Shaun Scott, staff photo Eastlake Wolves head coach Don Bartel gives a pep talk to his team following a victory against the Lakes Lancers in the season opener of the 2016 season.

Gridiron stalwarts are prepared for 2017 season

EASTLAKE WOLVES

Head coach: Don Bartel (fifth year)

Last year: 7-4 (lost to Skyline in first round of 4A state playoffs)

Key players: Hank Pladson, WR/DB; Connor Brown, QB; Spencer Thompson, OL/DL; Chris Nelson, RB/S

Year in and year out, the Eastlake Wolves football team consistently contends for the KingCo 4A title.

The Wolves will have a new signal caller leading their squad in 2017. Eastlake quarterback Connor Brown, who backed up Ben Howard in 2016, has been throwing darts in August practice sessions.

“I could not be more impressed with Connor Brown,” Eastlake head coach Don Bartel said. “He has worked his butt off in the weight room since last season ended. He is getting rid of the ball quick, making good decisions and he understands the game. He just looks good out there.”

In 2016, the Wolves had one of the most experienced offensive and defensive lines in the KingCo 4A Conference. This season, the group will be relatively inexperienced with the exception of senior Spencer Thompson. Thompson, who will be the leader in the trenches for the Wolves, was named first-team all-league as an offensive lineman in the 2016 season as a junior.

“That has been a work in progress,” Bartel said of the youthful offensive/defensive line. “Some of the younger kids have to step up. They are starting to gel right now.”

Bartel believes the Wolves’ lineman benefited greatly from facing top-notch competition at the Gridiron Champions Camp at Evergreen High School over the summer.

“I haven’t coached a group in awhile that needed football camp as much as this group did,” he said. “The guys needed to go against bigger, faster and strong guys. It was a great thing for us. The guys got to see that tempo and now are very confident. Spencer is the leader and these guys work hard. They are going to be aggressive, they are going to be physical and they are going to fit our scheme well.”

While Bartel is known for coaching winning football programs, it isn’t the most important thing to him.

“Our end-all goal is to have positive beneficial relationships that we can tie ourselves to each other through our pursuit of something common,” Bartel said. “We’re talking about being loyal to your best self, being loyal to your team and being loyal to your legacy as a group. If we can capitalize on those things when it’s all over with, we know we’ve formed those relationships even if we haven’t won a league championship or a state championship. In the end, that is what is so important.”

SKYLINE SPARTANS

Head coach: Mat Taylor (10th year)

Last year: 9-3 (lost to Camas in Class 4A state quarterfinals)

Key players: Matthew Cindric, OL/DL; Joe Green, QB; Eddie Rosemont, QB; Luke Stiles, WR/CB; Evan Alexander, S; Prescott Wong, RB/LB; Brandon Bice, RB/CB; Beau Switzer, RB

Skyline head coach Mat Taylor, who has led the Spartans for the past decade, knows the importance of chemistry on the gridiron.

“It is very evident that they all get along,” Taylor said. “That is the No. 1 thing you have to have in order to have a successful team. You can’t have individuals, you can’t have kids worried about statistics or scholarships. I really feel that vibe and really see that unity aspect on this team.”

Taylor said there is currently a battle for the starting quarterback position. Juniors Joe Green and Eddie Rosemont are competing for the job.

“We will probably make a decision next week. Joe has a slight lead over Eddie right now,” Taylor said in a phone interview on Aug. 18 following the third day of practice. “They are battling and they have an even amount of reps right now. That is what you want as a team, which is to create as much competition as you can.”

In 2016, Isaiah Shim was the Spartans’ feature running back. Taylor said running backs Prescott Wong, Brandon Bice and Beau Switzer have impressed him in early season practices.

“Prescott is shifty and has good quicks,” Taylor said. “Brandon has really impressed us and has good vision. Beau is a kid who is super quiet and doesn’t say a lot, but all of sudden he will break out a 50-yard run at practice. We’re excited about all those guys.”

The anchor of the Spartans’ offensive and defensive lines is senior Matthew Cindric.

“Matthew’s motor is just unbelievable,” Taylor said. “He is a throwback when it comes to just pure effort. We did wind sprints at practice the other day and Matthew challenged another kid [to a race] who was a leaner faster defensive-end type of kid. Matthew beat him. Matthew outweighed him by 70 pounds and still won.”

Taylor expects senior safety Evan Alexander to make a name for himself this fall.

“He was injured a little last year but he is fully healthy this year and we’re really excited to see what he can do. He has established that he can come out and be a really prominent player in KingCo [division] this year,” he said.

EASTSIDE CATHOLIC CRUSADERS

Head coach: Jeremy Thielbahr (seventh year)

Last year: 11-2 (lost to Kamiakin in the Class 3A semifinals)

Key players: Zach Lewis, QB; Malik Putney, DB; Cade Peacock, DE/TE; David Pritchard, WR; Gee Scott Jr, WR; Marcus Stoebner, TE; Garrett Wallace, OT; Lopi Semo, OL/DL; Sam Adams, RB; Derek Ray, RB; Gio Ursino, RB, Michael Franklin, QB

Getting back to the mountaintop is something on every single Eastside Catholic Crusaders football player’s mind.

The Crusaders won back-to-back Class 3A state championships in 2014 and 2015, but saw their season end in the 2016 Class 3A semifinals courtesy of a loss against the Kamiakin Braves.

“Last year’s loss in the semifinals still stings,” Eastside Catholic head coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. “Our team slogan this year is ‘humble and hungry’ and we are. Our kids are more focused on the little things. We are really taking that step forward.”

Eastside Catholic senior quarterback Zach Lewis will be in his second season as the starting signal caller this fall.

“Zach has had a great fall camp,” Thielbahr said. “He is leading in a positive, energetic and constructive way. He really has great command of the offense.”

One of the Crusaders’ strengths across all aspects of the team is its depth. Thielbahr said 10 defensive starters from last year’s team are back this year. The head coach also has been impressed with backup quarterback Michael Franklin’s play.

“Michael is behind [Lewis] but he is surely making some steps forward and continues to improve,” Thielbahr said. It is nice having two quarterbacks. We are pretty comfortable with it.”

The running back position is one of the spots where Eastside Catholic has a multitude of talented playmakers. Ball carriers Derek Ray, Sam Adams and Gio Ursino all will likely get a significant amount of carries this coming season.

“We’re very comfortable with our three running backs,” Thielbahr said in a phone interview on Aug. 21. “We’ll probably start off with [Derek] Ray as the starter going into our first game, but we have a lot of competition going on there. All of them have proved they are able to get the job done and we’re really excited about it.”

ISSAQUAH EAGLES

Head coach: Buddy Bland (fourth year)

Last year: 2-8 overall (didn’t advance to playoffs)

Key players: Anthony Stephens-Kirkman, CB/RB; Trevor Morine, QB; Jade Griffiths, QB/LB; Garrett White, S/WR; Nick Dalhquist, OL/DL; Max Dalhquist, TE/DL

The Issaquah Eagles are looking to rebound from a sub-par 2016 season on the football field. Issaquah fourth-year head coach Buddy Bland said his team is focused on taking care of the details this fall.

“Our goal right now is to play as a team and play for one another,” Bland said. “We want to go back to doing all of the little things right. We got away from that last year and we’re not going to do that again this year. Last year was a year we are learning from and we’re going to move forward.”

The Eagles will host the Eastlake Wolves in the season opener on the gridiron at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1.

“Their kids play so hard for their coaching staff. They are disciplined and meticulous in what they do,” Bland said. “Right now, Eastlake is on our board just like we are probably on their board. We just want to have a good showing that night.”

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