Pirate football looks to take next step

A winning culture is beginning to develop at Neah-Kah-Nie High School.

The Pirate football team is looking to build off last season’s success after going 7-2 and earning a State Playoff berth.

By Max Kirkendall
For the Headlight-Herald

However, they begin the season with a big question mark as senior quarterback/safety Josh Longfellow went down with an ACL injury over the summer.

Despite the injury, head coach Chris Bennett is not at all worried about his squad. He feels they have a solid core group of upperclassmen outside of Longfellow that will be ready to answer the call.

“This year’s seniors were the ones we started the fifth and sixth grade program with when we brought football back,” Bennett said. “They’ve been playing together for quite some time now.”

As most coaches do at the beginning of the season, Bennett is currently searching for his best lineup of guys he can roll out against the tough Northwest Conference.

But he knows it will take a little time to figure it all out.

“We have a couple spots where we’re trying some new guys and a few positions that we have some new guys coming in to fill,” Bennett said. “We’re going to see how the offense moves having a new quarterback in there and see how we can move the ball.”

Bennett is looking forward to seeing players like seniors Josh Elinsky, Tristan Bennett and Jack Porter step up and lead this year’s Pirate team. Filling in the role of quarterback will be junior Mychal Kelly, who has the full support of his fellow teammates.

“He’s just going to have to take the next step,” Porter said.

“Learning the offense will be tough, but he’s been here with us the whole time, so it shouldn’t be a problem for him.”

Porter himself earned all-league honorable mention at the linebacker spot last year and has set a goal to make it on the first-team list this year. Aside from the individual accolades, Porter feels this year’s Neah-Kah-Nie team has a big chip on their shoulder and he is looking forward to proving they can compete for a league title.

“I want us to show everyone what we can still do and show that our young guys are just as well equipped to play in a varsity game as the rest of us,” Porter said.

The Pirates were just one win away from a league championship last season and Bennett has his team set on making a run at that title. However, he knows it will not be a simple task facing a tough realigned Northwest League. Two teams were added to the league including former 3A school Portland Christian and current 3A school Warrenton.

“Our schedule this year is much tougher than last year’s was,” Bennett said.

The Pirates will face Reedsport which, like Neah-Kah-Nie, made it to the first round of the State Playoffs last year.

“They’ve got a good squad,” Bennett said. “They only graduated a handful of kids and that’ll be a really good test for us, but offensively and defensively I think we matchup pretty evenly with them.”

The Pirates will see their first action at the Warrenton Jamboree Aug. 24 at 6 p.m., and then they will host Reedsport Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. to open the season.