There is no erasing the gut-wrenching thoughts.
Visions of what could have been still loom in the minds of Issaquah’s returning football players. But, instead of dwelling on the negative, the Eagles hope to use their 20-15 class 4A state championship loss to rival Skyline — a game they led until the 3-minute mark of the fourth quarter — as motivation for the 2009 season.
“I think all the guys coming back, who were on that team and saw that happen, there’s kind of that feeling in our guts that we want to get back there,” senior running back Grant Gellatly said. “That serves as motivation for us to know that we can get that far… it just makes us work harder.”
Gellatly, who scored 29 touchdowns and had more than 1,800 rushing yards last season, leads a strong core of returners. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound running back and safety has received an offer to play at the Air Force Academy, and has drawn Pac 10 consideration from Washington and Stanford.
“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” head coach Chris Bennett said. “Everyone would like a guy like him in their program, and I’m just lucky to coach him.”
The Eagles also return depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Senior Daniel Fleischman anchors that core of players. The 6-foot-6, 280 pound lineman has the interest of six Division I colleges, including Washington State, Oregon, Wyoming, Eastern Washington, Montana State and Idaho. Senior Greg Finch also returns from last year’s starting line, along with senior Philip Hamilton. Senior Jacob Everson (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) was the first player off the bench last year, and will start at center.
Other key components returning to this year’s roster include junior middle linebacker Nik Landdeck, who has started since his freshman season. Juniors Evan Peterson, Taylor Wyman, and Adam Dondoyano provide experience at defensive back and wide receiver, and junior kicker Gavin Schumaker has made second-team KingCo the last two seasons.
While the core of experience is strong, Issaquah will need some new starters to step up — most notably at quarterback. Ryan Bergman, who stands at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, was the back-up to quarterback Joey Bradley last season. His varsity experience might be limited, but Bennett said he’s showing similar traits to Bradley — another player who didn’t start until his senior season.
“Ryan kind of fits that same mold,” he said. “He’s won some MVP awards at some team camps. We were able to win a passing tournament this summer (and) obviously you can’t do that without good quarterback play.”
Bennett also paid Bergman’s arm strength a large compliment.
“He throws the deep ball better than anyone we’ve had here,” he said. “That’s a bold statement — we’ve had some pretty good quarterbacks here over the last eight years.”
Issaquah will play its three home games at Mount Si High School this season, due to construction at IHS.
“We thought it was going to be last year that we wouldn’t be able to play here,” Gellatly said. “Either way it sucks, but I mean we have to get past that now and just move on.”
The ultimate goal remains a trip to the postseason — one Bennett knows won’t be easy in a tough KingCo 4A.
“I know a lot of our kids have talked about going back to Tacoma, but you can’t put the cart before the horse,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do and in this league it’s the old cliche, ‘One game at a time.’”
Issaquah begins its journey at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 5 against Bothell at Qwest Field in the Emerald City Kickoff Classic. The Eagles defeated the Cougars twice last year — once in the season-opener, and again in the state quarterfinals.
“That game won’t define either of our seasons as far as what we do come November, but at the same time it’s a nice stepping stone to kind of know where you fit and what you need to do,” Bennett said.
Sept. 5 vs. Bothell (Qwest Field), 8 p.m.
Sept. 11 at Mount Si, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. Inglemoor, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Garfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 vs. Eastlake, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Redmond, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Skyline, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 vs. Newport, 7 p.m.