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FOOTBALL PREVIEW | Wolves’ schedule could provide an early test
Two words are popular in dialogue between sports fans: sample size.
That often means that spectators — or, in this case, South Kitsap faithful — should be hesitant to make quick judgments based on one game.
After all, the Wolves looked impressive in their season opener last year, a 40-0 win at Kentridge, only to finish with a 4-6 record.
But third-year South coach Eric Canton said this season’s early schedule should provide an indication of where the Wolves stand. While Kentridge finished 2-8 last season, the Wolves’ first opponent, Central Kitsap, was 7-3. The Cougars, who moved from Class 4A to 3A Narrows, also have advanced to the playoffs in six of their last seven seasons and have not finished with a losing record since 2006.
After the Sept. 5 opener at Silverdale Stadium, South plays two consecutive home games against Peninsula, which advanced to the 3A state play-in game a year ago, and then Sept. 19 versus Olympia. Since the Wolves began playing Olympia on an annual basis in 2007, they have lost 6 of 7 meetings.
Only three South opponents — Sept. 26 at Yelm (4-6), Oct. 17 at Emerald Ridge (4-6) and Oct. 24 against Stadium (2-8) — finished with losing records last season.
“It’s a gauntlet again,” Canton said.
The Wolves wrap up their regular-season schedule on Halloween at Timberline, which moves from 3A to 4A Narrows this season. The Blazers (6-4) won their league championship in 2013. This marks the first time South has played Timberline since the Wolves won 37-21 in 1996.
“I’m looking forward to playing somebody new,” Canton said. “That’s always fun.”
Here is a positional rundown of the Wolves this season:
Cooper Canton becomes South’s first two-year starting signal-caller since Gordy Anderson in 2008-09. Canton saw limited action in 2012 before he inherited the position from Kevin Whatley last year. Canton completed 98 of 180 passes for 1,414 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Anderson also experienced mixed results in his first year as a starter. But that experience served him well in 2009 as he led the Wolves to a 10-1 record and was invited to walk-on at Washington State University.
“He knows the offense forwards and backwards,” Canton said. “He’s worked really hard. I’m pretty excited.”
Perhaps the only concern about Canton relates to his health. He suffered a herniated disc in his back, his father said, while playing for the school’s basketball team during the 2012-13 season and then sprained his left wrist weightlifting in the offseason. The elder Canton said the coaching staff monitors his son’s health.
“He’s feeling a lot better now,” he said.
Juniors Cole Craner and Brad Price and sophomore Jerrit Chenier are vying for the backup role.
“If something happens you’ve got to have some experience in there,” Canton said.
Marshaud DeWalt, a third-year varsity player, becomes the feature back this season. Despite being 5-foot-5, the muscular DeWalt is difficult to bring down with his combination of elusiveness and physicality. DeWalt rushed for 591 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns on 85 carries last season.
In 2013, DeWalt and siblings Terro and Corey Bell carried the ball a combined 229 times. But both have left the program, which means Canton is looking at a cast of players to provide DeWalt with sufficient rest.
“With our offense the tailback gets pounded on,” Canton said. “They need some breaks.”
One possibility is senior Conner Reed, who served as a backup quarterback last year. But similar to Logan Knowles, who moved from quarterback to wide receiver in 2013, Canton wants to find a way to get his best players onto the field. Reed gained 25 yards on two carries last year.
“That’s a good move,” Canton said. “We need him on the field.”
He said junior Mikey Garcia and seniors Ramon Marin and Dominic Vargas also figure see time at fullback or tailback.
One theme of Canton’s first three seasons has been the talent shuffle at wide receiver. In several cases, players turned out for the first time as seniors and emerged as starters. That trend could continue for the Wolves this season as their top receivers last year — Dylan Garcia and Knowles — both graduated. Brayden Maynard, who had 176 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions, is the leading returner.
Newcomers Jovian Dean, Vince Hannem and Colin Lee, who played in 2012 but not last year, are players Canton mentioned as senior breakout candidates.
“I just wish they would play sophomore or junior years,” Canton said.
Ian Van Gesen, Logan Koontz, Peninsula-transfer Jacob Lewis and Hunter Lovely are among the seniors who could contribute.
“He’s fast,” said Canton, referring to Lovely. “If he can learn the system and catch the football, he can help us.”
South has utilized a three-receiver set in its base offense since Canton took over the program. That leaves plenty of opportunities for playing time and Canton said juniors Logan Guerrero, Miles Huff and Dustin Rice and sophomore Izaijha Byrd are others who could vie for playing time.
“We’ve got guys at receiver really stepping up,” he said.
The Wolves often were known for their mammoth lines as they advanced to state every year from 1980 to 2002. But undersized often was a more apt description of that unit for most of the last decade. Canton thinks that is beginning to change, though. Experience, not size, might be the bigger issue this season.
“I’m really excited about our sophomores,” said Canton, noting that group features five players ranging from 6-foot-1 to 6-5. “I foresee a couple of them (starting).
Canton said juniors Daniel Ferguson (6-4, 264 pounds) and Elijah Griffin (6-4, 325) are two others who could start.
South graduated Forest Bingham, Tyler Ludlow and Tyler Pinkerton.
Center Will Gatlin (6-0, 224) could be this year’s lone senior starter.
Similar to the offensive line, this unit figures to receive a makeover — and one that excites Canton. Senior Matthew Mollett (6-4, 206) turned out this season and could start at defensive end. Mollett is a decorated youth boxer who has traveled to tournaments throughout the United States and even Ecuador.
“I’m excited to see Matthew Mollett,” Canton said. “He’s our boxer. Boxers have got to have good balance, be in great shape and tough.”
Griffin will start at nose tackle, but the end positions are open for competition in Canton’s 3-4 base defense. Canton said Gatlin and sophomore Jacob Miller could challenge to start.
One outside linebacker starting position is set with senior Ramon Marin back. Marin had a team-high 63 tackles (45 solo) and added six tackles-for-loss and recovered a pair of fumbles last year. Seniors Noah French and Reed figure to contend for the other outside starting position.
DeWalt, Garcia and Vargas all have playing experience at the inside positions. But they could be challenged by junior newcomer Ridge Morales.
“He’s kind of on the short side, but he’s strong and quick,” Canton said. “I’m excited to see what he can do for us.”
Canton, who was an All-American defensive back in 1985 at South, will coach the unit. The secondary was hit hard by graduations, including Li’i Kalima and Knowles, both of whom had two interceptions last year.
Despite that, Canton likes the talent he will work with. At cornerback, that includes Guerrero, Huff and Lewis. Canton said all three also could play safety along with Craner and Maynard.
“They’re more athletic than I was,” Canton said. “It’s just a matter of teaching it.”
The Wolves’ inexperience could be exploited by some of 4A Narrows’ top passing teams, but Canton is confident they will hold up.
“They have to step up,” he said. “They’re athletic enough. There’s no question about it.”
South is strong at punter where Canton, a two-time first-team 4A Narrows selection, returns. Both kickers from last season, senior Kees Metselaar and junior Nolan Souza, also return.
“I’m curious to see how that whole competition finishes out because they’re both pretty good,” Canton said. “They both have strong legs.”