You know that football season is close once the end of August rolls around. And with it, the optimism abounds once again for local high school squads as they get their season started on Sept. 6. We begin our two-part high school football preview with a look at the six Narrows League teams within Tacoma.
BELLARMINE PREP LIONS
Trips to the 4A semifinals, quarterfinals and finals the previous three seasons usually signal a rebuilding year on the horizon. Not so “on the hill,” as the two-time defending Narrows League 4A champion Lions reload for a run at more postseason success.
“We have good players at several positions to replace some outstanding departed players,” said veteran head coach Tom Larsen, now in his 11th year.
The biggest question will be who will fill the large shoes of the recently departed Sefo Liufau. Lou Millie will attempt to move over from his running back position to move the Lions’ offense.
“He’s done a great job so far of picking up the offense,” said Larsen.
To fill Millie's spot in the backfield, juniors Jamal Ervin and Nate Goltermann will get the first shots. Despite the depletion of three outstanding seniors on the offensive and defensive lines going into this year, Zach Ota, Matthew Hallis and Elijah Klein stand ready to fill those shoes. Gig Harbor transfer Erik Glueck has Larsen excited, as he is a true middle linebacker with a ton of ability.
By Steve Mullen
The Tigers return a solid core of last year’s squad, and will look to emphasize playing quicker to take a step forward this season.
“We’ve just really been preaching up-tempo, playing fast,” said Dan Coen, the Tigers’ passing game coordinator. “If you’re going to make a mistake, let’s make that mistake at full speed.”
Senior quarterback Tre Scott and senior running back Nick Loftin – who ran for nearly 1,000 yards last season – will pace the Tigers’ Wing-T attack. Also returning are senior running back Tarak Jedidi, junior running back Dylan Rychtarik and senior wide receiver Dallas Gaddy, while junior center Mohktar Mohamed should anchor the line for the Tigers.
Defensively, Scott should lead the secondary after earning first-team honors as a defensive back last season, and Loftin is a versatile defender that will contribute at outside linebacker and safety. Senior linebacker Brandon Hamilton should provide a solid presence in the middle, and former defensive end Kevin Gross will bolster the linebacker corps as well.
The key, according to head coach Jess Nelson, will be how the Tigers are able to handle the rigors of the physically demanding Narrows 4A. “We may be undersized, but we’re quick and shifty,” he said. “We’re trying to take advantage of how we’rebuilt overall.”
By Jeremy Helling
There’s a buzz in the air these days Lincoln High School. Coming off of a successful first season and making the playoffs, head coach Jon Kitna is looking forward to more success for the black and gold.
“We laid a great foundation last year and we are looking forward to bigger and better things in the future,” said the former 16-year veteran of the National Football League. Bigger and better things include all league offensive line candidates Ben King and Ben Puapuaga. The Abes also have speed to burn with wide receiver J’Maka Love, who won the Narrows 3A MVP award at quarterback last year. Filling the void at quarterback is a player that coach Kitna is very familiar with, son Jordan Kitna.
“He loves the game and puts his work in on and off the field, he’s a real competitor,” Jon Kitna said of his son.
On the defensive side of the ball, Lincoln can turn to linebacker Rayshaun Miller and cornerback Tavon Murray to make plays and keep them in every game.
With big and physical teams like North Thurston and Timberline looming in the Narrows 3A, Kitna knows his work is cut out for his squad. “If we can learn from last year’s mistakes and execute, we’ll be in good shape for the postseason.”
By Steve Mullen
The Falcons have doubled their numbers since the start of fall camp last year, as 55 players came out in the first few days this season.
“I have depth,” said second-year head coach Pat Johnson of his squad. “I’m able to tell the guys in the number-one huddle that if they don’t do their job, someone else will step in…last year I didn’t have that opportunity.”
The depth has allowed the Falcons to introduce more of a pro-style offense, as Lakes transfer Isaiah Littlejohn looks to take hold of the quarterback position. John Moore is also in the mix at quarterback, and a stable of running backs – including seniors Eric Sugi and Malik Smith and junior Keyon Lowery – will get extensive playing time. Slot receiver BaaCari Kiner is shifty, while 6-foot-4 receiver Chris Reynolds provides size and Michel Cocke’ shows playmaking ability outside as well. Sophomores Riley Potts and Maleik Lucious should continue to improve on the offensive line after playing extensively as freshmen.
Leading the defensive effort is 6-foot-2, 290-pound senior lineman Patiole Pesefea – one of two Falcons to bench press over 300 pounds – who will double as a bruising fullback on offense. Senior Felix Atoa should help the Falcons at defensive end, and Moore was Foss’ leading tackler last season as a linebacker. Senior cornerback Alonzo Jones is athletic and should head the Falcons’ secondary.
The Falcons’ schedule is highlighted by a trip to Juneau, Alaska to take on Juneau-Douglas High School on Sept. 14.
By Jeremy Helling
Entering his 27th season as head coach at Wilson, Don Clegg will field one of his youngest teams ever, with only four returning starters on both sides of the ball.
Leading the way on offense will be junior quarterback Julius Yates- Brown and senior wide receiver Brandon Montgomery.
“We’ll need a lot of (speed) with our lack of size on the offensive line,” said Clegg.
On the defensive side Wilson will be led by senior cornerback Isaiah Simpson, who Clegg says “has a great chance to play at the Division I (college) level. He’s a tremendous talent.” Another standout on defense for the Rams will be defensive end Billy Greer, who runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash.
With the lack of size on both sides of the ball and a tough Narrows 3A division, Wilson will have to do one thing exceptionally well: get to the corners before their opponents do.
“We’ll need to get production from some of our younger players and hope that we can steal a win or two somewhere along the way,” said Clegg. “If we can, then it will be a productive season.”
By Steve Mullen
MOUNT TAHOMA THUNDERBIRDS
The Thunderbirds will look to make strides in their second season in the Narrows 3A, and have a good group of returning starters to lead the way.
“When you haven’t been in the fire before, you haven’t seen a lot of things,” noted head coach Kevin Hanis of last year’s relatively young squad. “Now they’ve seen a lot of it. We should see improvement on both sides of the ball.”
Sophomores Adrian Allen and Shawn Tatum – who doubles as a tight end – are battling for the quarterback spot, and a number of players should see time at running back. Among that group is sophomore Keenan Wade-Herrera, a powerful runner who should also contribute at linebacker. Senior DayJun Turner, at 6-foot-3, provides the height and playmaking ability on the outside at wide receiver. Senior Nehemiah Barr should provide stability at offensive tackle, while sophomore Alex Ratke returns to man the center position after playing extensively last year.
The linebacker corps should be solid, as Wade-Herrera will be joined by Isaiah Hudson and Sua Liufau – cousin of graduated Bellarmine Prep quarterback Sefo Liufau.
While the roster is short on numbers so far, Hanis noted that the lack of a “superstar” athlete has led to a greater team concept, and hopes that will help his squad be more competitive this season.
By Jeremy Helling