SK's no-name defense keyed state run

Coaches stress team play over individual statistics and when the discussion surrounds the South Kitsap football team’s defense, it’s all about the 11 men on the field.

Without any obvious future major-college prospects, the Wolves’ defensive unit has found a way to help themselves back to the state tournament for the first time since 2002.

“I think it’s just their work ethic,” coach D.J. Sigurdson said. “They never stop going.”

It also is a matter of pride. Several players cited the Wolves’ four-touchdown loss Sept. 14 at Central Kitsap, when they allowed a season-high 49 points, as an influence of their success.

“I think the Central Kitsap game had us practice harder and work harder because we don’t like losing,” junior defensive back Jared Moore said. “No one wants to feel like that again.”

And with the possible of the Oct. 27 league championship game, where the Wolves lost 33-14 against Olympia, the feeling hasn’t returned. In the seven games since their loss at CK, the Wolves have allowed just 80 points (11.4 per game).

“I can see how hard it would be to face them,” said senior Chad Tester, a linebacker who often practices against the defense as the team’s starting quarterback. “They’re physical.”

Senior defensive end Matt Mehs said that mentality is instilled by the coaching staff.

“Attack color in a violent manner,” he said. “That’s what we’re told every day.

Physicality alone doesn’t make for a great defense, though. The proof always is in the results. The Wolves have lowered their points per game allowed average in each of the last three seasons. This year’s average of 15.7 is the lowest since the 2003 team allowed just 13.5.

“A lot of us started last year,” Mehs said. “We had a strong ground to build off.”

The defense also received an upgrade with the return of linebacker Josh Burlingame, a 5-foot-9 1/2-inch senior, who missed most of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

“He has a fire burning inside of him to play football,” Sigurdson said. “He’s a throwback guy. He just wants to play.”

The coach also has recognized Burlingame as the hardest hitter on the team, which perhaps has enhanced the squad’s physical nature.

“Last year we were pretty physical, but I haven’t seen a year like this,” Mehs said. “I haven’t seen a team match up with us with brut.”

That extends to the defensive backfield. Both Moore and Sean Korf noted that the unit likes to hit, but they also make plays in other ways.

“We rally to the ball and break to the ball well,” said Korf, a junior. “Everyone contributes.”

He said that started before the season when the team would gather on the school’s practice field after lifting weights and work. Korf said that was as simple as “working on our routes.”

While everyone said the group is close, it has experienced change throughout the season with starters shifting out because of injuries or ineffectiveness. Tester, who volunteered to play quarterback when last year’s tandem — Chip Pierson and Aaron Smothers — graduated and also moved from safety to linebacker, where he played last season, at Sigurdson’s request. Despite being recruited by schools as a safety, Tester had no reservations about the transition.

“College is far away,” he said. “I focus on what I can do now to help the team.”

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