Shaun Scott, staff photo An Eastside Catholic running back catches a pass in the flat from Eastside Catholic quarterback Zach Lewis during a spring football practice session on June 15 at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish.

Crusaders have championship aspirations on gridiron

The Eastside Catholic Crusaders football program is the proverbial equivalent of the 1980s San Francisco 49ers with regard to expectations.

The 49ers, who won four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s, didn’t consider their season a success unless they hoisted a Lombardi trophy at the end of each season. The Crusaders, who won Class 3A state titles in 2014 and 2015, lost 30-27 to the Kamiakin Braves in the Class 3A semifinals in November 2016. The setback is something the Crusaders want to make sure doesn’t happen again.

“I think as a coaching staff and a program, we let a few things slip last year and we have reeled them in this year, we hope. We’re humble, we’re hungry and we want to get back to the state championship game and we want to win it. We want to bring that trophy back home,” Crusaders head coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. “Our focus is on ourselves trying to get better and handling our own business. We can’t take anything for granted this year. We’ve got to play with a chip on our shoulder and we have to be competitive in every situation.”

Thielbahr said competition has been the theme of spring practice sessions in mid-June.

“Iron sharpens iron and we’re seeing that pay dividends this spring with guys pushing guys,” Thielbahr said.

He has particularly enjoyed the competition for the starting running back position thus far. Last year’s primary ball carriers Tyler Folkes and Chris LeFau graduated this past June.

“This is the first year that I have been here that we haven’t come into the season with a starter that has had significant [playing] time. This year we have three young guys. Sophomores Sam Adams and Geo Urcino and junior Derek Ray are really impressing me at practice,” Thielbahr said. “Obviously, it is a very important position for us. [The starting running back] is going to be a 1,000-yard rusher and catch a bunch of balls and be huge in protection. We put a lot on the quarterback and running back in our offensive system. All three of them have impressed me this spring and they are very different kinds of runners. It is going to be fun to see how that running back position comes into focus the rest of the spring and into this summer.”

Thielbahr also said that Michael Franklin is pushing senior Zach Lewis at the quarterback position during spring practice sessions.

“Zach has been a gunslinger for us as the starter but Michael is pushing him. There is an excitement because we try to have that great competition,” he said.

Crusaders senior Malik Putney, who is an electrifying kick returner and safety on the defensive side of the ball, is determined to not experience the anguish of falling short of a championship again.

“We were the two-time defending state champions and we kind of slacked off in places. This year things are going to be different. The coaches have been preaching to us to just stay humble, work hard and everything will fall into place. We are just working so hard in practice every day,” Putney said. “We don’t want to feel the same pain as we did last year losing to Kamiakin in the semifinals. It is the little things that make the difference in the fourth quarter. The two games we lost last year were both by three [points]. We have to do the little things that will separate us from our opponent. I know that my fellow seniors and I want to bring back that state championship our senior year. We want to leave a legacy for the younger guys so they can have something to look forward to, and know what hard work and dedication gets you.”