After a long summer of slow preparation - weightlifting, passing leagues, running, and finally, team practice - the 2008 high-school football season gets underway on Sept. 5. Two schools in the city - Bellarmine Prep and Life Christian - will have high expectations to improve upon their playoff runs of last season, while the rest just hope to improve. With the exception of Lincoln, which came within a game of reaching the playoffs, the city's public schools are coming off seasons that most observers would rate as mediocre to poor.
Those four schools - Wilson, Foss, Stadium and Mt. Tahoma - will all be trying to build fundamentally sound teams and build upon performances from key returning players that will set the tone for the younger guys on their squads.
"Every year you are hoping that certain players will step up, become leaders," said Ken Baker, head coach at Foss. "I've got some guys like that, but I've got a lot of guys who have not played football until they got here to Foss. We don't really know what to expect."
The play of wide receiver Allen Brown, who had a breakout season in just his first year ever playing football, is a perfect example. Brown returns this season, and even though he is without quarterback Andrew Hunthausen, he will be one of those pivotal leaders who will help determine whether the team can improve on its 2-7 record from a year ago.
Wide receiver/defensive back Julian Cruell, a junior, is another player who will be counted on to play well on both sides of the ball.
"We showed we can throw the ball last year, and we still like a wide-open approach on offense, but we need to really to take a step forward on the quality of our defensive play," Baker said, who has taken a more active role with the defense for this season.
Foss begins its season with a tough match-up against Lincoln Sept. 5 at Mt. Tahoma at 8 p.m.
At Lincoln, new coach Ben Cochran directs a team that finished 6-4 last season, losing to Bellarmine, 20-14, a loss that cost the team a playoff shot. Peti Magalei and Kerry Stabler are two of the returning players who can make things happen for the team, which will be looking for new leadership at quarterback with the loss of three-year starter Damarcus Millner.
Theo Solomon leads a big and fast defense.
Wilson High School, which finished 5-5 last season, will be led by senior defensive back/wide receiver Desmond Trufant, who will be playing an expanded role this season, and as many as six different positions. Wilson opens the season Sept. 5 at Enumclaw at 7 p.m.
The Mt. Tahoma Thunderbirds return a lot of players from last year's 3-7 squad as they line up against Shelton on Sept. 5 at 5 p.m. at Mt. Tahoma. Second-year coach Kevin Hanis will be looking to a strong running game with Ronald Baines and an offensive line that gained experience last season. John Barr, Ronald Pate and Bama Harris are other players the Thunderbirds are hoping step up to major leadership roles.
Stadium High School has not had a winning season since 1993, but second-year coach Jess Nelson had a good turnout of players during summer weight-training sessions and is looking for leadership from players like Grant Duchesne, Cameron Roback and Desmond Petty to restore a more positive atmosphere both in practice and in games this season.
"We have a different attitude this year," Duchesne said. "We are working together as a team, and there is more confidence out there."
Nelson hopes that translates into an improvement over last season's 1-9 record.
Stadium begins the season with a difficult test at South Kitsap Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.
The two teams that succeeded in reaching the playoffs last season are in good shape not only to return, but to move deeper into postseason play.
Life Christian's first-year coach Todd Corrigan has a core of players who have worked together for several years at the K-12 school, including running back Morgan Cox and quarterback Barrett Schmidtke. Court Knoblauch leads a fast and sturdy defense and Jeffrey Riegle and Tracy Bubean will be targets for Schmidtke. Life Christian begins its season Sept. 5 against Cleveland at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
Bellarmine returns a lot of experienced players to a team that lost by a touchdown in the first round of the playoffs to Oak Harbor last season. Coach Tom Larsen will have all-league quarterback Luke Schindele leading the option offense behind the biggest line the school has had in many years. Despite the loss of receiver Dan Durkin, the Lions figure to throw the ball efficiently as well as run behind Kyle Able and Nick Truckey.
Bellarmine begins its season in the Kickoff Classic against Puyallup at Qwest Field on Sept. 6 at 3 p.m.