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On the gridiron
This season on the football field in the South Puget Sound League 4A North expect a battle for the top spot as Kentwood, Kentlake and Tahoma all look to rebound from tough playoff losses in 2012 to make deep runs.
If Kentwood learned anything a year ago from the upset loss against Arlington in the first round of the playoffs it’s not to look past anyone.
Senior wide receiver Terrance Grady said the Conquerors were thinking about the next game. Brandon Sytsma, a senior tailback who plays safety and cornerback, too, explained he already broke down film of the next opponent he thought Kentwood would get after beating Arlington.
“We definitely took the Arlington game as fuel,” Grady said. “It was definitely a slap in the face.”
Grady explained that Kentwood’s players started working hard in the offseason in January and pushed through all summer to get better. And it didn’t hurt that the Conks got to take on the Eagles again at a camp this summer at the University of Puget Sound to exact a bit of revenge even if it didn’t count.
Kentwood won the SPSL North last year with a perfect regular season record. Then Arlington stormed into French Field in the first round of the playoffs and sent Kentwood home in a shocking upset.
Since then, Grady said, one thing has come through about the 2013 squad.
“We’re a really hard working team,” Grady said. “We had a speed coach come in and do a speed camp with us. He said in the 10 years he’s come to Kentwood, we’re the hardest working group. That really puts no limits on what we can do. With that hard work, that brings cohesiveness.”
The team also bonds with what Sytsma described as an annual tradition, a team hike to the summit of Tiger Mountain.
“I feel like it really brings the team together,” Sytsma said. “The smaller, quicker guys can get up the mountain quicker and as we get to the top we go down and help the bigger guys. It really brings us together. We learn to rely on each other and trust each other to get the job done.”
Knowing his teammates can push through on that hike helps Sytsma learn, he said, to trust they will have the mental toughness during games when that is needed most.
Trust is key, too, Grady said on the offensive side of the ball as Kentwood will look to a new quarterback, a sophomore.
“One of the thing I’ve had to work on as a receiving is gaining his trust and be able to have confidence in him and just have that comfort with each other,” Grady said.
Sytsma said the team as a whole has focused on trust and cooperation and learning to play together, especially with several new players on the offense.
Grady added that the defense this season, which has a fair number of returning starters, will have some new looks to it.
“We’ve incorporated some new things into our defense to make it even better than last year, even though it was pretty good,” Grady said.
Both Grady and Sytsma said they see the SPSL North being a four-horse race between Kentwood, Tahoma, Kentlake and Auburn.
“There’s always some fire in that Kentlake game,” Grady said. “I know that Auburn wants to get back at us for the beating we put on them last year. Tahoma, at the UPS camp, was looking pretty strong.”
Sytsma said one thing Kentwood will bring into this season from 2012 was a high level of confidence.
“We’ve come off a couple years of really good records and we’ve kind of carried that through,” Sytsma said. “We’re not always the biggest team with the strongest, fastest guys, especially last year, we went against some sturdier opponents that were a lot bigger than us but we had a lot of confidence … I hope to carry that into this year knowing that we may not be the biggest but we’ll play like we are.”
And the Conks take the knowledge that they can’t look past any opponent. Sytsma said they learned not to let a situation like the Arlington game push them to a point where they down on themselves but also not to become overconfident.
“We should take each team seriously and go week to week and stay positive throughout the game,” Sytsma said. “I’m confident that we’ll compete and match up with what any team has to throw at us.”
Grady can’t wait for the season to start. For Kentwood it kicks off Sept. 6 when it hosts Auburn at French Field.
“I’m feeling ready,” Grady said. “I’m feeling like Kentwood football is ready. I feel like there’s blood in the water and we’re hungry.”
This year the Falcons are stacked with seniors who are in their fourth year of playing for head coach Chris Paulson and that experience could pay dividends.
Those seniors experienced an undefeated league season in 2011 but lost four games in 2012 despite having the top ranked offense in the state.
Mason Johnson, one of the seniors returning, said there is plenty of upside to his class. Of the 22 starters this season, 19 are seniors.
“I feel like anytime a lot of your guys have been in the same system for four years it will run efficiently,” Johnson said.
Since the season ended last November Kentlake has focused on improving its defense explained Johnson, an all-league selection at lineman on both sides of the ball a year ago as a junior.
Everybody hit the weight room the week after the playoffs, Johnson said, and working on improving cardio fitness levels with running.
Before practices began Aug. 21, Johnson explained, the team was already putting in some work.
“The summer training program was like what we were doing but amped up,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s trying to thin down on the line. Last year I felt like we were too big. I feel like now we’re leaner and faster.”
John Morasch, a senior wide receiver who caught eight touchdown passes in 2012, said he is pleased with the improvements the defense has made after it struggled last season.
“We kind of a took a new mentality to take an extra step on defense and really focus on that,” Morasch said. “Our summer conditioning program was more rigorous. We’re trying to take a step toward being better conditioned than the other team in that regard.”
Though there is a new quarterback, senior Jake Summer, Morasch is confident about the offensive side of the ball.
“Our primary strength is our offense still,” Morasch said. “We have a really good system that coach has imposed, so we just run it into the ground.”
At a recent practice, the Kentlake offense ran more than 60 plays in 20 minutes.
“We play fast,” Morasch said. “We’ve been practicing a real uptempo pace.”
Last year, Morasch said, they would take time to read the defense before calling plays. This year it may feel more like the Blur offense Chip Kelly ran when he was the coach at the University of Oregon, where Paulson’s younger brother played.
This year, Johnson said, they want to win the SPSL North and then go after a state championship.
That doesn’t mean Kentlake will look past anyone, especially after suffering an upset to Kent-Meridian early in 2012.
“You always want to take it one game at a time,” Morasch said. “But, we have our rivalries that everyone gets excited for in Kentwood and Tahoma.”
This year the Tahoma Bears are focused on speed. They’re running a no-huddle offense, much like last year, and also focusing on speed where they lack size on defense.
“We like to play physical, fast offense,” said senior quarterback Shane Nelson.
Key returners for the Bears this year are Nelson, senior receiver Deshon Williams, senior inside line backer, and senior offensive linemen Aaron Vaughn and Nick Kinney.
Top newcomers are senior defensive lineman Seonte Kong who will be playing as a starter for the first time this year, junior inside line backer Blake Donohue who played on the junior varsity team last year, senior wide receiver and safety Denham Patricelli who played as a starter his sophomore year but missed last year due to injury, and junior defensive back Aharon Lutgen-Jarmon who also played junior varsity last year.
Williams said that in preseason practices the defense has been focusing on speed and swarming to the tackle.
“We’re more about effort this year,” Suka said.
Many of the Bears’ starters have played together since junior high, giving them an edge on team-building and a sense of camaraderie.
“We’re closer as a team, especially on offense,” Patricelli said of team unity this year compared to years past.
Last year the Bears finished 5-5 overall, going 5-3 in league play and made a run at the playoffs where they were eliminated in the district playoffs by Jackson.
Coaching the Bears this year are head coach Tony Davis who is returning for his 20th season with Tahoma, and assistant coaches Chris Williams, Tyrone Williams, Steve Bodwell, Walt Howard, Dan Nelson, and Anthony Bogan.
Sukra, Williams, Nelson, and Patricelli said that they’re looking forward to playing the Kent schools and especially playing —and beating— Kentwood and Kentlake at French Field and their goal this season is to bring home the division title.