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COURTESY: LINFIELD COLLEGE - Wade Ransom, a junior linebacker/special teams player from Franklin High, hopes to be back with the Linfield Wildcats after offseason ACL surgery.Expectations are always high for Linfield football, but the 2016 season holds an even greater significance. Ranked No. 1 in the nation by Sporting News and No. 2 by D3football.com, the Wildcats have their sights set on a return to glory in the form of the school’s fifth national championship.


Linfield made it to the 2015 semifinals before losing 38-17 at St. Thomas and finishing 12-1.

“We have the talent to be a great team — it’s just a matter of how we develop and come together,” Wildcats coach Joseph Smith says.

Players, coaches and the Linfield community came together a couple years ago, when tragedy struck the football program. The death of football player Parker Moore in 2014 brought the Wildcats closer than ever, and to this day players try to honor his memory through their play on the field.

“Parker would have been a senior,” Smith says. “All of our senior linebackers and defensive backs were his closest friends, and when you lose somebody and go through tremendous adversity as we did, it bonds the team even more than anything else.”

The Wildcats’ last of four national crowns came in 2004. Linfield’s current seniors have come close, posting top-five finishes every year.

“Having that experience deep in the postseason and knowing what it’s going to take is tremendous.” Smith says. “It’s an advantage for our guys in terms of preparing for it all year long and not being satisfied with playing OK.”

Leading the charge for the Wildcats is third-year starting quarterback Sam Riddle and other key contributors on offense — including senior running back Spencer Payne from McMinnville and a receiving corps filled with Oregon products.

Linfield’s defensive backfield brings plenty of experience and talent as well, led by senior defensive back Kennedy Johnson and senior safety Mikey Arkans. The linebacking corps has depth and versatility, as well, with senior Kyle Chandler joining juniors Jake Reimer, Jason Farlow and Mitchell Kekel.

It will be tough to replace All-American Alex Hoff on the defensive line. Smith calls him “the finest defensive player” he has ever seen in NCAA Division III. Junior Marcus McGovern will be tasked with filling those shoes, and Smith says he expects a “breakout year” from McGovern.

In terms of team bonding, Smith says their program is “old school” and believes in building brotherhood through the game itself.

“We don’t go the beach. We don’t sing songs,” Smith says with a laugh. “We’re going to come into camp, start working hard, and try to become masters of our trade in the game of football.”

Linfield kicks off against Chapman at noon Saturday, Sept. 10, in McMinnville.

A big test comes Sept. 17 at Mary Hardin-Baylor, ranked fourth by Sporting News and fifth by D3football.com.

Northwest Conference play begins Oct. 1 with a homecoming game at 1:30 p.m., against Lewis & Clark.

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Twitter: @RyanTClarke

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