A few days ago I released the 4A preview, today we take a look at the 3A classification. While the 4A level has about 5-6 teams that could make serious runs at a title, the 3A classification looks more cut and dry as to who the top two teams are.
Scott Eklund and I will be posting team previews over the next month as we head towards the start of what looks to be a great 2015 season. Below you will see the top five team rankings with analysis, and the top five games to watch with analysis.
Before I go further, I want to congratulate the Chief Sealth coaching staff for making a rare move. Any athlete that was deemed a “5 weeker”, referring to being suspeneded for the first five weeks of the season due to not qualifying academically, were recently cut from the team. The new coaching staff is making a no bones about it statement, as they lost four potential starters in the purge. Personally, I applaud the staff and hope this becomes a trend around the state.
3A Preseason Top 5
#1 Eastside Catholic Crusaders
#2 Bellevue Wolverines
#3 Lincoln Abes
#4 Auburn Mountainview Lions
#5 O’Dea Fighting Irish
Honorable Mention: Kamiakin Braves, Juanita Rebels, Glacier Peak Grizzlies, Sumner Spartans, Lakes Lancers, Ferndale Golden Eagles, Oak Harbor Wildcats, Capital Cougars
I can’t imagine many people arguing who the top two teams in the 3A classification are. Eastside Catholic and Bellevue have played in the last three state championship games, and are likely on a collision course once again this season, but I wouldn’t count out anyone in the top five.
Eastside Catholic finally got over the hump against Bellevue, and did so in convincing fashion. They lose some big time athletes to graduation, but the core of their offense is back, and they have plenty of playmakers to plug in on defense. To me, picking Eastside Catholic is like picking Ohio State in the NCAA. They return too many athletes to not pick them after a state championship season.
Harley Kirsch (’16), recently committed to Cornell, returns for his third year as the starter at QB. He is coming off a tremendous season in which he threw for 3,100 yards and 38 TD’s. While he threw 10 INT’s last season, Kirsch completed 71% of his passes and had a QB rating of almost 130.
UW commit Brandon Wellington (’16) returns and will likely see more carries this season, while Cal-Berkley commit Matt Laris (’16) comes back at WR after a 72 catch, 1,394 yard, 16 TD junior season. Also returning offensively is WR Devon Arbis-Jackson (’16) and TE Hunter Bryant (’17), who are two of the more dynamic and explosive athletes at their position in the entire state.
The offensive line returns four OL that saw action last year, including one of the state’s top lineman in Brody McKnight (’17). He went through the playoffs with a torn labrum, and will be ready to go once the season starts. Tackles Robbie Carter (’16) and Colin Stoutt (’16) were both All-League members last season, while Ricky Medeiros was an honorable mention.
Defensively you will want to keep an eye on Jonathon Webster (’16). He is one of the state’s most underrated athletes, and returns as the leading tackler with 82 a year ago from his safety spot. You’ll also see plenty of Wellington, and cornerback Jake Jackson (’16), who returns following a fist team All-Metro season.
Bellevue is Bellevue, and they will be good. You may see a different look this year, but they will be good. The Wolverines look like they will be throwing the ball more than normal, as Justus Rogers (’16) has really refined his all-around game and is looking more and more the part of a true dual-threat QB.
The receiving corps at Bellevue is one of the biggest I have ever seen. With Oregon State commit Tyson Penn (’16 6’5″), Isaac Garcia (’16 6’4″), Ryan Crnkovich (’16 6’5″) and Jacob Garcia (’16 6’3″), the Wolverines have too much size and skill on the outside to not throw, right? Honestly, it is anyone’s guess as we have heard many times over the years that Bellevue is going to throw, only to see them run the ball 95% of the time.
Defensively they lose some big time playmakers, but return lots of talent. Omar Dyles (’16) is one of the state’s most dominant defensive tackles and is a terror on the inside. Luke Lane returns at LB and should have a tremendous season as the rock in the middle. Isaiah Gilchrist (’16) has seven Pac-12 offers and is the definition of a lockdown corner. Cole Cirillo (’16) returns at safety, and along with Tyren Sams (’16) forms one of the better safety combos.
Originally I had Auburn Mountainview at the #3 team, but in the last week I changed my mind and moved Lincoln into that spot. The Abes have a ton of talent and a new coach that is getting rave reviews.
Joey Sinclair (’17) takes over at QB for the departed Jordan Kitna, and while I considered Sinclair to be a question mark originally, I consider him to be a big time plus after seeing him workout and run an offense. Sinclair can really play the position, and also brings athleticism as a true dual-threat QB.
Lincoln is loaded with talent and athleticism, and it starts in the backfield with Dionte Simon (’16) and Tristian Kwon (’18). Simon is one of my favorite backs in the state, and could project at a number of positions, while Kwon is heading into his sophomore year and looks to be one of the more talented players in his class.
The receiving corps is lead by returners Tony Archie (’16) and Alvin Johnson (’16), who both put up good numbers last year and had tremendous off-seasons. They pick up a big time target in 6’3″ Terrell Bromer (’16), who transfers in from Lakes. Another name to keep an eye on will be Zavier Huebner (’17), who is an explosive playmaker.
Line play was key in last year’s run, and this year they look to be bigger and stronger. Kameron Smith (’16 6’8″ 300) has a few D1 offers and is getting tons of looks, but it doesn’t stop there as Quazzel White (’17) and Frank Williams (’16) look to be right on his tail. On the DL look for Xavier Baines (’16) to be that rock in the middle to makes things tough on the offense.
Where the Abes will make themselves heard is in their “Hit first, ask questions later” defense. Darien Williams (’16) is one of the state’s top DB’s and a tremendous all-around athlete. Mushawn Knowles (’16) plays physical like a LB, but has the skills to cover like a DB. Lincoln will be young and fairly inexperienced at LB with Teshawn Seu (’18), Jeffrey Williams (’17) and Mahlon Slaughter (’18), but they will be highly talented and all names you will want to watch.
Auburn Mountainview was a surprise to many last season. They went from 3-7 in 2013, to 9-2 last season, including a 6-1 mark in SPSL action, where their only loss was to eventual league champ Peninsula 25-20.
Offensively, the Lions return plenty of fire power, led by QB Gresch Jensen (’16), who can beat you with his arm or his legs. The 6-foot-2, 205 pound senior is entering his third season at the helm for the Lions, and recently committed to play next year for the University of Montana.
The Lions return a lot of speed and athleticism at WR, with Arizona commit Gavin Robertson (’16) leading the way. While Robertson projects highest on defense, where he is a punishing safety, he is high skilled as a wideout, and was the leading receiver a year ago. Ryan Lacey (’16) returns after a great junior season and is another big target at 6’3″. Inside receivers Ki’Jan Weisinger (’16) and Vaughan Daggs (’16) bring a ton of speed and do a great job at finding openings in the defense.
Along the line, the Lions are particularly big, but they are tough, experienced and very well coached. Look for Justin Mills (’16), Andre’ Pellow (’16), Caleb Arciaga (’16) and Antonio Corea (’16) to take control up front, keeping Jensen off his back and paving the way when needed.
Defensively they are led by Bitner Wilson (’17), who also sees time at RB. Wilson is an aggressive, hard hitting LB, and will have to help offset the graduation loss of leading tackler Aeron Watson.
The O’Dea Fighting Irish look to be very tough once again, even after graduating a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball. Nathan West (’16) looks like he might get a chance to throw more than any QB in the history of the program, which isn’t really saying a ton, but he is mechanically one of the best I have seen come through the program.
Catching those passes from West will be a couple of really nice receiving prospects. First is Quinton Lewis (’17) who looks to be one of the top WR’s in his recruiting class. Race Porter (’16) has good size at 6-foot-3 and does a good job using his size to get open. At TE you will see Sam Sanchez (’17) who does a good job blocking and receiving, and shows good athleticism.
O’Dea is known for having good RB play, and they look to have a few options with Talent Hesse (’16) returning after seeing plenty of backup work last year behind UW signee Myles Gaskin. Another name to watch for is Fredrick Cooper (’17). He showed up at a few off-season events and wow’d just about everyone in attendance. The transfer from Maryland has all the tool to be something special. First team All-Metro FB Zach Oster returns to lead the way.
Line play has been a staple of success for the Fighting Irish over the last few decades. They lose four very talented first team All-Metro offensive lineman off last year’s squad, but do return second teamer Montique Edwards (’16), who also checks in a MLB. Anchoring defensively will be the massive Tiano Tialavea (’16) who stands 6’3″ and weighs 345 pounds. He clogs the middle and will be key to the LB’s roaming around making plays.
Last, but certainly not least, for O’Dea is MLB Julius McDade (’16). He returns after a first team All-Metro performance last season, in which he led the Fighting Irish in tackles. McDade plays a fast and physical brand in the middle, and is known for laying the hammer.
5 Games To Watch
September 11th: Bishop Gorman Gaels @ Bellevue Wolverines – Is there a bigger out-of-state team coming to town this year than Bishop Gorman? The Gaels are the defending national champion, and are loaded again in 2015. QB Tate Martell is one of the highest rated athletes in the country for the 2017 recruiting class, and currently holds nine D1 offers. Teammate Tyjon Lindsey is another top recruit with seven D1 offers to his name, and is right about the fastest athlete I have ever seen. Both athletes have been offered by the University of Washington.
Key Match-up for me is going to be Martell & Lindsey vs Bellevue’s defense. Bishop Gorman is going to find ways to get the ball into Lindsey’s hands, and Bellevue must swarm. They are going to give up points, but they have to keep it to a minimum. If there is one thing I have learned over the year’s it is that Bellevue will be ready to go. If you can’t make it to the game, I have been told ESPN will be on hand to broadcast live.
October 16th: O’Dea Fighting Irish @ Eastside Catholic Crusaders – This will very likely decide the Mountain Division Champion, and also likely the #1 seed from the Metro League, meaning home games and I believe staying on the west side of the state throughout the playoffs. Eastside Catholic won the only meeting between these two teams last year 26-20 at West Seattle Stadium. The visiting team has won the last 4 games in the series.
Key Match-up will be the Eastside Catholic passing game vs O’Dea defense. Earlier in the article, I talked about the prowess of the Eastside Catholic offense, and frankly it was probably a bit understated. O’Dea’s defense is young, but very talented. The Fighting Irish will need to get pressure on Kirsch, but you might not find a QB who gets the ball out quicker. Regardless, the battle between Thielbahr and Kohler should be fun to watch.
October 9th: Bellevue Wolverines @ Juanita Rebels – If there is anyone in Kingco with a shot to knock off the Wolverines, it is the Rebels. Juanita doesn’t have to leave Kirkland for the first six weeks of the year, only away game is @ Lake Washington, so the home cooking could really help. Bellevue hasn’t lost a Kingco Conference games since about the Nixon administration (sarcasm), and it will be tough to knock them off again this year.
Key Match-up is Juanita’s OL vs Bellevue’s front seven/Omar Dyles. The Rebels are going to need to give QB Tavin Montgomery time, as well as open holes for their vaunted rushing attack. If Omar Dyles does Omar Dyles things, it could be a long day for the Rebels. If they can get Dyles blocked, they can work their way up to the LB’s and get moving down field. The Rebels will need to put a lot of points on the board, because you know Bellevue is going to score.
October 9th: Auburn Mountainview Lions @ Lakes Lancers – This game will play a huge part in the SPSL 3A Standings, and could very well be for the league championship. Auburn Mountain is the favorite to win the league, and you could make a case for Lakes or even Sumner to be their best challenge. Auburn Mountainview beat Lakes for the first time in school history last season 17-0, and I expect this year’s game to be a little higher scoring.
Key Match-up looks to be Auburn Mountainview QB Gresch Jensen vs Lakes LB’s Cale Lindsey & Maika Magalei. Jensen is going to do damage with his arm and legs. For Lakes to stop him, they will need Lindsey to be tough against the run, and Magalei tough against the pass. Magalei will likely spend a lot of time outside the tackle box covering the inside receivers and will be a read for Jensen on many plays. Last year Magalei came away with an INT against Jensen, and will need to be active again.
September 5th: Kamiakin Braves @ Ferndale Golden Eagles – While this may look like any other non-conference game, this is one that will go a long way to telling us about two teams that could be seen as having top 10 potential. Last year, Ferndale made the 5-hour drive to the Tri Cities, lost 34-14 and never did get on track, finishing 3-6 on the season. I expect Ferndale to be a much improved team this year, and starting the season with a win at home would go a long ways.
Key Match-up will be Ferndale’s OL vs Kamiakin’s DL. Ferndale has a couple of monster offensive linemen in Chris Hernandez (6’4″ 285) and Nick Bartel (6’6″ 290), who will be relied on to open holes for the usually high powered Golden Eagles offense. The fullback dive play is a staple to their offense, and Kamiakin’s Korbin Sorensen will have to be rock solid in the middle to slow them down. Ferndale will need to get some early momentum to get their confidence.
Honorable mention games to watch: Capital @ Lincoln (9/18) early test could have playoff implications, Mercer Island @ Juanita (9/25) Could determine the 2nd playoff spot from Kingco, Auburn Mountainview @ Sumner (9/25) Early season game could have big playoff implications, Shadle Park @ Mount Spokane (10/29) still the two best 3A teams in Spokane, Edmonds-Woodway @ Glacier Peak (10/23) likely for 3A South #1 seed, Oak Harbor @ Marysville Pilchuck (10/23) likely for 3A North #1 seed.