Eastside Catholic after 3A state football title | Prep spring football

The Crusaders are hoping to get past Bellevue, after ending their season at the hands of the Wolverines the past three years

With the fall season just over the horizon, the Reporter caught up with each of the four prep football coaches in Issaquah and Sammamish to take a look ahead to 2014 and some of the stories that will play out in the fall.

The Metro League changes in a major way in 2014, as former 4A KingCo schools Garfield, Roosevelt and Ballard join the league. The conference will have three divisions — Sound, Valley and Mountain — in football, with five in the first two and six in the Mountain, where Eastside Catholic will be positioned with Bainbridge, Bishop Blanchet, Lakeside, Seattle Prep and O’Dea.

The Sound includes Roosevelt, Garfield, Cleveland, West Seattle and Rainier Beach, while the Valley will feature Ballard, Nathan Hale, Franklin, Ingraham and Chief Sealth.

2013 season: Eastside Catholic fell to Metro League rival O’Dea in the regular season, but rebounded to beat the Irish in the 3A state semifinals and reach the championship game for a second straight year.

The Crusaders finished their season in the same fashion as 2012, falling to Bellevue for the state crown.

Early outlook: Injuries left EC and Thielbahr with inexperience in a host of spots throughout last season. With another year of experience — one that included a run all the way to the title game — the Crusaders look poised for another deep postseason jaunt.

All-Metro losses: 1st Team offense: Henry Jarvis, RB; Colin MacIlvennie, WR; Drew Springfield, OL; 1st Team defense: Elisha Pa’aga, DE; Moni Ioane, DE; 2nd Team defense: Carter Gonzalez, OLB; Evile Klaniuvalu, DB

All-Metro returners: 1st Team offense: Devon Arbis-Jackson, WR; Alex Neale, OL; Cody Baker, OL; 2nd Team offense: Harley Kirsch, QB; Dominique Fetui, FB; Matt Laris, TE; 1st Team defense: Deion Fetui, DT; Anthony Masaniai, LB; Brandon Wellington, DB; 2nd Team defense: Baker, DL; Arbis-Jackson, DB

Summer camp: Oregon State University team camp

Biggest question: Can more experienced Crusaders climb over Bellevue for first time?

The Crusaders have clearly ascended the ranks of the Metro League, which takes on a new look in 2014 with the additions of Ballard, Roosevelt and Garfield.

But those around the program are after more than another runner-up finish, after a pair of lopsided title game results, and three straight seasons ended at the hands of the Wolverines.

“There’s no doubt, it’s Bellevue,” Thielbahr said. “They will be in the state championship game and I think they are one of the top-five teams in the nation.”

Crusaders bring back wealth of experience for another Metro League run

Throughout much of the 2013 season, Eastside Catholic coach Jeremy Thielbahr was still learning about his players, most notably the 13 freshman and sophomores that saw varsity playing time due.

More importantly, they were learning about themselves.

“That is going to pay huge dividends this season,” he said. “The jump from sophomore to junior, junior to senior, has to take place.”

EC has a number of players ready to make that jump, and help the program to a third straight 3A state title game and potentially its first football title, led by rising junior quarterback Harley Kirsch.

After tossing 35 touchdowns against only three interceptions (two came in the title game) and 3,535 yards in 2013, Kirsch is even more refined in his progressions and ability to read defenses, according to his head coach.

“The excitement level for Harley is very high,” Thielbahr said. “We need him to elevate his game, and I think he saw that in the state championship.”

It isn’t just Kirsch returning to the offense fold, as playmakers Devon Arbis-Jackson, Brandon Wellington and Matt Laris also bring another year of experience in Thielbahr’s system. A pair of returning all-conference lineman will also play an important role in another playoff run.

Laris, a tight end last year, will make the move outside to wide receiver, giving Kirsch a sizable target on the edge.

“He’s a great player,” Thielbahr said. “He’s big, physical, strong. He has to make a big leap.”