PALATINE HILL -- As the Lewis & Clark Pioneers get set to return to the field on Saturday against Claremont Mudd-Scripps, the defense will return almost completely intact from what it looked like a year ago.
Entering the third season under national championship-winning head coach Jay Locey, the Pios have their entire defensive coaching staff back including fourth-year defensive coordinator Eric Jackson.
Five of the top-20 tacklers in the Northwest Conference competed for the Pioneers last season and all are back entering 2017.
Remington Campbell and Thor Retzlaff are back for their senior seasons after ranking 15th and 20th in the NWC in tackles per game, respectively, a year ago. Campbell is the leader of the defensive unit and is almost always in the right spot. Retzlaff, who also is the team's primary punter, brings emotional leadership to the team with energy that is nearly as relentless as his pursuit. In addition to long-snapping duties, Cecil Fuentes returns for his senior season at linebacker as well.
James Tostado averaged five tackles per game a year ago and had a tally in nearly every statistical category including sacks and forced fumbles. The returning junior remains one of the smartest players on the field and brings increased strength with him into the season. Ed Ostashay and Chris Ostashay return for their third year in the system. Both should be special teams contributors while battling for spots in the linebacker rotation.
As a freshman, Melvin Ho'omanawanui was on the field constantly, registering 22 tackles. Like Tostado, Ho'omanawanui brings increased strength into his sophomore season. Mark Figueroa battled injuries in his first year with Lewis & Clark and is working to get healthy entering the 2017 season opener. Alex Campbell continues to increase his football IQ and consistency as he seeks more time at outside linebacker. Robert Nakihei is working to overcome an injury and is in a position to bring depth to the Pios linebacking corps. Charlie Whitesell was in the rotation frequently over his seven games last season and should be a solid contributor in year two.
The freshman class includes three new linebackers. Dante Smith of Round Rock, Texas is learning the nuances of Jackson's defense and is expected to be an impact player for the Pios. Smith was all-district and All-Central Texas. Matthew Figueroa is in his first year from West Linn, Ore. and has been working through an early fall injury. He was a three-year varsity player for the state champion West Linn High School. Adam Wright will spend time at linebacker and defensive back. Wright is an athletic and lengthy first-year defender out of Roseville, Calif. where he was all-league first team.
Upperclassmen will be key for the Pioneers in the secondary this season. Dylan Stacy comes back as the position group's only returning senior. The seasoned player knows the defensive scheme inside-and-out and has been a starter since his sophomore season. Stacy will be joined by transfer Jonathan Smith, who has a 6-3, 190-pound frame. Smith transfered from San Diego City College and is a dual-sport student-athlete who will compete for the Pios basketball team, too.
Three of Lewis & Clark's top tacklers in 2016 were juniors from the defensive backfield. Pete Lahti will be the team's primary nickel back. Of all the Pioneers, Lahti most likely spent the most time on the field last year. He finished with 54 tackles and displays savviness that puts him in good positions. Last season, he had a team-high three interceptions. Tawayne Malone was the leading tackler from the secondary a year ago. Nicknamed "Junior," Malone transitioned from linebacker to defensive back and had 56 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception last season. He'll be the secondary's emotional leader with one of the team's best wingspans and tremendous speed. Cale Crawford had an outstanding season at safety last season, routinely finishing each game as one of the coaching staff's highest-graded players. Consistent and sharp, Crawford had 50 tackles last season. Matt Odell is making the transition from linebacker and will be in the rotation at nickel in addition to special teams with his impressive speed.
Kaimana Kahale has refined his game entering his second season and should be in on even more plays from his 21 tackles a year ago. Alex Hart is in his first year with the Pios. The sophomore is fast and athletic from Dallas, Texas.
The freshman defensive backs are from all over the country. Roger Hernandez is 5-11 and 170 pounds and competed at Central High School in Phoenix. He was an all-state second-team selection as a senior. Out of Norwich, Vt., Dominic Linehan is a big body who will add depth. The 6-1, 175-pounder was a captain and all-conference selection in high school. Makana LaBoy comes to Portland from Kailua, Hawaii. Expected to make an immediate impact, LaBoy comes in with good football knowledge from his high school days. James Bullock joins the team from nearby Grant High School. At 6-0, 190 pounds, Bullock should make an impact once he's through an early-season injury. Tyler Kalinske of Santa Clarita, Calif. is long and athletic. He was his high school's defensive player of the year.
Blake Garrison is the defensive front's lone returning senior. Always a consistent contributor for the Pios, Garrison will lead the group up front. He had a sack, forced fumble and a fumble recovery last year.
The junior class includes All-NWC selection Andrew Werst, who has will look to dominate after even more improvement in the offseason. Highly-competitive and with a thorough understanding of the game, Werst had a team-high three sacks to go with 42 tackles in 2016. Anthony Bailey is 6-2 and 220 pounds who played in all nine games last year. He's one of the most consistent players up front and has improved every year. Skout Roberson is developing his body into more of a football build after joining the team from basketball a year ago. Now in his second year on the field, Roberson is becoming more consistent.
Keola Palau is expected to the take the next step after seeing the field a bunch last year. At 6-1, 240 pounds, Palau made 16 tackles in 2016. Ramonne Canales was a nominee for Lewis & Clark's Rookie of the Year award after 32 tackles during his debut season. The 290-pounder should be even better this year, his second in the system.
Four freshmen join the defensive line in 2017. Berkeley Neuman comes from Sheldon High School in Eugene, Ore. where he was defensive player of the year. He's capable of making an impact right away. At 6-1, 240 pounds, Cameron Chang of Honolulu was a first-team selection on a championship team. Chang brings natural ability, speed and intelligence. Cy Mathews is 205 pounds and competed at Palma High School in Seaside, Calif. where he earned the President's Award for Educational Excellence. Mathews says the campus and facilities drew him to Lewis & Clark. Garrett Barber is 6-3 and 230 pounds from Campbell, Calif. With a good football IQ, Barber should be in the rotation as he works in the system.