Target in sight for Crusaders | 2013 Reporter Prep Football Preview

Eastside Catholic comes back under third year head coach Jeremy Thielbahr with a stated objective after two years of seeing their season end at the hands of Bellevue.

For Eastside Catholic and head football coach Jeremy Thielbahr, each of the past two seasons have been blended unadulterated excitement and a bitter reality.

While the Crusaders made it to the state tournament in Thielbahr’s first year in 2011, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006 and only the third time in program history, they were handled decisively by eventual state champion Bellevue in a 42-0 loss. Last season, after reaching the 3A state championship game for the first time in school history in only his second year on the job, a talented and poised group of Wolverines again stopped EC short in a 35-3 title game defeat, a game that helped secure a top national ranking from Sports Illustrated.

In 2013, the ultimate goal is an obvious one: unseat the five-time defending state champions from Bellevue and bring the program its first football state championship.

“I’d like another shot at Bellevue in the Tacoma Dome,” Thielbahr said. “I think our guys would too.”

Eastside Catholic lost a host of Division I talent from its 2012 title game team and 24 seniors in all, along with 21 All-Metro selections. That class was headlined by two-time Metro Offensive Player of the Year Trey Reynolds, who was a terror for defenses with his legs, spread the ball to playmakers efficiently in the passing game and most importantly, controlled the audibles and protections at the line of scrimmage.

“When you lose that group, there are going to be some speed bumps and some roadblocks,” Thielbahr said. “We’re going to have to overcome those.”

The new signal-caller for the Crusaders isn’t completely untested, as sophomore Harley Kirsch enters the fray a year after getting one start in his team’s second game of the year, a 30-12 win over neighbor Eastlake, and getting plenty of playing time in blowout wins. Kirsch was needed in an emergency situation against the Wolves after Reynolds was injured and his performance was far from pedestrian, finishing the game with 117 yards rushing and a score to go with a 15-24 day through the air for nearly 175 yards and two more touchdowns.

“He’s ready for it and he wants it,” Thielbahr said of his young quarterback. “He has a very developed skill set for a sophomore and athletically he is gifted. There is a lot of talent there.”

While performing at a high level over the course of an entire regular season and potential playoff run as the starter is a different challenge, the Crusaders can look to a handful of seniors who have seen significant time as underclassmen to relay their experiences the past two years.

Henry Jarvis will be one of those leaders after being named a first team All-Metro selection as a junior and rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 14 scores on the ground. He also caught 19 balls for 230 more yards and three touchdowns and said while last year’s seniors were a deep and undeniably talented group (and one that included his cousin Peter Kimble), their example and demeanor have set the tone for a 2013 group that has the chance to stand alone.

“There are plenty of guys returning who are just playmakers,” he said. “I’m confident in that players we have coming back.”

After navigating a non-conference schedule that includes an out-of-state foe from Lake City (Coeur d’Alene, Ida.), Eastside Catholic will try to replicate last year’s perfect run through the conference slate, with an October 18 date against O’Dea looking like the biggest test.

Even if the Crusaders are able to make it back-to-back league titles and reach the state tournament for a third straight year, players and coaches know it will feel like an unfulfilled promise without a win over Bellevue and a 3A state title.

“That’s always our goal, to win state,” Jarvis said. “Bellevue is tough, but they are high school players just like we are.”