By Ray Hamill — College of the Redwoods football officially begins preseason practice next week with the season opener now exactly one month away.
And there will be plenty of excitement around this year’s team after the Corsairs’ successful return to competition a year ago.
Last week, I took a look at what we can expect from the offense, and now I’m going to break down who’s back on a defense that returns most of its key starters and has added some talented new weapons for coordinator Damaro Wheeler.
While all-region defensive lineman Julian Garcia won’t be back, the line will return Tyse Whigham, Jayden Sandusky and Marcus Irby, each of whom played key roles in 2022 on a team that finished 7-4 and got to host a bowl game.
“Those three alone, that’s a lot to experience right there,” head coach Jason White said.
Also back are a pair of local linebackers who also got better as the 2022 season progressed and will be expected to pick up just where they left off as freshmen .
Del Norte’s Tanner Forker and Eureka’s Chase Steubing both made a name for themselves locally while playing in high school and both are still impressing North Coast fans.
The secondary could be particularly deep this year.
Mason Priddy, one of five all-region selections for CR a year ago, was one of the most dangerous punt returners in the state in 2022 and also played defensive back.
Gabriel Ward could also be in line for a big fall after switching to the secondary midway through last season and impressing his coaches this offseason.
OJ Mosley and Jack Hartman also return and should be ready to play a big role in their sophomore campaigns.
“We’ve got a lot of depth at that spot,” White said of the secondary.
Three freshmen from Eureka High — Daniel Garcia Hall, Dominic Conant and Dylan Christian — are also expected to push for some playing time in the defensive backfield.
Also joining the team this year is former St. Bernard’s and McKinleyville standout Dominc Kofi, who returns to the area after spending last season at Santa Rosa JC.
A trio of championship winners from Del Norte — Bryson Price, Andrew Hunte and Daniel Gonzalez — also join the program this year.
Both Gonzalez and Conant were outstanding kickers in high school and both are expected to compete for the starting job at CR.
“He’ll help in a spot we struggled at last year,” White said earlier in the offseason.
The Corsairs open the season at home against Merced on Sept. 2 at the Redwood Bowl.