Scott Eklund and I will begin rolling out our team previews in just a few days, so before we get started, I wanted to go around the state and take a quick look at the top teams and games for the upcoming season. I will release our preseason top 5 team rankings, as well as a list of the other top teams, and talk about the top 5 games to watch this season.
They are currently working to add schedules, so be patient, but I would like to make sure all you football fans out there bookmark WAPrepZone.com . That is my favorite site for scores during the season and routinely use that site as a reference throughout the season.
4A Preseason Top 5
#1 Gig Harbor Tides
#2 Lake Stevens Vikings
#3 Camas Papermakers
#4 Skyline Spartans
#5 Graham-Kapowsin Eagles
Honorable Mention: Bellarmine Prep Lions, Federal Way Eagles, Chiawana Riverhawks, Gonzaga Prep Bullpups, Kentwood Conquerors, Kamiak Knights and Bethel Braves.
I can’t remember a time when we started the season with so much parity. While I do believe Gig Harbor is the favorite, you could make a solid argument for any of the top five teams to be the favorite to win a state championship this season.
The last time I could say that about the the 4A classification in this state was probably over ten years ago, before the Kingco Conference became a dominant force every year.
Gig Harbor returns essentially every key piece off last year’s Narrows League Championship team, as well as 3 starting linemen, and a 4th that saw significant minutes. WR Kyle Olson-Urbon transfers over from rival Peninsula High School, and should step in and be an important piece right away.
Any team with Davis Alexander at QB is a team I am picking to win games, and when you team him with RB Adrian Valona and WR Noah Samsen, you have the makings of some pretty special things on offense. The defense is no slouch either, with LB Kale Wong and DB Keyell Davis roaming around, and when you add in transfer LB’s Bo Longmore and Taven Erpenbach, you have the makings of some really special things.
Lake Stevens has the state’s top recruit in QB Jacob Eason, and return highly productive WR’s Riley Krenz and Hunter Eckstrom. I think the most important player, outside of Eason, for the Vikings is RB Andrew Grimes. He is one of the more underrated backs in the state, and gives the Vikings some balance offensively, and a very capable target out of the backfield.
If there was a question mark for me with Lake Stevens, it would be the play along the lines, but as a whole, they are very well coached, so I am sure they will be just fine.
The Camas Papermakers have been red hot the last 5-6 years, and have compiled a 70-13 record since head coach Jon Eagle took over in 2008, but have yet to take the ultimate step of winning a state title. Many people thought they would take a step back last season after heavy graduation losses, but Liam Fitzgerald took over at QB, and the Camas offense hardly missed a step.
With receiving targets Jared Bentley and Blake Roy returning, and Trevor Wochnick anchoring the OL, this Camas team looks ready to make another run at a state title. Another name to keep an eye on this coming season is LB Michael Matthews. He plays fast, aggressive and smart in the middle, and is entering his junior year after a find sophomore campaign.
As usual, the Skyline Spartans look to have a top squad. Senior RB Rashaad Boddie is back to carry a bulk of the load on the Plateau, where he became the first 1,000 yard rusher since Tyler Washburn in 2007. I would have to check with someone in the know, but I would imagine Boddie will become the Spartans all-time leading rusher at some point in the season, if he hasn’t already.
Can’t talk Skyline without a big name QB, and senior Blake Gregory is back after a fine junior campaign, and has really improved his all-around game this offseason. The Spartans graduate two of their better receivers off last year’s squad, but do return Danny Sinatro and you can expect ATH Bradley Kim to get plenty of touches.
Graham-Kapowsin is a team I think could really surprise some people this year. They lose some key pieces from last year’s team, including their QB and RB, but have some REALLY nice athletes ready to plug in. For the Eagles to be successful, they will need to mature rather quickly. Freshman-to-be Dylan Morris looks like he could be taking over at QB, and appears to be ready to go.
We all know how good LT Foster Sarell is, but many overlook the play of RT Elijah Lugo. These two bookend tackles make life very hard for the opposing defensive line. Three 2018 names I want you to remember… Jeremiah Kekoa, Micah Smith and Viliami Hansen. Kekoa is a WR/DB that reminds me a lot of Fotu Leitao of Steilacoom (google his name). Micah Smith is a RB/OLB/DB that looks to be the real deal offensively and just as good defensively. Hansen is a RB/LB that hits like a truck and has the speed to run right by you. Add in WR Eian Olmos and you have a nice set of weapons to go with a good OL.
5 Games To Watch
October 30th: Bellarmine Prep Lions @ Gig Harbor Tides – It is highly likely this game with determine the Narrows League champion. Gig Harbor handed Bellarmine their lunch last season with a 49-0 stomping on a muddy night in Tacoma. The two teams have contrasting styles offensively, as Bellarmine is a traditional I-Formation, while Gig Harbor spreads it out and moves with tempo.
The key match-up will be Bellarmine LB Erik Glueck vs the Gig Harbor duo of QB Davis Alexander and RB Adrian Valona. The winner should get to stay home for a while come playoff time, while the loser will likely have to put some serious miles on the bus heading to Eastern Washington.
October 8th: Skyline Spartans @ Graham-Kapowsin Eagles – Arguably the biggest non-league matchup in the state will see two of the top 2017 OL in the country battle it out as GK’s Foster Sarrel and Skyline’s Henry Bainivalu square off. GK went to the Plateau last year and edged the Spartans 17-14 on Homecoming Night, so expect Sparta to come ready to play.
Key match-up in my eyes will be the Graham-Kapowsin OL vs Skyline’s defensive front seven. Skyline LB Alex Diegel is one of the best in the state for 2017, and should see plenty of tackles Sarrel and Elijah Lugo. If GK wins the battle up front, it should help their young QB settle into the game.
October 23rd: Lake Stevens Vikings @ Kamiak Knights – This game should determine the Wesco 4A League Champion. Last year, these two teams met with Lake Stevens coming out on top 37-34, on way to a League Championship. Both teams didn’t last long in the playoffs in 2014, but this could be a year in which two Wesco teams make good runs in state.
The key match-up will be the high powered Lake Stevens offense vs Kamiak’s tough defensive secondary. DB’s Taylor Heck and Donte’ Hamilton of Kamiak will likely see a lot of Viking wideout’s Riley Krenz and Hunter Eckstrom, but they better keep and eye on speedster WR Brandon Otis and RB Andrew Grimes out of the backfield. Should be a heck of a game!
September 4th: Camas Papermakers @ Chiawana Riverhawks – Another great non-league game comes in week one. We all remember the great Camas/Chiawana state championship game from a few years ago, well, the names are different, but caliber of play isn’t far off. Look for Camas to do most of their work through the air, while Chiawana typically prefers a power run game on offense.
Key match-up will be the Chiawana OL vs Camas front seven. I would imagine the Riverhawks will go with a few different backs this year, and I would expect to see Caleb Weber paving the way at FB, while Kameron Silvers anchors the OL. Defensively for Camas the LB’s are very active, so expect to see lots of Trevor Wochnick, Blake Roy and Michael Matthews as they look to neutralize the Chiawana run game.
September 11th: Gonzaga Prep Bullpups @ Bellarmine Prep Lions – Lastly, but certainly not least is this cross-state game that has oddly become a bit of a rivalry. These two teams have met in the playoffs in a tough battle three years ago won by BP, and last season GP came away with a 17-0 win, both games being played in Spokane.
The match-up to watch will be GP’s Evan Weaver vs BP’s Paul Gicewicz and Nico Xitco. I would expect Weaver to move around as the Bullpups will not want to allow Bellarmine to scheme for him, so expect the two bookend tackles to get plenty of reps against one of top sack masters on the West Coast. Give an honorable mention match-up to BP’s Erik Glueck vs GP’s Liam Bell, aggressive MLB vs running QB is always fun. While this game may only be for bragging rights, I the amount of talent between the two teams will be run to watch.
Honorable mention games to watch: Chiawana @ Richland (9/18) Bombers have best shot to knock Riverhawks off #1 spot in MCC, Graham-Kapowsin @ Bethel (10/30) could be for a #1 seed, Union @ Camas (10/16) another potential #1 game, Kentwood @ Federal Way (10/8) non-league with lots of talent, Kentwood @ Kent-Meridian (10/16) KM could surprise some people this year, Skyline @ Bothell (10/16) could be a big game if the Cougars mature quickly.