PALATINE HILL -- Off Lewis & Clark's most successful season since 2012, the Pioneers are set to take the field on Saturday against Pomona-Pitzer at Fred Wilson Field at Griswold Stadium.
Entering the fourth season under head coach Jay Locey, the Pios bring back much of their defense from a year ago that forced 13 turnovers including the Northwest Conference's individual leader in forced fumbles.
Eric Jackson returns as the team's defensive coordinator, his fifth with the team. Jacob Hales and Joe Kopp are also back leading the defensive line and linebackers, respectively.
The Pioneers return their entire starting defensive line and many of the reserves led by All-NWC First-Team selection Andrew Werst, who was the Pios' first top all-conference pick since 2013. Werst led the conference with three forced fumbles to go with a fumble recovery and 8.5 tackles for loss as a junior. He ranked third in total tackles on the team and had 2.5 sacks. On the other side of the line is reigning NWC Freshman of the Year Cameron Chang. The now sophomore led the Pioneers with 4.5 sacks, which was in the top 11 of the NWC in 2017. Chang also earned All-NWC Honorable Mention recognition. Junior Ramonne Canales returns in the middle of the line. At 302 pounds, Canales played in seven of nine games last year and rotated with returning sophomore Berkeley Neuman. Both had 10 tackles last season with Canales picking up three against No. 10 Linfield last October. Anthony Bailey is a senior who returns from injury for his final season. Prior to his injury, Bailey had his first career sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Skout Roberson is also a returning senior who will play his third season of football in 2018. As a junior, Roberson played in eight games, a career high, and had four tackles. Keola Palau was frequently on the field as well during his sophomore season and returns as a junior with 16 career tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He had a career-high two sacks in 2017. Garrett Barber is a second-year defensive lineman who played in seven games and finished with five tackles, including a two-tackle game against Puget Sound. Freshman David Ceja joins the Pioneers from Bakersfield, Calif. He chose Lewis & Clark because of the campus, professors and the coaches. From Greenville, N.C., Ari Blemur is an all-league selection out of San Mateo High School. He is 6-1 and 252 pounds. Nicolas Lang ranked second in sacks at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif. Lang is a Physics major at 6-1 and 180 pounds.
James Tostado headlines the returning linebackers corps, which lost the team's leading tackler Remington Campbell from the 2017 squad. Tostado was the team's second-leading tackler with 46 in 2017 including two for loss. He forced two fumbles as well. "Toasty" is back at 195 pounds. Melvin Ho'omanawanui, who should start at middle linebacker, is returning from an injury that took all but two of his sophomore-season games. As a freshman, Ho'omanawanui had 15 tackles. Robert Nakihei is also a returning junior who played one game as a sophomore. He's back at 210 pounds and should play opposite of Tostado. J'juan White is off a lost junior season because of an injury and shifts from defensive line to linebacker. Prior to last season, White had played in all 18 career games and had six tackles with one for loss. Junior Charlie Whitesell had a career-high seven tackles as a sophomore including his first career sack. The 210-pounder will play at middle linebacker. Alex Campbell is a returning junior who played in two games last season and will play on the outside along with freshman Marvin Pusung-Zita, who joins the team from San Francisco at 215 pounds. Pusung-Zita was a two-time all-city first-team selection. Jackson deSpain is a 205-pound freshman from Woodland Hills, Calif. He was a two-time all-conference choice from Calabasas High School. Alex Hensley is a first-year middle linebacker from Leander, Texas where he was twice the defensive MVP and team captain for his team.
Pete Lahti returns as the team's nickel and has played all 27 of his career games to date. The CoSIDA Academic All-District selection had the team's fourth-most tackles in 2017 to go with an interception and fumble recovery. He was named NWC Student-Athlete of the Week following the win over Pomona-Pitzer. James Bullock, a returning sophomore who played in three games last season, and Mark Figueroa, a returning junior, will work in the nickel position as well. Tawayne Malone, known as Junior, was an All-NWC Honorable Mention selection last year after 43 total tackles. Malone had two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, and 12 pass breakups in 2017, the last of which ranked among the top three in the conference. Malone will have returning junior Randy Manewa behind him. Manewa missed all of 2017 after finishing with 40 tackles, two tackles for loss and a pick as a freshman in 2016. Cale Crawford is also a returning senior in the secondary and will start at safety. Changing to No. 10 this season, Crawford had 26 tackles as a junior. Kaimana Kahale has played in 16 of 18 career games and will return for his junior season with 25 career tackles, 20 of which came as a freshman. Makana LaBoy had a key interception in the Pios' 24-21 win over Willamette last September and brings back 30 tackles to his cornerback position. LaBoy is now a sophomore and will have classmate Deriontae Green in his rotation. Green transitioned to defense last season and finished with six tackles and a fumble recovery. Roger Hernandez saw frequent time as a freshman, playing in all nine games. He finished with 20 tackles. Freshman Josef Gonzalez is 6-0, 165 pounds from San Carlos, Calif. Enrolling at Lewis & Clark with an Economics major, Gonzalez picked the Pios because of the coaching staff and the team feeling like a big family. Anakin Mares is from La Puente, Calif. and was second-team all-league at Bishop Amat. The 160-pounder could rotate in at the cornerback position. Tanner Ono is from Honolulu and joins the team at 5-9, 160 pounds. He chose Lewis & Clark because of the great education and the fact it felt like home. Cade Havel is a two-time all-state selection who will work as a nickel. From Palmer, Alaska, Havel was his high school conference's defensive player of the year.
Following Saturday's home opener with Pomona-Pitzer, the Pioneers travel to southern California to face Whittier on Sept. 15 before their bye week.
The NWC opener is at Willamette on Sept. 29. A late kickoff (4 p.m.) will settle the owner of the Wagon Wheel traveling trophy, which Lewis & Clark won last year for the first time since 2000.
October opens with Homecoming and Family Weekend and a game with the Puget Sound Loggers on Oct. 6 before back-to-back road games at Linfield and Pacific the next two weekends.
Lewis & Clark wraps up the regular-season schedule with home games against George Fox (Oct. 27) and Pacific Lutheran (Nov. 10) with a road trip to Whitworth in between on Nov. 3.