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SK grad faces uncertain future as Western ends football program

Chad Tester, who played quarterback for South Kitsap and linebacker at Western Washington University, is looking for a new school no that Western is dropping its football program. - Jesse Beals/Staff Photo
Chad Tester, who played quarterback for South Kitsap and linebacker at Western Washington University, is looking for a new school no that Western is dropping its football program.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/Staff Photo

The recruiting period for South Kitsap graduate Chad Tester will begin once more.

Tester, a 2008 South graduate, learned Thursday that Western Washington University has discontinued its football program.

A walk-on linebacker who was placed on scholarship during the season, Tester is among 86 players at the Division II, Bellingham-based school with eligibility remaining.

Tester said he received a text message on his cellphone at 1 p.m. Thursday to arrive at the Viking Union Building.

He said seniors on the team were told by alumni that the program would disband, but didn’t suspect that going into the meeting.

“The text said it was urgent and to skip class if we could,” said Tester, who was named Western’s scout team defensive player of the year. “The president (Bruce Shepard) and vice president (Eileen Coughlin) came in and told us that the program was let go. They said they were $500,000 in the red and the only way to get back to even was to cut football.”

In a news release, it was stated that geography was a significant factor in the decision. Western is one of just five Division-II schools that sponsor football in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana and Nevada.

The Vikings played four other schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference — Central Washington, Dixie State (Utah), Humboldt State (Calif.), Western Oregon — opponents twice for the third time in the last five years.

Coughlin, vice president for student affairs and academic support services, said in a news release that Western’s 15 other intercollegiate sports will not be affected by the loss of football.

In fact, she said, they might benefit.

“At Western, the current degree of success in intercollegiate athletics is noteworthy given that programs are stretched very thinly,” she said. “Ending the football program will allow intercollegiate athletics to meet budget reduction targets, and, most importantly, to protect the quality of the remaining intercollegiate sports. The recommendation for this decision emerged as a result of careful consideration of all options with a primary focus on our mission of engaged excellence in all aspects of our programs. Western is committed to excellence and in some cases in order to protect quality it means making difficult decisions to meet that commitment.”

Tester said coach Robin Ross didn’t even receive word that the program was being discontinued until 8 a.m. Thursday.

He said he already has met with Ross, who was an assistant coach with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in 1997-98 and more recently at the collegiate level at Oregon and Oregon State, and that the couch is using his Northwest connections to help players find new schools. Tester, who bulked up to 6-foot-2 1/2 and 225 pounds during this season, is looking at Idaho State and Eastern Washington.

Because Tester didn’t meet NCAA requirements on the math portion of the SAT, he was forced to redshirt this season and must wait until the end of the school year to transfer.

“I had good grades,” he said. “I had an above-average SAT score, but I guess my math score was too low. The NCAA caught up on that and I was an automatic redshirt as a partial qualifier.”

Both Eastern and ISU play in the Big Sky, which play in the Football Championship Subdivision, a level higher than Western, but Tester said he’s receiving interest from both schools.

“I’m leaning toward Idaho State because they had the most interest in me out of high school,” Tester said. “Coach (John) Zamberlin called me as soon as he heard the news.”

Tester also said he benefited from just playing linebacker this season.

In 2007, he not only had to split time at quarterback and linebacker for the Wolves, but also served as the team captain.

In addition to adding 25 pounds, he said he still ran a hand-held 4.52 40-yard dash recently.

Because Western ended its program, Tester won’t have to sit out a season when he transfers and will retain four years of eligibility.

“I’m just looking for a new place to call home,” he said.

LOCAL IMPACT

Tester won’t be alone. Three others who played at local high schools, offensive lineman Nick Bassett (Peninsula), tight end J.D. Neumeister (Peninsula) and wide receiver Cody Oakes (Central Kitsap) were also on the Vikings’ roster this season.

South coach D.J. Sigurdson is concerned about the impact it might have.

“I’m sure that if Western did it, there’s other schools looking at it,” he said, naming Central and Eastern. “It’s bad for high school football. Kids used to have more options.”

He cited the demise of football at community colleges in the state.

Walla Walla, which produced NFL players such as Mike Sellers and Kimo von Oelhoffen, was the last in the state when it discontinued its program after the 1997 season.

Olympic College also had a program for many years.

“It really devastated opportunities for kids,” Sigurdson said.

He said he might recommend that his players walk-on at a Pac-10 program or go the junior college route instead of playing at a smaller college.

Junior college football still is prominent in several Western states such as Arizona, California and Utah.

Besides the Pac-10 schools, Washington and Washington State, the only programs left in state besides Central and Eastern are Division III. The schools that have teams, such as Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound, don’t offer athletic scholarships.

Western's football program was launched in 1903 and finished with a 383-380-34 record in 98 seasons of competition.

The only previous stoppages were during both World Wars.

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