By Ray Hamill … Whether or not this year’s Ferndale Wildcats can bring home their first league title since 2013 remains to be seen, but they should be a competitive group nonetheless.
Ferndale has a proud tradition and is rarely down for long, so this year’s players will be eager to move on from a 5-7 season in 2017 that saw one of their biggest rivals, St. Bernard’s, claim a fifth straight league crown.
St. Bernard’s is now gone from the Little 4, and Ferndale welcomes a new head coach in Clint McClurg, although the coaching staff remains in tact, with Jeremy Griffith, Kevin Christensen and Adam Kendall all back on the sidelines.
And while the coaches will change some things up this fall, fans can expect much of the same core values that have always been associated with Ferndale football.
“They’re just a classic small school football team,” McClurg said of this year’s group of players. “We’re not trying to only learn how to play offense, or how to play defense, or how to play special teams, we’re learning how to play all three. Our guys all play multiple positions, and they love it.”
Key to the success of this year’s team will be the play of quarterback Landon Gomes, a junior who returns for his second season as starter.
And the athletic Gomes should be an even bigger threat than he was in 2017 when he led the Cats to the second round of the North Coast Section playoffs.
“He’s a very good athlete,” McClurg said. “And we’re definitely trying to play to his skill set. Everyone wants the dual threat quarterback and that’s exactly what he is. And he’s really stepped up as a leader.”
Providing protection for Gomes, as well as opening holes for the running game, the Cats’ line will feature three key players — juniors Orion Benton and Dominic Regli and senior Ben Wilma.
Benton is coming off two standout years with the JVs, where he was team MVP on both lines a year ago, while Regli is what his coach describes as “the classic Ferndale kid.”
“We’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year,” McClurg said of Regli. “He’s the classic Ferndale kid. Just an outstanding young man and a good student athlete.”
The head coach says there is still competition for starting spots along both lines, and, like many of the other coaches around the Humboldt-Del Norte League, he feels that missing out on the preseason jamboree this year has set them back.
One player who will be a key contributor, however, is the adaptable Wilma, who is learning his third different system in three years.
Wilma has shown a lot of promise in the preseason after hitting the weight room hard this past offseason.
Hunter Barnes is also expected to be a key contributor, returning to the backfield.
“He looks pretty explosive, pretty athletic,” McClurg said of the versatile senior who will play receiver, running back and linebacker. “He’s doing a heck of a job.”
Senior Kyler Beckstead is also back and will man the wing back position, while showing “outstanding work ethic,” this summer, according to his coach.
Defensively, the coaching staff is also expecting a big season from senior Marcus Wiseman.
“He’s someone we’re really, really expecting to step up for us wherever that’s needed,” McClurg said of the linebacker. “He’s the leader of our defense.”
Wiseman will also start on offense, although he has been limited in the preseason with a knee injury.
Wiseman, however, is expected to start at Del Norte in the season opener on Friday night.
“We’re coming along,” McClurg said of his team. “I think, as cliched as it might sound, as a coach if you can get a little better every day, you can’t complain. And that’s what we’re doing.”
The Cats, who feature a roster of 19 on varsity, are expected to challenge for the new-look Little 4, with Arcata and McKinleyville joining Ferndale and Hoopa Valley in the league.
Last Year — 5-7 (2-2 in league) … lost to Middletown 34-6 in the second round of the Division-V NCS playoffs
Head Coach — Clint McClurg, first year
Key Returning Players — QB Landon Gomes; OL/DL Orion Benton; OL/LB Ben Wilma; WR/LB/RB Hunter Barnes.
Circle the Calendar — Fortuna (Sept. 8); at St. Bernard’s (Sept. 15); at Arcata (Oct. 26).
Outlook — Ferndale returns a core group of talent and should be in contention in a revamped Little 4. The return of dual threat quarterback Landon Gomes will be key for the Cats as they bid for their first league crown since 2013.
Aug. 17 at Del Norte 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 1 Willits 2 p.m.
Sept. 8 Fortuna 2 p.m.
Sept. 15 at St. Bernard’s 1 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Hoopa Valley 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 at McKinleyville 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 Arcata 2 p.m.
Oct. 13 Hoopa Valley 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 McKinleyville 2 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Arcata 7 p.m.