick, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year as a freshman, is back and raring to go. Alex Martin should reclaim his starting spot as part of a formidable tandem at half back. Nick Morrison is a likely candidate to take over blocking and running responsibilities at fullback.

When Smith throws the football, 6-4 Jarod Schaak should again be the Fishermen's favorite target at wide receiver. Goelz, David Caudle and Matt Kaino will see action as pass catchers. Jake Nesbitt and Jordan DeSimone will back up Smith at quarterback.

R.J. Jamieson, Theo Raaymakers, Ben Mazie, Kelsey Cutting and Kyler Pratt will vie for the other starting lineman position on offense and could bolster the defensive line. All are at or above the 200-pound mark.

Colten Chalker returns with Smith and Goelz at linebacker positions. Bittner plans to give opponents a 4-3 look on defense this year.

C.J. Hawkinson and Cody Chalker could see action at linebacker and defensive back positions. Knick, Schaak and Casper return as stalwart defensive backs.

Nate Plummer returns as defensive coordinator and offensive line coach; Nick Lyster is JV coach and will work with quarterbacks and linebackers.

Mike Garcia is new to the program and will coach defensive backs and wide receivers.

Bittner sees the two SWW games against Ocosta and Rainier as setting the stage for the season. "A 2-0 start or even a split, and we could be in the playoff picture. We are down a bit in numbers, but the kids who are here are working hard and want to be here," the coach said.

Onalaska, Kalama and Napavine are rated the highest in the SWW League, but Rainier and Ilwaco should definitely be in the playoff picture. Because there are only 38 1A football schools there is an eight-team state tournament. But the westside leagues have set up a "play-in" contest where the top four teams in ther SWW League compete for two state slots.

"We look good on paper, but it's time to begin producing on Friday nights," Bittner said.

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