Final preparations are underway for the opening games of the football season, which began with a few match-ups on Sept. 5. We finish our football previews with a look at the squads from University Place and Lakewood, along with Life Christian and Tacoma Baptist.
The SPSL 4A should again feature a number of threatening offenses this year, but the Vikings look ready for the challenge as they boast a talented, veteran defense.
Leading the way on the defensive line are 300-pound senior Odessa Mendoza and senior Darius Riddley, who each earned first-team all-league honors last year. Joining them are fellow senior Gabe Watkins and junior Jacob Budnick, while all-league linebacker Calvin McClain returns to back them up. Junior Dawson Beard should also make noise at linebacker, while Mitchell Hersey will lead the secondary.
The offense, while not as experienced overall, should also be solid as senior quarterback Scott Wismer returns, while Hersey should get a bulk of the carries. Carter McKay and Jayson Williams are playmakers at receiver, while Beau Olson brings experience at tight end. Senior center Tanner Amell also returns to bring leadership and stability to the offensive line.
“We don’t have as many returning starters on offense back, but the people we do have back we think are pretty solid, and we have some guys that can go all the way in one play,” said head coach Clay Angle.
As in recent years, the Vikings have their eyes set on challenging the likes of Federal Way and Graham-Kapowsin, but Angle believes the entire league is improving quickly. “Our league is a solid league,” he said. “If we don’t prepare each week to play hard, bad things can happen… there’s not many creampuffs.”
By Jeremy Helling
Still stinging from last year’s second-place finish to Peninsula in the SPSL 3A, head coach Dave Miller says his team’s resolve to right the ship is strong. “We felt pretty bad about (last year), but we feel we have the players in place to take the title back,” he said.
Leading the group for the Lancers is running back and kick returner Caleb Lyons, who is his team’s form of “Mr. Versatility.”
“Caleb did it all for us last year and we are looking for a repeat performance from him,” Miller said.
Another versatile contributor for Lakes is junior defensive back Kemonee Jenkins, who also may be taking the reins at quarterback.
“Kemonee has good straightaway speed, and can be a good lockdown corner too,” Miller said.
Junior 6-foot-3, 295-pound interior lineman Kiyrie Simons gives Miller and his coaching staff more versatility when needed. “Kiyrie moves pretty well for a guy his size and covers a lot of ground in the process.”
Junior tight end and defensive end Benning Potoa’e should be a monster on both sides of the ball as well.
Miller sees better things for the Lancers this year, but knows the challenge will not be easy. “Peninsula is still tough, as is Enumclaw, and Auburn-Mountainview and Bonney Lake are much improved, too.”
By Steve Mullen
CLOVER PARK WARRIORS
Still stinging from last year’s two-game forfeiture, which cost the Warriors a playoff spot because of two ineligible players, coach Jon ‘Taz” Randall is looking to right the ship for the 2013 season.
“We have to put it behind us and go forward,” Randall said. “We have a high-character team who should respond to the challenge.”
Leading the Warrior attack will be senior quarterback Keila Pritchard, who is the younger brother of record-setting former Warriors quarterback Tana Pritchard. Trying to pick up the slack for departed 1,800-yard rusher Brandon Pritchett will be senior Cordel Nelson, who learned from Pritchett for much of the last two years.
“Cordel now has to give the game-in and game-out effort that Brandon gave if we are to be successful,” Randall said.
Picking up the slack on the defensive side of the ball will be defensive back Damian Davis and 305-pound defensive lineman Niko Ekeroma.
If the young players can respond early, Randall thinks Clover Park could contend for a playoff spot. “Fife, Franklin Pierce and Orting should be tough, as we cannot afford to go too deep into our bench late in the season,” Randall said.
By Steve Mullen
CHARLES WRIGHT TARRIERS
The Tarriers have their sights set high again after falling in the 1A state playoffs to eventual state champ Montesano. There is a considerable amount to replace, but a strong defense – with nine returning starters – should keep Charles Wright in contention for the Nisqually League title.
“We think we should just pick up where we left off defensively,” said head coach Mike Finch.
The defense starts with 6-foot-5, 332-pound senior Robert Luke Jr. and 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior Wunmi Oyetuga, who will also anchor the offensive line. Defensive end Jon Bruce, at 6-foot-7, completes the physically imposing front line, and linebacker Alexander Moore is a speedy playmaker. The Tarriers will look to athletic senior Andrew Williams to be a lockdown corner on the outside.
Offensively, sophomore Henry Cheney will take the reins at quarterback, and his quickness should allow for more running opportunities. But the bulk of the carries should go to Moore, whose elite speed should provide for plenty of breakaway plays. Sophomore Desmond Jones takes over at tailback, 6-foot-6 junior Sean Gorman fills in at tight end and Williams will be looked to at wide receiver. Luke and Oyetuga will be joined up front by Bruce, Avery Cederstrand and senior Ken Wakaba, a first-year varsity player set to take over at center. Senior kicker Travis Sowell should ensure a solid special teams corps.
“Our goal is to win the Nisqually League championship game and make a deep run in the playoffs,” Finch said. “We’ve got a lot of work (to do) if we’re going to get there.”
By Jeremy Helling
LIFE CHRISTIAN EAGLES
First-year head coach Tim Kuykendall inherits a team that struggled to a 1-9 finish last season. Kuykendall, who had great success coaching baseball at both Auburn and Curtis, should see an improved club with the returning starters on offense alone.
Leading the way on offense are wide receiver Kyle Goodman, offensive lineman Kevin Breen, running back Lionel Hampton, and quarterback Taylor Roelofs, which should give the Eagles a balanced offensive attack. Defensively, the Eagles should be improved with defensive back Sam Absten, linebacker Ben Madlena, and defensive back Jeremy Pallwitz.
Facing strong returning squads in both Charles Wright and Eatonville and perennial league heavyweight Cascade Christian, Kuykendall believes staying healthy will put the Eagles in a position to contend for a playoff spot. “We have a lot of talent back on both sides of the ball, especially on offense with Taylor, Lionel, and Kyle carrying most of the load.”
With a new coaching staff comes new schemes and different looks, but Kuykendall will employ much of the same looks as previous head coach Ross Hjelseth. “We want to keep things simple the first year and have the players learn it early and all through the season.”
By Steve Mullen
TACOMA BAPTIST CRUSADERS
The Crusaders are facing a battle with numbers, as a small turnout forced them to cancel their Sept. 6 season opener against Charles Wright. With the help of three players from Mount Rainier Lutheran, Tacoma Baptist will battle through its schedule, and despite the lack of numbers they look to have some promising talent.
“We’re young, but we’ve got a fairly good crew of kids,” said head coach Mark Smith. “We’re just short-handed.”
The offense will be run through junior 6-foot, 170-pound quarterback Morgan Wood, a converted wide receiver who Smith noted is “gonna be a good one before he’s done.”
Running back Tyler Hertz should get a bulk of the carries, while Elijah Kazarovich should also bolster the ground game and Jonny Van Parys will get looks at wide receiver.
The offensive and defensive lines will be anchored by 6-foot-1, 260-pound Tony Porter, while Kyle Kliewer is also a two-way standout and Ezekiel Kazarovich should contribute at offensive line and linebacker. Hertz will also bolster the linebacker corps, while Van Parys will lead the secondary.
“I think that the kids that are going to be on the field for the most part know how to play the game, so we’ll have some good experience that way,” Smith said.
The Crusaders will get their season underway against Life Christian on Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood.
By Jeremy Helling