Spring football practices are wrapping up around the region, with coaches preparing to take their teams to summer camps, passing leagues and training, 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.
2013 season: The Spartans bounced back from a season-opening loss to Bellevue to claim the 4A KingCo title over Bothell, and reached the 4A quarterfinals before losing to Federal Way.
Early outlook: A host of returning all-conference players on both sides of the ball, including a more experienced offensive line, give Skyline the chance to once again be a KingCo and state title threat. The development of quarterback Blake Gregory will be key to a team that could also rely more heavily on the run game than in previous years.
4A KingCo changes in a major way in 2014, as Garfield, Roosevelt and Ballard leave the league, while Mount Si joins Class 4A. The conference will not feature two separate divisions, and will use a round-robin schedule in football.
2014 non-conference: 10/10 VS. Graham-Kapowsin
All-KingCo losses: 1st Team offense: Reggie Long, OL; 2nd Team offense: Kilton Anderson, QB; Colin Crisp, TE; 1st Team defense: Josh Wright, DL (Defensive MVP); Cole Blackburn, DB; 2nd Team defense: Drew Lunde, LB; 1st Team specialist: Jason Twaddle, P; Blackburn, Returner; 2nd Team specialist, Twaddle, K
All-KingCo returners: First Team offense: Derek Loville, WR; 2nd Team offense: Cameron Saffle, OL; Riley Griffith, OL; First Team defense: Saffle, LB; Chandler Wong, LB; 2nd Team defense: Griffith, DL; Blake Sypher, DB
Summer camp: University of Puget Sound team camp
Biggest question: Can talented, experienced senior class make one more Tacoma Dome run?
Skyline had an unfamiliar ending to the 2013 football season, concluding their campaign before the state semifinals in the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 2006, and watching the state championship head somewhere other than Spartan Way for the first time since 2010.
But a host of returning players from a team that won the conference title and beat five teams that made the state’s round of 32 has coach Mat Taylor’s team looking the part of KingCo and state contender once again in 2014.
“It all starts with our captains,” he said of Chandler Wong, Cam Saffle and Blake Sypher, which each return after all-conference seasons. “They have brought great leadership.”
The squad they lead into the summer and fall is one with plenty of returning experience, including lineman Riley Griffiths and Cameron Hill, running back Rashaad Boddie, and a host of wide receivers led by Derek Loville.
Boddie, a powerfully built 6-foot, 220 pound rising junior, has the potential to break out in 2014 and will no doubt be more comfortable in the offense after his first full offseason in Sammamish. He scored seven touchdowns and was the team’s second leading rusher last year behind departed quarterback Kilton Anderson, despite missing time with an ankle injury that occurred precisely as he was hitting his stride.
After racking up around 150 yards in the first half against Plateau rival Eastlake, Boddie was injured on a school-record 96-yard touchdown run, and had only one carry over the next three games.
“He fought that thing for a long time,” Taylor said of the ankle injury, adding Boddie was not close to full strength until the state tournament. “We’re really excited about him.”
Rising junior quarterback Blake Gregory will operate the offense, after backing up Anderson last year.
“He really fits my style,” Taylor said. “He sees the defense really well and has really developed his arm strength.”
Defensively, Wong and Saffle return to a group that was solid in 2013, allowing only 6.5 points per game during the regular season conference slate. Wong has played substantially for the past two seasons, spelling current Washington State Cougar Peyton Pelluer two years ago and starting last year, while Saffle, a defensive end, is considered one of the top collegiate prospects in the state for the Class of 2015.
Griffiths and Hill will also help anchor the defensive line, while the all-conference safety Sypher mans the back end of the defense.
Taylor’s return is also notable, after the coach was a finalist for the same position at his alma mater Central Washington University after the season concluded. He eventually withdrew his name from consideration, opting instead to return because of an identity he could not separate from the program, or his passion for teaching special education at the school.
“I’m a Spartan,” he said. “I felt like we had unfinished business.”