‘Are you ready’ for some high school football?

  • Written by Don Mann
Time to strap it on again, and strap it tight. KingCo 4A football is as strong as it’s ever been and the Crown division, where the Northshore schools do business, looks even tougher after realignment booted Ballard, Garfield and Roosevelt and brought in Eastlake and Redmond.

It means at least one fewer cupcake game and another one bound to be challenging. It also means no more dreadful, rush-hour drives to Lower Queen Anne in Seattle to play in dreary old Memorial Stadium in meaningless games in front of crowds where the visitors outnumber the locals.Now Skyline, Issaquah and Newport have the Seattle schools to kick around over in the Crest division.

So, with football in the air and temperatures slipping back to normal, this fifth-year Northshore sports reporter made his annual trek to the three high schools he knows and loves best to prod and poke (even laugh and joke) to deliver the skinny on the upcoming season. It seemed as if the coaches — some of whom I call friends —  expected my visit.

Dang, I love football season.

Bothell Cougars

Ross Bowers B
Ross Bowers
Chase Madsen B
Chase Madsen
Dylan Lindsey
Dylan Lindsey

Coming off an unBothell-like 6-4 season which yielded no state berth for only the second time in his tenure, 13-year Blue Train conductor Tom Bainter (110-29 overall) was asked what’s gotta happen for that not to happen again. That was a no-brainer to Bainter, still one of the really good guys around town.

“What’s gotta happen is we gotta stay healthy,” he said. “We lost five kids in the second game last year and that hurt us a lot.”

Don’t expect that to happen again as the Cougars are flat-out loaded.

“We have a lotta kids coming back,” Bainter acknowledged. “We return 13 starters. Typically for Bothell four or five is a good number. Six is a great number. So we were young last year and that experience should be there for us this year. But it’s about daily improvement and being healthy. That’s what’s gonna be the key to our season.”

Those who follow Bothell football even a little know this is the season young phenom quarterback Ross Bowers will be given the keys to the car.

The sophomore played some as a freshman last year with the big boys, with mixed results. Growing pains.

“Ross Bowers has a chance to be great,” Bainter said flat out. “He’s got all those qualities you look for: strong arm, athletic kid, he’s bright, a good leader. He just needs the experience. He needs to be ‘the guy’ for awhile to get that and he will.”The backfield is an embarrassment of riches, starting with senior Danny Wilson — one of those who went down with an early injury (broken wrist) last year.

“If Danny stays healthy he could contend for the state rushing title,” Bainter said. “He’s that good, and he’s put on about 10 pounds. He’s strong, fast, quick … He’s just a great back.”

And then there’s Darrin Laufasa, the stud transfer from Juanita.

“Tailback speed in a fullback body. Great hands.” The 6-2, 225-pound specimen was nursing a sore knee and did not practice that day.

“If he and Danny are healthy they’ll play together and they’ll spell each other. We can use them a lot of different ways. If they’re healthy we’re gonna be very good and very versatile.”

Then throw Kishan Proctor into the mix, another burner. “Kishan’s a great back and he starts at most other schools,” Bainter said. “But he’ll play a lot for us. Remember, all those guys will be playing defense as well so we’ll mix things up and get ’em all involved.”

If Bowers ever needs to throw it, 6-5 senior Aaron Wilks is an inviting target. “Big kid, smart kid, heck of an athlete, nice soft hands. He’s a good one.” He’ll be paired with speedball Jared Berry, who last year worked from the slot but will move outside as a legitimate deep threat. Jeremy Reuf will bang at tight end in the Bothell tradition.

And then there are the road graders, three of whom may be looking at Division I scholarships. “Our left tackle, left guard and right guard started every game and played every play,” Bainter said. For the record, their names are Chase Madsen, Nick Ombrellaro and Dylan Lindsey and they are rather large.

On the defensive side Wilks and Reuf will rush the passer from the ends, and competition remains open at nose tackle, though lineman Nick Hosler and Lindsey will go both ways a bit.

Bothell returns Drew Williams and Camden McLeod at inside backer, with Brandon Davidson and Laufasa on the outside. “Those are four good ones,” Bainter said. “Tough kids, athletic and fast.”Rashon Watson is back after starting every game at corner last year and will be joined by a rotation of Wilson and Berry.

“At safety we’ve got Derek Peterson who may have had the best offseason of everybody, and we might start Sam McPherson, a really athletic sophomore, and of course Kishan will be in the mix.”

Bainter added that McPherson would also take over punting duties and three kickers are still competing for kickoffs and PATs.

“Best group of kickers we’ve ever had.”

Bothell opens up Friday night on the road at Class 4A state champion Skyline. Then they take on Class 3A state champion Bellevue at Pop Keeney on September 9.

Holy cow: How ’bout them apples?

“Hey, we’ll play anybody, that’s my feeling,” Bainter said. “I say bring ’em on, ya know? That’s how you get better early.”

Inglemoor Vikings

Titus Makazini I
Titus Makasini
Dylan Moskalieski
Dillon Gongoliewski
Finau Toki
Finau Toki

Frank Naish has been coaching football at Inglemoor for 35 years — since 1977 when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon and Joe Greene was mean. For nearly four decades Naish has been the face of the program.

This season there’s a new face in Kenmore, and he’s hard to miss out on the practice field. In fact, if you didn’t know better you might think Jeff Schmidt was the main man based on his take-charge demeanor and his non-stop bark at practice — and one of these years he might be. But right now he’s the new defensive coordinator.

“Coach Schmidt comes to us from Archbishop Murphy,” Naish said. “We kinda recruited him to join our staff. He’s a guy who’s been to the Tacoma Dome (state playoffs) nine times. To get there nine times says something. He brings a knowledge of where the bar needs to be set if you’re gonna compete at that level.”

The Vikings, who went 6-4 last season, haven’t been to state since 2007. And if they manage to get there this year, they will do it without the services of All-KingCo senior linebacker/ guard Mikey Tupou, who suffered a freak broken leg in a scrimmage at summer camp in Wenatchee three weeks ago. Tupou, 6-0, 225, is a tackling machine and one of the Vikings’ most inspirational players. He hopes to be back later in the season, yet he’s still sporting a titanium rod in his leg. Bad news.

To further complicate, quarterback Hans Fortune broke his thumb on his passing hand around the same time, but the 6-6 senior is certain to be back. “He’s still got a ways to go,” Naish said. “Right now he’s throwing pretty good. The problem he’s having is handing the ball off and taking snaps out of the shotgun.”

Senior quarterback Branden Edwards, who shared the spot with Fortune last year, will step in as the starter. “Edwards is a fine high school quarterback and a real athletic kid. We’ll be OK there and can bring Hans back at a pace that’s healthy for him.”Jake Jones will get plenty of carries in the backfield, as will Nick Russell and Isaiah Lewis. “All those guys established they can play at the varsity level,” Naish said. In the slot, to run it some and catch it more, will be the trio of Reese Durringer, Dillon Gongoliewski and Kenny Holen. Erik Strathy returns at wideout and may be joined by Michael Lewis, who was hurt last year and did not play much, despite high expectations. “Those are two very good wide receivers and they probably have the inside track but there are some other kids we like, too, including Jacob Linloff,” Naish said.

When asked about his offensive line, the head coach took a deep breath and paused. “You know, that one’s really out there and we’re still sorting that out. Losing Mikey (Tupou) really threw a wrench into it. But you’ve got Titus (Makasini), Mike McCarrick, Finau (Toki) … Brian Clark as a guard … I’ll tell ya, the o-line is more unsettled at this point than any other position.”

On the defensive line, it starts with Makasini, the 6-4, 275-pound All-KingCo performer on both sides of the ball. The senior is an inspirational leader, at times can be a wrecking ball — good feet and wheels for a big fella with some real nasty when he brings it — and demands double teams to block him. He’s Inglemoor’s one legitimate Division I prospect. Next to him in the Vikings’ 3-4 alignment are brothers Josh and Jared Koukal, perhaps better known on the mat than on the gridiron.

“They both bring that wrestling toughness to the defensive line,” Naish said. “Great kids who work hard.”

Jason Chaussee looks to be a starter at linebacker, and will be joined by Finau, Jones and Holen, who all go both ways. Finau showed at times last year he could not be blocked off the edge, though that was when he was joined in the mix by his cousin Tupou, who will be missed in the middle.

Gongoliewski (well-known as “Gongo” as an athletic big-time track hurdler) and Lewis are solid at the corners, and Naish said Russell and Linloff appear ahead of the mix at safety.

Punting and kicking — spots where the Vikings have traditionally excelled — will be handled by senior Willie Augustavo, long and lean and athletic — a heckuva hooper and baseball player. He can chuck it, too. So don’t go napping on 4th-and-7, from anywhere on the grid.

The Vikes take on crosstown rival Juanita at their place this Friday.

Woodinville Falcons

Caleb Hamilton W
Caleb Hamilton
Coltor Clinch
Coltor Clinch
Alec Kazmarcik
Alec Kazmarcik
The local boys went 12-1 last year — most wins in school history — and that glow remains, but last year is over.

Nobody knows that more than 9th-year coach Wayne Maxwell (62-28 in that time).

“Brand new team,” Maxwell said with a smile in his crowded office last week. “Last year is over and we’re moving on. New team ... new identity.”

Next question, and it began with an observation that new quarterback Caleb Hamilton had a cast on his throwing hand, and had not participated in practice drills.

“He’s a baseball player, as you know, and he broke it a few weeks ago, slipping while he turned third base heading for home and planting the hand. He had some pain in it but kept playing, and finally went to the doctor and they found a break. Not a bad break. He’s getting the cast off today.”

It seems to be a non-issue, even with the football opener less than 10 days away.

“Shoot, he’s solid,” Maxwell said. “You know him as an athlete…He’s gonna pose a new threat, like (former Falcon quarterback) Tim Ip, that dual threat of being able to run and throw. Throws like Brett (Arrivey). Caleb actually throws a great deep ball. Real strong arm. And he can run, he can fly … He’ll be fine.”

Maxwell said that with a smile, too.

Hamilton will be handing it off to junior pocket rocket Wyatt Smith, who Maxwell was high on last year at this time but the youngster got hurt.

“He reminds you of Jordan Todesco: quick and has some wiggle. Tough kid, strong runner.”

Niko Llera, one of KingCo track’s fastest sprinters, will also get some touches. And then there’s Alek Kacmarcik, who broke loose last year as a sophomore, seemingly out of nowhere, to give the Falcons the boost they needed. “Kacmarcik will be that hybrid, that H back, same place he played last year,” Maxwell said. “He’s a stud and will play strong safety, too. He’s one of those kids, with that frame, who has high end potential. We’ll see what happens, but he could be a Division I guy.”

John Villasenior returns at one wide receiver spot. “Good athlete. Can go up and get the ball. He’s solid.”

The other spot will be manned by either Grayson Burrus, Drew Accimus or Brent Constantine — or maybe a combination of all. “Burrus had probably the best offseason of anybody we have,” Maxwell said. “Found a home in the weight room and you can see a physical difference. Accimus is real talented.

Constantine’s real fast. We’ll see who steps up and makes plays.”

Colter Clinch — the only returning starter on offense — is back at tight end. Big target. Willing blocker. Soft hands. “Accimus will play some there, and we can get into some two tight end sets with Lee Wunderlich, Trey Fornelius and Parker Moore able to stick their noses in there. We’ll have a real nice rotation there.”

Woodinville graduated all five starters on the offensive line, which leaves a big question mark. “Big question mark,” Maxwell repeated. “But I would say those kids answered it well throughout the spring and summer, and we feel pretty good about those kids.”

Those kids include junior Andreas Dillard (6-4, 225) at left tackle, senior Matt Dodge (5-10, 235) at left guard, senior Nick Solchany (5-10, 215) at center, senior Colin Messner (6-2, 210) at right guard and senior Sean Willie (6-1, 230) at right tackle.

Maxwell on Dillard: “High-end potential. Tall, rangy kid. He’ll be solid.” On Dodge: “Solid guard who will knock some people around. Strongest kid we’ve ever had in the program. Power lifter. Goes up against men in weightlifting competitions. Probably would’ve started last year but sprained an ankle pretty bad and never really got going.” On Solchany: “Another guy who’s at the top of the list of most improved. Good team guy who brings an energy and an aggressive mentality. Finished plays.” On Messner: “Real smart kid. Hard working kid … solid.” On Willie: “Got some reps as a sophomore and probably would’ve played a lot last year but also had a bad ankle sprain.”

On the defensive side, Clinch and Wunderlich lead the way on the ends. “We graduated a bunch but they return as starters,” Maxwell said. “Wunderlich is just a tough kid to block. Athletic, big motor, works his tail off. Clinch is a similar type player to (Sawyer) Whalen. Last year was his first year (playing football). He was just trying to figure it out and all he did was stumble his way to an all-league level on both sides of the ball.”

Maxwell and this reporter laughed out loud. “Not too bad,” he said.

Woodinville plays a base 4-3 and the tackle spots will be manned by a combination of Colby Carson, Nathan Madison, Connar Fedor and Cole Stemmerman.

Maxwell added that senior Colton Sullens will play some at defensive end. “High energy guy, comes hard off the edge. Just a pure pass rusher.”

Linebackers Fornelius (in the middle) and Moore (on the outside) are two of the team’s four captains (along with Clinch and Hamilton).

The other backer is Cole Bonvallet. “Another guy who would’ve played last year but got hurt. If he’s healthy, he’s a good one.”

Now that Hamilton — the all-league free safety as a junior — is playing quarterback, Dane Hawkins, a standout on special teams last year, will be patrolling center field.

“Another guy who’s put in the work and gotten bigger. Great leader.” Kacmarcik, a thumper, steps into Cody Bauman’s strong safety spot.

“He’ll have a huge impact back there,” Maxwell said.

The corners will be a rotation of Smith, Nolan Menen, Ian Biddle and Llera. “Menen kinda reminds me of Devin McKee,” Maxwell said. “Special teams guy who found a home in the weight room and came in this year looking like a different kid. He’ll be solid. Wyatt’s a real good corner but he’ll be carrying the ball on offense so we’ll spell him with Biddle and Llera.”

Conner Zaback, who quietly had one heckuva year last year, returns as a senior for kicking and punting duties. “Very solid high school kicker,” Maxwell said.

So … 10 days away from the road opener at Class 3A powerhouse Lakes, Maxwell was asked about the team vibe, the coaching vibe.

“We’ve seen a lotta growth and kids are stepping up. That’s what you like to see, after graduating so many seniors and losing all that leadership. New guys gotta step up and do it, and they know that. Our four captains and guys like Sullens, Solchany,  Hawkins … Smith, Kacmarcik, Wunderlich … heck, all those guys are doing a solid job with the leadership. We’re at a point now where we just need to go out and play a football game  … and just go.”

They’ll certainly get that chance against Lakes this Friday.

“That will obviously be a great test, down there at their place…Great program, great tradition and they always seem to produce college players. We’ll need to play as a team and understand they’re gonna make some plays and score some points …We just need to compete and battle and play our game.”

Like the man said: New team, new identity.

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