The Northwest Football League title is up for grabs this season.
The defending champion Puget Sound Jets, who went on to win an American Football Association National Championship in December, won’t be fielding a team this season.
But that doesn’t mean the Jets’ influence won’t be felt throughout the league.
Former Puget Sound coach Ken Austin is now the head coach of the Eastside Hawks and many of the Jets have followed their coach to his new team.
“A lot of the players are loyal to him and with good reason,” NWFL information officer John Phillips said.
In his nine years at the helm of Puget Sound, Austin won seven league championships and two national titles. The Jets have won 16 playoff games, which is the most in NWFL history.
Eastside is owned by Sam Adams, former Seattle Seahawk and current member of the Buffalo Bills. The Hawks (9-3 overall) finished second in the league last season to the Jets and advanced to the first round of the playoffs, where they lost to the Multnomah County Bucs 33-30.
The Austin and Adams combination makes Eastside the early favorite in the league but there are at least a couple of teams that should be strong rivals for the Hawks.
After a year’s absence, the Oregon Thunderbolts have returned to the league.
“They’re always a playoff team,” Phillips said. “I’m expecting them to be pretty good.”
The Thunderbolts finished third in the league in 2001, tied for second in 2000 and 1999 and claimed an NWFL championship in 1998.
The same owner and coache, who led those teams, are back.
Other playoff contenders include Multnomah County, the Willamette Valley Raiders and the King County Jaguars.
Though they may not challenge for a league title, the Renton Ravens could be more of a factor this season. Renton was a probationary team last season that was not eligible for the playoffs. This year the Ravens are a full-fledged member of the league.
Renton defeated the Snohomish County Vikings 39-21 in a preseason game last month and lost 7-6 to Willamette Valley in another early preseason contest.
“They have a lot of athletes and a lot of speed,” Phillips said.
One team that many NWFL franchises will be playing this season but is not a member of the league is the Spokane Nightmare, a team affiliated with the North American Football League.
The NAFL is a national organization that incorporates leagues from around the nation and has plans to run a postseason tournament.
The Nightmare, a second-year team, defeated Renton 39-31 in June 7 preseason game. Four other NWFL teams — Eastside, King County, Multnomah County and Willamette Valley — are members of the NAFL.
Two major rule changes this season are a new limit on the number of players a team may suit up and the decision to return to NCAA rules.
Teams may only suit up 55 players for both regular season and playoff games. In addition, after playing under National Football League rules the past couple seasons, the league is reverting back to college rules.