By Ray Hamill … It’s a fresh start for the Little 4 in 2018, with two new teams, a couple of new head coaches, and a guaranteed new champion.
With the realignment of the HDN, five-time defending champion St. Bernard’s has moved up to the Big 4, with Arcata and McKinleyville dropping down to join Ferndale and Hoopa Valley in the Little 4.
The two returning schools each feature new head coaches, with Clint McClurg taking over the reigns for the Wildcats and William Simms now calling the shots for the Warriors.
The Crusaders have dominated the league in recent years, going a combined 22-0 over the past four seasons and not losing in league play since co-champs Ferndale beat them all the way back in 2013.
But with St. Bernard’s now gone, the league is guaranteed a new champion in 2018.
Arcata will start the season as the slight favorites, having been gradually building steam over the past two years under the direction of head coach Jamal Lewis.
Since Lewis took over in 2016, the Tigers have gone from 1-8 (2015) to 5-6 in 2016 and 8-3 last season.
Lewis says last year’s playoff loss to Clear Lake has served as a motivator for this year’s team and with several key starters back in the lineup the Tigers are expected to contend for the league crown and more.
Which of the other teams is best equipped to challenge them remains to be seen, although all three can make a case for it.
Ferndale features a handful of key returning players and will be looking to restore a very proud tradition with McClurg taking over the head coaching duties.
Last season the Wildcats finished 5-7.
Hoopa Valley, meanwhile, will also be looking to turn the corner under Simms’ guidance.
The Warriors have struggled to compete in the Little 4 in recent years, going 3-32 in league play over the past six years and 1-9 overall in 2017.
Simms, however, has some very good talent in the skill positions and the Warriors could be ready to surprise some people this fall.
McKinleyville, meanwhile, will be glad to be fielding a team after being forced to pull the plug on last year’s team after just three games due to numerous injuries and some locker room problems.
The Panthers, however, appear to be a rejuvenated group this season, with some good senior leadership and a much more equitable schedule.
Whether they’re ready to challenge for the league crown remains to be seen, but they’d love nothing more than to surprise their biggest rivals along the way.