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FOOTBALL PREVIEW | Inexperience a theme among roster positions
It would seem to be an unlikely rallying call at the state’s largest high school.
But second-year South Kitsap coach Eric Canton wants his team to embrace an underdog mentality this season.
While the Wolves have more than 170 players — the largest known amount to turn out at the school — none features much in the way of name recognition. Several notable players, including all-state defensive back Bryce Broome, graduated.
“My hope is they are going to overlook us thinking we don’t have any talent coming back,” Canton said. “Let’s get upset about that and go prove it to them.”
That does not mean the Wolves, who have had two losing seasons in the last 25 years, view this as a rebuilding year. Canton is cognizant that his son, Cooper, a junior, could be a two-year starter, which could portend better results in 2014. But the elder Canton, who guided South to a 6-4 record last season, won’t focus on that.
“We may not even be on this planet a year from now,” he said. “It doesn’t do any good to worry about next year. That would be a disservice to this year’s seniors. We’ve got to worry about what’s up next.”
Here is a positional rundown of the Wolves this season:
When the Wolves open the season at 7 p.m. Thursday against Kentridge, the younger Canton hopes to begin his quest to become South’s first two-year starting signal-caller since Gordy Anderson in 2008-09. Canton saw limited playing time as a sophomore in 2012 with much of it coming during the 43-12 season-ending playoff loss at Camas. He threw a pair of second-half touchdowns in that contest.
Former North Kitsap standout Jared Prince will mentor Canton and his backups this season. Prince joined the Wolves’ coaching staff during the summer after the Texas Rangers’ organization released him in March. Prince, 27, elected to retire from professional baseball to pursue a career in education after that.
Along with the younger Canton, he will work with senior Michael Fitch and junior Conner Reed. Both are vying for the No. 2 position on the depth chart.
While Adam Gascoyne graduated, Canton feels comfortable with South’s talent and depth in the backfield. Li’i Kalima, who shared carries with Gascoyne for much of 2012, returns. That does not mean Kalima will be the program’s first feature back since Robert Issa in 2009, though. Canton said that relates to his “defense first” philosophy. He likes the ability to give Kalima and others as much playing time as possible on defense, and the depth at running back enables him to do that. Along with Kalima, 5-foot-5, 234-pound junior Marshaud DeWalt also returns. DeWalt broke several long runs last season, but those were somewhat mitigated by his penchant for fumbling.
“We’ve let Marshaud know that he needs to take care of the football,” Canton said. “If it means giving up the football, it’s not worth breaking that last tackle. He has done an extraordinary job of taking care of the football so far.”
Sophomore Corey Bell, senior Terro Bell and junior Jonah Davis also are vying for playing time.
“There’s a depth chart and everything, but I consider all of them right now to be good enough to step in and start,” Canton said. “If somebody gets hot, you can roll with them.”
The Wolves, who switched their base offense to a three-receiver set and eliminated the tight end position last year, will feature new starters this season as Devon Newquist, Tom Simpson and Nic Stoner graduated. Nevertheless, Canton takes solace in the fact that Simpson and Stoner both emerged as starters last season after not playing in 2011. Canton is hopeful the current group can progress just as quickly. Senior Logan Knowles, who played quarterback in 2012, is expected to start along with some combination of juniors Mason Bradley and Brayden Maynard and seniors Marcus Burns, Kyle Carpenter and Dylan Garcia.
“We’ve got some good depth at wide receiver right now,” Canton said. “I think we’ve got a lot of football savvy at the wide receiver spot. Probably their strength is their football intelligence.”
Canton benefited from inheriting a veteran-laden offensive line last season led by Damien Medeiros, the Class 4A state runner-up at heavyweight in wrestling who now plays football at North Dakota’s Minot State, and Austin Kanouse, a walk on at Washington State. But that changes this season as South will break in new starters at every position on the line.
That is not all negative. While the Wolves lack experience, Canton feels they have more depth throughout the unit this season. He also likes the athleticism along the line, beginning with 6-foot-2 senior left tackle Forest Bingham, a post on the school’s basketball team. Left guard Joseph Cortez is the only other player who has won a starting position on the line. Seniors Donald Firman and Tyler Ludlow are vying for the center position. On the right side of the line, junior Will Gatlin and Ben Johnson are competing for the starting spot at guard, while junior Noah French and senior Howie Mackie vie to for the opening at tackle.
“We’re going to be smaller and quicker,” Canton said.
When asked about a potential impact player on the roster, Canton does not hesitate.
“Marcus Burk is a guy who I think is going to make plays,” he said, adding that Burk set the school’s record in the power clean. “There’s something about him. He’s really stepped it up.”
Burk was an outside linebacker last season, but Canton convinced him during the summer that his combination of size and strength would serve the team well at defensive end.
“He has taken to it like second nature,” Canton said. “It’s been great to watch.”
Similar to the offensive line, this unit is undersized, but Canton likes the athleticism of the players vying for playing time. Bingham and seniors Josh Franklin and Ludlow are competing to start at the end position opposite of Burk, while senior Joey Meinheit has emerged at nose tackle.
This is another unit that experienced change last season as Canton switched from South’s traditional 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 base. He said he made the change because the program had a dearth of big-bodied youths coming up through the program, but perhaps more athleticism than at any point in the school’s history. And while this position, led by the graduated Michael Beard and Gascoyne, was a strength last year, Canton thinks the linebacker corps could be even better this season. Bradley and junior Ramon Marin are the outside linebackers, while the inside positions remain unsettled. DeWalt and Firman and seniors D’Shaun Booker and Tanner Paulson are competing for those positions.
“These guys might not be as athletic as what we had out there last year, but they have the potential to be better as an overall group,” Canton said.
Kalima has claimed the left cornerback position and Knowles will start at free safety. Both have starting experience. Burns and Carpenter are competing for the starting job at strong safety, while Bell and Xavier Wells are vying for the other cornerback position. The two returning starters in the secondary represent half of the Wolves’ defensive total.
“That’s the nature of high school and college athletics,” Canton said. “You have to keep filling the cupboard.”
The Wolves still are working to identify which players will emerge before the opener. The younger Canton returns as the punter, but last year’s kicker, R.J. Polen, graduated and Canton said solidifying the special teams units are among his biggest concerns.
“We need to clean up our specialties,” he said. “No question about it.”