High school football is back, and the local boys — ALL the local boys — are looking good and getting after it, as coaches like to say.
For the first time in recent memory the Bothell Cougars are not the prohibitive favorite to take the KingCo Crown Division, with Inglemoor and Woodinville playing for second place.
Things seem different this year, at least in the dog days of August, before push comes to shove under Friday night lights in September — when it will all get sorted out on the field.
Sports writer Don Mann spent some time with each school, and offers some insight into the 2011 season:
The Falcons return a flock of starters on both sides of the ball, at least a dozen — way more than Bothell and Inglemoor — but the fact is Woodinville has produced an identical four wins and five losses for the last two seasons, having been bitten hard by injuries and losing the games that counted most.
"Where we’ve been the last two years is not where we wanted to be," eight-year head man Wayne Maxwell said. "Our No. 1 goal is just to keep our guys focused on the task at hand."
He spoke about a lack of team focus last year, some immaturity, a lack of composure at times and being undisciplined at others.
"This year, we have kids that can play but we just have to put the whole package together as a team," said Maxwell.
That package returns four of five starters on the offensive line, including Devon Dietrich, Riley Coleman, Jake Hollister and Sawyer Whalen. Peter Kim, returning from an ankle injury, has the inside track at snapper and veteran Andrew Stoneberg can play every position, Maxwell said.
Senior Brett Arrivey returns as quarterback, bigger and stronger and poised for a special senior year.
"He’s got all the intangibles," Maxwell said, and he’s got a big arm and two years of experience at QB. Arrivey’s No. 1 aerial target will be Kyle Adkins, a big-play senior wide receiver and a game-changer who had a breakout junior year.
Senior Beau Vintertun returns at receiver and newcomer John Villasenor, a long-legged 6-2 junior, is also in the mix.
"Beau’s a good route runner who catches the ball well and John’s a great athlete who we expect some big things from," Maxwell said.
Junior Parker Moore will play H-back in Woodinville’s scheme, lining up in the slot. "He’s solid," Maxwell said, "a smart kid, physical, at a position where we ask to do a lot."
Running back Alec Schwend, who lost most of his junior season to a knee injury, is healthy again and will get the bulk of the carries as the Falcons look to re-establish its ground attack.
"Our run game has always been a strong point here and with his injury last year that went away," Maxwell said. "We’re focused to get that back on track."
Seniors Branden Shrout and Devin McKee will also get some touches, Maxwell said. "They’re both strong backs and they’ll see action when Alex needs a breather. Shoot, they’re probably the three best backs we’ve had at one time since I’ve been around — they’re all legit."
Maxwell also spoke highly of sophomore Wyatt Smith. "He reminds you a lot of (2009 graduate) Jordan Todesco — small but strong and tough and has some wiggle like Jordan. He might appear back there from time to time because we like him a lot. Very tough kid."
It’s said that defense wins championships, and it starts up front for the Falcons with returning starters Whalen at end and Hollister and Stoneberg at the tackle spots.
Whalen, a long and lean high-motor guy who plays bigger than his listed 220 pounds, is getting some attention from Division 1 schools.
Hollister is a sturdy lunchpail guy at 235 and Stoneberg, 255, emerged as a force to be reckoned with about halfway through last season.
The other end spot, Maxwell said, will be manned by either junior Colter Clinch or sophomore Lee Wunderlich. "Clinch is kinda new to football but he’s a stud of an athlete just tapping into his talent. He’s 6-3, 220, real rangy, and could be really good when he gets it figured out.
Wunderlich isn’t real big but he’s very athletic and goes hard off the edge. We think our d-line has the potential to be pretty good."
Senior Jack Sturgeon is back at middle linebacker and though undersized at 190, all he does is make plays and lead the team in tackles. "Yeah, Jack’s back," Maxwell said with a smile. "Real smart, savvy kid, tough...just a good football player. He gets it."
He’ll be joined by Shrout on one side and junior Trey Fornelius on the other. "Shrout’s really grown since last year and Fornelius is a smart player with good instincts."
The defensive backfield will have an entirely different look from last year, beginning with the return of Schwend at one corner and McKee at the other.
The Falcons moved senior Cody Bauman, a thumper who plays with some swagger, from corner to strong safety and gifted junior Caleb Hamilton will patrol center field as free safety.
"Bauman’s a tough kid who works his butt off," Maxwell said. "He and McKee are awesome in the weight room and lead by example with their intensity, and all four of those guys can cover."
The kicking game is set with Conner Zaback returning and Arrivey will handle the punting chores. "Brett can boot it for sure," Maxwell said.
So it’s on to the opener, and there’s a buzz in the air about this Woodinville team.
"Confidence is high right now and it’s nice to be there," Maxwell said," but it’s a matter of keeping it there." And the game is no gimme as Woodinville travels to Mount Si on Friday.
The Wildcats, who made the Class 3A state playoffs last year, cleaned Woodinville’s clock 28-6 in the first game played at renovated Pop Keeney Stadium, and Maxwell remembers it well.
"Oh yeah," he said. "We thought we were prepared but missed some assignments and they got us on our heels early and just kept rolling. It’s a big game to open up with. If you want to be the talk of the league you have to play well early. It’ll be a great challenge."
The first thing you notice about this Vikings’ team (5-4 overall in 2010) is that they’re bigger than they’ve been up front — a lot bigger.
"We haven’t been this big for a while so it’s nice to know that we’re not gonna get blown off the line of scrimmage," head coach Frank Naish said. And he would know, since he’s been at the helm of the Viking football vessel for 33 years.
The next thing you notice is the distinct Polynesian flavor of this year’s squad, which includes two brothers and four cousins of Tongan origin — and they’re all ballers who bring it: Nikko Tupou, Mikey Tupou, Junior Vi, Titus Makisini, Finau Kottitol and newcomer Robbie Fulilangi, who at 6-foot-4, and 360 well-proportioned pounds is hard to miss.
Watch Inglemoor scrimmage for five minutes and one of them — if not all of them — is at the center of the action.
"They just love football and have a lot of ability," Naish said.
The massive Fulilangi, however, may not get a chance to show it on Friday nights, as the senior transfer from Marysville is entangled in an eligibility issue.
"Until he goes through the eligibility process he’s not in the picture right now," Naish said. "He’s out at practice getting in shape but he’s not on our depth chart right now."
That said, Naish talked bigger picture: "We’re a young football team so the first three weeks will be a growth period. We graduated 17 of the starting 22 positions whereas Woodinville has a whole bunch back. The good news is we don’t start league play until week four so we’re not panicked."
Most concerning to Naish is his quarterback situation, where three newcomers are in the mix but none has grabbed the reigns.
"Hans Fortune is big and tall with a good arm and we’ve got Hunter Houghton and Brandon Edwards who are smaller but more athletic and quicker ... so if we played tomorrow night they would all share time," he said. "We’re still figuring all that out."
Less concerning is the running back situation, where Vi, the wispy senior tailback at 165 pounds, has earned his wings based on a junior year where he showed great burst, plenty of shake-and-bake, some okey-doke and make-you-miss, a nose for the end zone and the ability to withstand the punishment that comes with the territory.
"Junior’s a proven back in this league," Naish said.
He’ll be joined in the backfield by H-backs Davis Walker, a promising transfer from Arlington named Dillon Gongolienski and Viking vet A.J. Michalak.
There are major questions at wide receiver, where the Vikes graduated the stellar three-year tandem of Peter Meiusi and Todd Raynes, though the cupboard is not bare.
"We bring back seven quality receivers, though they’re not D-1 guys like we had last year," Naish said. He couldn’t say who was at the top of the list.
"They all have different strengths and weaknesses and that’s absolutely a wide open competition. But I’ll tell you this: we have a huge tight end in Dallas Elfenson, a 300-pounder who can move."
The o-line will feature 275-pound junior Makisini at tackle, 260-pound Joe Coats and the Tupou brothers (about 230 each) inside, with Zach Lustyk and 290-pound Andrew Winter, still returning from injury, in the mix.
Makisini has gained notice from D-1 programs. How good is he? "Very good and he’s just scratching the surface," Naish said flatly. "He’s a huge human who’s very athletic — he’s a great punter, believe it or not — and he’s a fun kid to be around." Not much fun for guys trying to block him, however.
The d-line will manned by "all those same guys," Naish said, including Finau ("he’s quick as a cat and can tackle") with the exception of Mikey Tupou, a wrecking ball at linebacker to be joined by Michalak in the middle, with Sam Gastineau and Jacob Jones on the outside. "Gastineau comes from a family of linebackers for us," Naish said.
Corners are Vi, Danny Larson and Nick Russell. Safeties, right now, are Gongolienski and Walker.
The place-kicking game is in question and a concern, but Naish said punter Willie Augustavo "has a D-1 leg and might be the best in the league."
After 40 years of coaching — 32 at IHS — is Naish still loving it?
"Yeah I am," he said, flashing a youngster’s smile with sparks in his eyes. "It’s easy to love. Some years are better than others and last year was a daily test of fortitude for all of our coaches. But this year there’s a whole different attitude with this group and it started in the weight room in the offseason. This team ... they just enjoy football and that’s refreshing. When we leave practice they’re still out there playing two-hand touch, throwing it around and having fun ... and then we gotta tell them to go home."
Inglemoor travels to Snohomish for Friday’s opener.
It’s hard to fathom that the Blue Train, after nine straight trips to the Class 4A state tournament — 90-20 overall in that time, 9-3 last season and with an experienced coaching staff that brings intensity and demands precision — could be considered an underdog.
Yet only three starters return, as head coach Tom Bainter reloads, not an unfamiliar task for a program that turned out 146 kids — an all-time high, including freshmen.
Bainter, busy as a bee during two-a-days, was as gracious and accommodating as usual, in fact eager to talk about his new ball club, starting with his new quarterback.
"Austen Dahl is a kid who’s worked as hard in the off-season as any QB I’ve ever had," he said. "He’s one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave — everything you’d want in terms of work ethic."
But how is his game?
"He’s got quick feet, runs hard and throws well."
Dahl may not have to throw it much, with the stable of horses he has in the backfield, starting with Danny Wilson, Jr., a junior we’ll be hearing more about in the next couple years, possibly evoking comparisons to former Cougars Patrick Ottorbech and Luke Proulx.
Said Bainter: "He’s a kid who maybe has the best burst on our team in terms of power speed. Might be the fastest guy in the 40 (yard dash). He’s 183 pounds and just under six feet so that’s a big tailback, but he’s got sprinters’ speed and he’s flat out fast."
So is senior tailback Spencer Ottorbech, 5-5, 165 — a pocket rocket who packs a wallop.
"Those two kids are a real good 1-2 punch," Bainter said "and they’ll be on the field together a lot. Just two outstanding play-making kids with good speed."
Joining them will be celebrated wide receiver Trent Sewell, last year’s O’Dea transfer, who performed well and whose name pops up on pre-season all-state lists.
"Trent had a great off-season, he’s a little stronger and more physical, running great routes," Bainter said.
On the other side will be a combination of 6-5 Aaron Wilkes, Will McIntyre — a member of the state champion 4X 100 relay team, and Jared Berry, who’s long and lean and can fly.
Morgunn Ewing is back from injury and has the inside track at tight end. "He’s 215 pounds, blocks well and has great hands and a couple guys are pushing him," Bainter said. "But with our speed at receiver you won’t see as many two tight end sets as we’ve shown in the past but tight end will definitely be a part of our offense."
Bothell will trot out a brand new offensive line, which is not new for them. "The difference now is a lot of underclassmen — we might have one senior starter," Bainter said. It could look like this up front: Chase Madson, Dylan Lindsey, Kevin Seguine or Nick Hosler at center, Nick Ombrellaro and Zach Rayburn.
"We like all those guys but they need game experience," Bainter said.
On the flip side, Lindsey will play nose at 290. Wilkes, Jeremy Ruef and sophomore Andre Golabovich are battling it out at defensive end, along with Ewing and Rayburn.
"They’re all pushing each other and competition’s a good thing," Bainter said.
Linebacker is an embarrassment of riches with returning starter Nick Anthony — another member of the state title 4X100 relay team — Caden Burke, Ottorbech — who will light you up, despite his size, and pick your pocket — Griffin Plenert, Anthony Thweatt, Drew Williams, Camden McLeod and Sean Tavakoli all in the mix.
"We’re two deep there with guys who could all be starters," Bainter said.
The DBs are set with Wilson, Reshon Watson, Berry and Sewell at corner and Cooper Brandt, Ryan Routh, Kizhan Proctor, Derek Pederson and McIntyre in the conversation at safety. Throw in Dahl in a big game pinch, though Bainter prefers to rest his quarterback on defense — even though Dahl, who started at safety last year, is a banger and a ballhawk.
"Good speed all around," Bainter said. "We’re deeper back there than we’ve been but we’ve got to get a little more physical."
He admitted to big question marks at kicker and punter. "Don’t really know what we’re doing there yet," he said. "Guys have yet to emerge and right now nobody’s kicking it real far."
So, overall, what’s good?
"Fun kids," Bainter said. "Team chemistry — kids like each other. Last year we had a little dissension between some juniors and seniors but these kids get along well and they’re fun to coach. Effort, attitude, hustle: all good. We’re an athletic team with good speed."
He needed no prompting for the next question.
"What’s not so good is our experience, but that’s not unusual around here. We just need to play some real football games."
They’ll get that chance on Friday, when they take on Union at home.
"It’ll be a great test for us," Bainter said. "We beat them in the playoffs last year and they’ve got revenge on their minds. It’s a great one for us and our fans, and it’ll be a good barometer for how good we’ll be early."