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SK gridders ready to put last year behind them
Date Opponent Location Time
Sept. 5 Kennewick Qwest Field Noon
Sept. 11 Gig Harbor Roy Anderson Field 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 Shelton Joe Knowles Field 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 Olympia Ingersoll Stadium 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 Central Kitsap Joe Knowles Field 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 Bellarmine Prep Bellarmine Prep 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 Stadium Stadium Bowl 1 p.m.
Oct. 23 Lincoln Joe Knowles Field 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 Mount Tahoma Joe Knowles Field 7 p.m.
Coach: D.J. Sigurdson, 13th season (89-36).
Key returners: WR/DB Mike Alonzo, sr.; QB Gordy Anderson, sr.; RB/DB Jordan Anderson, sr.; OL/DL Riki Blas, jr.; OL/DL Nick Boss, sr.; OL/DL Colin Burgh, sr.; WR/DB Ray Chico, sr.; TE/DL Austin L. Cook, jr.; RB/DB Zach Cruz, sr.; WR/DB/KR Isaiah Davis, jr.; OL/DL Keith Grey, sr.; OL/DL Tyler Hundson, sr.; RB/LB Robert Issa, sr.; WR/DB Ricky Johnson, sr.; OL/DL Kody McBride, sr.; WR/DB Austin Melvin, sr.; DL/OL Charlie Murray, jr.; RB/LB Michael Neiner, jr.; RB/LB Chris Nenninger, sr.; TE/DL Greg Pickard, sr.; OL/LB Cody Tester, jr.
Key departures: RB/LB Sean Allison, graduated; QB Bryan Dorsey, graduated; TE/DL Brad Fairweather, graduated; DL Corey Galligan, graduated; DB/WR Paul Eneyeart, graduate; DL/TE Rick Gillespie, graduated; K Drew Klopfstein, graduated; DB/RB Sean Korf, graduated; OL/DL Brian Kuznek, graduated; DL/OL Brandon Lester, graduated; DB/WR Jared Moore, graduated; RB/LB Ryan Williams, graduated; OL/DL Andrew Yaptinchay, graduated; DB Brady Zurn, graduated.
Seasons sometimes hinge on one pivotal moment.
Unfortunately for South Kitsap’s football team, that came during the second week of last year.
Down by a point with second-and-goal at the Central Kitsap 6-yard line, the Wolves’ coaching staff decided not to take a timeout with 22 seconds remaining and the clock running.
Quarterback Gordy Anderson took the snap with 10 seconds left and his pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
An illegal man downfield penalty against South was declined to give the Cougars a 14-13 win at Silverdale Stadium.
The Cougars used the win as a linchpin to their best season in program history. They finished with a 9-4 record and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in program history. Meanwhile, South finished with a 6-4 record and missed state for the fifth time in six seasons.
“We definitely played well enough to beat Central Kitsap,” coach D.J. Sigurdson said. “It was a mental mistake by the coach at the end. That game was such a turning point because the way our league is, you can’t afford those burps.”
If the Wolves are to return to state this season, they will have to accomplish it with one of the youngest rosters in Sigurdson’s 13 seasons. Their 21 seniors are the fewest since 2002, but the team was able to advance to state that year.
“We’re thin,” Sigurdson said. “They’re good players, but we’re not unlike everyone else.”
OFFENSE SET UNDER CENTER
But he said there are plenty of reasons for optimism. For one, it’s a new season and no one is talking about a year ago. And he likes the personnel the team is returning.
When South opens against Kennewick at noon Sept. 5 in the Emerald City Kickoff Classic at Qwest Field, Anderson will be behind center. The senior is the first quarterback to start consecutive openers for the Wolves since Kyle Pease (2004-05). He completed 48-of-87 passes for 681 yards and six touchdowns last year. Anderson also threw four interceptions.
Unlike the past few seasons, there isn’t an experienced backup at the position. Ray Chico moved to wide receiver, which leaves juniors Austin J. Cook and Tanner Romo battling to be the main clip-board holder. But Anderson wasn’t injured in 2008.
“It’s big to have Gordy back,” Sigurdson said. “And he’s got a good supporting cast of kids.”
South predominately has been a running team for the last few decades — Sigurdson’s teams have run roughly 75 percent of the time in recent years — but the receiving corps might be the strongest during his tenure.
Sigurdson said that doesn’t necessarily mean the Wolves will throw more, but it gives Anderson plenty of options. Six-foot-3 senior Leon La Deaux, who spent the summer attending football camps at Eastern Washington, the University of Washington and Washington State, returns after leading the team in receiving yards (428), receptions (28) and touchdowns (five).
“There’s a lot of ability — he can run, jump and he’s strong,” Sigurdson said. “But I think the thing that makes him better or special is his work ethic.”
He’s joined by another 6-foot-3 senior, Mike Alonzo, who emerged late last season. Alonzo replaces Jared Moore in the starting lineup.
Junior Isaiah Davis, perhaps the most dynamic player in the program, also will see plenty of playing time. Davis also is a special-teams standout, where he had 312 yards on 15 kickoff returners last season, and Sigurdson said he’ll add extra points to his duties this year.
Despite catching just four passes in 2008, Davis was second on the team in touchdowns (two) and receiving yardage (81).
South won’t feature the big names of the last decade in the backfield — Roger Cooper, Ryan Cole, Victor Valle, Anthony Galloway and Stephen Tucker all have graduated during that span — but Sigurdson is happy with what returns.
The Wolves used more of a committee approach in the backfield last season and didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher. But Sean Allison (895 rushing yards) and Ryan Williams (722) averaged a combined 5.8 yards per carry.
Both have graduated, but Sigurdson said senior Robert Issa has emerged as a starter. The 5-foot-7 Issa was fourth on the team in carries (32) and yards (181) last year and also had four touchdowns.
“Add Robert Issa’s name to the list,” Sigurdson said. “He’s a tremendous worker. He’s going to break tackles and have runs where you wonder how he stayed on his feet.”
Another senior, Zach Cruz, also should see significant playing time. The 5-foot-7 Cruz had 241 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries in 2008.
Some of South’s most significant losses come on the offensive line. Left tackle was manned by the 6-foot-6 Brian Kuznek the last two seasons. He was the only first-team Narrows League selection on the offensive side last season for the Wolves besides La Deaux, but since has graduated. Right tackle Andrew Yaptinchay also graduated.
Junior Riki Blas, who also plays for the basketball team, will be the team’s left tackle, while senior Colin Burgh takes over on the opposite end.
“We’re getting in shape and getting moving,” Blas said. “It’s a strong line that’s really aggressive.”
The guard position is set with Nick Boss and Keith Grey, both of whom started last year, returning. Sigurdson said there is a battle between junior Cody Tester — the younger brother of former South quarterback Chad Tester — and senior Kody McBride to start at center. He said Tester gets to linebackers more quickly on blocks, while McBride is more of a mauler.
Tight end usually is a de facto sixth lineman in South’s offensive system. Sigurdson was happy with the performance of Brad Fairweather in that role last season — as he was with Matt Foxworthy in 2007 — but both have graduated. Six-foot-3 senior Greg Pickard is expected to start this year.
DEFENSE LOOKS TO REBOUND
South’s defense was solid last year as it allowed 18.3 points per game, which was fourth in the Narrows League. But it was far from dominant. The Wolves’ only shutout came against Shelton, which finished 0-10, and they struggled toward the end of the season. South allowed an average of 30 points against its final four opponents, including a 42-6 blowout in its last home game against Olympia.
Sigurdson, the second-winningest coach in school history with an 89-36 career record, vowed after last season to evaluate the state of the program.
“We have higher goals,” he said in November. “We want to achieve more as a staff.”
He declined to give details at the time, but said one significant change this season will be the operation of the defense. The Wolves don’t often deviate from their Wing-T offense, but have made extensive changes to their standard 4-3 defensive scheme based on their opponent. Sigurdson believes that led to confusion last year, particularly against Olympia.
“This is kind of how we’ve hung our hats forever,” he said, referring to the base defense. “Why all of a sudden decide it’s going to be defense of the week? That’s a mistake we made last year.”
South will return to its blitz-heavy scheme this year. That will happen despite significant losses on the defensive line. Tackles Kuznek and Yaptinchay are gone in addition to ends Fairweather, Corey Galligan and Lester. Boss, the lone returning starter, and Charlie Murray will start inside with Blas and Austin L. Cook outside.
Sigurdson, who played linebacker at Eastern from 1986-89, usually manages to overcome losses at that position. Chad Tester, who now plays at Central Washington, and Josh Burlingame graduated after 2007. But Sigurdson plugged T.J. Rhodes in at middle linebacker, where he was a first-team Narrows League selection, and Allison, Issa and Williams outside.
All have graduated except for Issa, but Sigurdson is happy with the returners. Issa and junior Michael Neiner are expected to start at outside linebacker, while Sigurdson says Grey gives the Wolves “one of the bigger linebackers we’ve had in awhile.”
Issa likes the physical presence of the group and the defense in general.
“Every year we lose a key guy and then someone steps it up,” he said. “We’re going to be a very strong core.”
The secondary might be the biggest concern on the roster. South graduated safeties Jared Moore — a first-team Narrows League selection — and Brady Zurn. Starting cornerback Sean Korf also graduated.
La Deaux, a cornerback, is the only returning starter. Alonzo is his counterpart, which will give the Wolves their tallest starting cornerbacks in recent memory. A couple of smaller corners, juniors Davis and D’Aundray Van Slyke, also should see time at the position.
“It’s going to be an advantage,” La Deaux said. “When we play against smaller, quick guys we can rotate Isaiah in. Against bigger teams like Central Kitsap and Gig Harbor, they can just throw jump balls against us.”
There are some interesting names in the sophomore class. Aaron La Deaux, the younger brother of the school’s standout wide receiver, enters the program as a quarterback. Sigurdson said he likely won’t see varsity at that position this season.
Another is running back Dominic Boddie, whose father, Tony, starred at Bremerton High School and later played with the Denver Broncos. But the depth at that position also is solid.
Sigurdson said a half-dozen sophomores might see playing time, which isn’t out of the ordinary.
“There’s some sophomores that might give us a little bit of a boost,” said Sigurdson, who declined to mention names.
With all players, the coaching staff is trying to emphasize pace during practice. Concentration was a concern at times last season, and the Wolves turned the ball over six times in a 23-21 loss against Skyview during the state play-in game in Vancouver.
“We’ve focused a lot on tempo,” Sigurdson said. “We’re trying to emphasis our mental alertness. We’re being more intentional about keeping our intensity up.”
That could make a difference between who is on the field, particularly with a younger team.
“This isn’t a locked down depth chart,” Sigurdson said. “It’s always moving and is always fluid. If you make a good effort and have good ability, chances are you can contribute somewhere.”