Wolves are poised to take the next step on gridiron

Eastlake Wolves football coaches shouted words of encouragement throughout the duration of the fourth spring football practice under the bright sunshine of early June.

The Wolves, who were partaking in their fourth spring practice session on June 2, are striving to unveil a breakthrough season this fall on the gridiron. Eastlake went 7-4 during the 2016 season and lost 31-14 to the Skyline Spartans in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

Eastlake senior wide receiver Hank Pladson expects his team to eclipse last season’s performance.

“We know we’ve prepared well in the off-season doing everything we can so we can succeed this year,” said Pladson, who earned KingCo 4A first-team all-league honors as a wide receiver during the 2016 season. “Our main focus is really trying to beat those three teams that we lost to last year, which were Skyline [twice], Woodinville and Bothell. We lost to the top three teams in our [KingCo 4A] league. We got to make an impact this year in the league.”

Wolves’ head coach Don Bartel, who will be in his fifth season as head coach this fall, concurred with Pladson’s assessment.

“A mark of a really great team is a team that can beat teams they maybe aren’t supposed to beat, and win games they aren’t supposed to win. Last year, we beat everybody we were supposed to beat and we won big, but when it came to the contested and really competitive games, we had the ball in our hands at the end and didn’t complete it,” Bartel said. “Right now our whole focus is just competing. It is about bringing these guys together as a group, having them gel as a group and getting excited about their opportunities and believing they can get it done. It builds confidence in our guys. They are flying around and getting in the groove. It makes a big difference.”

Bartel said the addition of strength and conditioning coach Drew Buchkoski in January has already made a huge difference on the field. Buchkoski was the strength and conditioning coach on the 2010 Ferris Class 4A state title team as well as the 2013 Chiawana Class 4A state championship team.

“[Buchkoski] is just doing great there. It is a practice everyday with the way he runs it. If they don’t bring effort, they start over. There is a level of expectation that is always there,” Bartel said of Buchkoski’s training sessions with his players. “We’ve known each other for about nine years. It is really nice to have him here now. It makes a huge difference.”

The Wolves will have a new starting signal caller this September. Connor Brown, who backed up starter Ben Howard last season, will be under center in the season opener as the starter on Sept. 1 against the rival Issaquah Eagles. Bartel has complete confidence in Brown leading his team in 2017.

“Connor has done everything he has needed to do off-season wise. He has been in the weight room and gets after it. Even at the end of practice there, he was ripping off push-ups. He takes a lot of pride in what he does, and we’re expecting huge things from him because of it,” Bartel said. “We’ve always said he throws the best deep ball in the entire program.”