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Wildcat football looks to be Kingco 3A contender
Charlie Kinnune is on cloud nine this time of year. He admits he can't sleep before the first practice of the season and his hopes, as head coach of the Mount Si High School football team, are to do better than last year. That will be a tall order considering last year's team had a record of seven wins and three losses.
The Wildcats will return 11 starters to the field from last year's ranks, and with 28 seniors, the team is deep with experience. That, coupled with raw talent, is what gets the Mount Si coaching staff excited about this season according to Kinnune.
The key to this year's success will be the strength of the offense.
"Obviously, we are strong at running back with Brandon [Yakaboski]," Kinnune said. "But we also have a couple of really good fullbacks in Marshall Griffin and Brian Olson."
Yakaboski was selected as the Kingco Offensive Player of the Year last season and also was the first-team all-league running back. Kinnune isn't a coach to single out a player, but admits, "You can't deny the kid is a division-one running back," Kinnune said.
"Brandon does a nice job of being a team guy. I don't think any of his teammates or his coaches are going to get put off by his recognition. The only one that is going to be put off by his recognition will be other teams. We just hope to create space for him to run," added Kinnune.
When Yakaboski was asked about his personal goals, one word slipped out: "winning." He will also likely see some time at outside linebacker and hopes to make some big hits. As far as next year, he has his eyes set on the University of Washington.
"The records he doesn't hold right now should be shattered, but honestly, we don't worry about records; they tend to take care of themselves," Kinnune said.
Griffin is also looking forward to the season. "It feels good to be a senior, big man on campus, not that big but you know what I mean," said Griffin, who may not be the tallest player on the team, but is one who definitely packs a punch.
Only coach Jim North has had more time at the helm of a Mount Si football team than Kinnune. The seasoned coach is heading into his 15th season. North had 17 seasons with Mount Si.
In addition to Yakaboski, Olson and Griffin, the offense will have Dan Reeves, a player who Kinnune thinks could notch 1,200 or 1,500 yards on his own.
"He is small, but he is crazy," Kinnune said of Reeves.
A good running game is always balanced with a passing game and the Wildcats hope to air it out a bit. At the helm of the offense and the throwing game is Ian Atkinson, a senior, at the quarterback position. Atkinson will remind fans of another strong Wildcat quarterback, Chris Riley, who led the team to a playoff appearance in 1998.
"I have waited a long time for this and haven't started the last couple of years so I am excited about my opportunity to start," Atkinson said. "I think we have a lot of team unity. We don't just play football together, but we are best friends. We hang out on the weekends together."
He also hopes to repeat last year's winning season and make a trip to the playoffs.
For receivers, Atkinson has several strong targets. Sean Bothell will lead the list and gets high praise from Kinnune.
"Sean Bothell is a great receiver with great hands and the ability to get open," said Kinnune. Keith Keller will be working at tight end.
"He has worked hard in the offseason to gain weight and is a real good instinctual player on both sides of the ball," Kinnune said.
In addition to Bothell and Keller, Atkinson will also have Josh Lindor, another receiver with varsity experience.
Up front, the offense is dominant with a strong line. At center will be Mac Donnell, who played several varsity games last season. Donnell is pegged by many teammates as a team leader and knows that success depends on motivation.
"I try and get the guys fired up, give them encouragement," said Donnell, who is also hoping to get all-league selections for his work on the offensive line.
Also up front will be Carey Purchase and Nick Johnston, both veterans. Johnston will find time on both sides of the ball at the tackle position, and Purchase will be at the guard position.
"We are looking good on the line, although we started off a bit weak, but are now looking very strong," said Johnston, who hopes to play football after high school. Purchase has one goal in mind.
"I want to get some pancakes this season," said Purchase, referring to his desire to flatten a few running backs and quarterbacks. He also thinks the line is strong and is excited to have Dex Moetului at defensive end to mess up a few passes.
Defensively, the team will bolster some of the same names as last year.
"We are going to be a real physical, swarming, running, hitting defense, which should be real exciting to see," Kinnune said. "We should average about 220 pounds across the front. We are not huge, but heavy enough to weight things down. We will have Purchase on both sides of the ball, Jeff Chapman on both sides of the ball and Johnson on both sides of the ball."
"Dexter Moetuluis' stock has gone way up and [he] will be a player on defense and a starter on offense," Kinnune said.
Brian Olson will be playing at linebacker along with Yakaboski, and other defensive backs will be Ushler, Keller and Reeves. Ushler has a keen sense of tracking the play, which will inhibit the midfield game. Kenny Morrison will also see duty as a defensive back and will be tight on any receivers down field.
Defensively, the Wildcats will continue their tradition of hitting hard and asking questions later. The Wildcats are a physical football team and make no bones about putting an opponent on the carpet.
Mount Si has come out of early season polls ranked high, but Kinnune doesn't put much thought into early season polls.
"I think other coaches are really thinking about us, maybe more than they should," Kinnune said. "We have an unproven quarterback, some backs that are unproven, some receivers unproven, so we have some holes to fill and prove. I think there are some schools that think we could win it all in our league and if you win it all in our league, then you have a good shot of going on.
"Everybody is decent on paper, and what we have coming back this year and what we did last year, we should be good and I will leave it at that," he added.
"Brian Olson is going to be a big-time player, period," Kinnunge said.
"Ushler will be doing some great things, Carey Purchase will be an animal, Nick Johnston is stepping up as our vocal leader right now and Dexter is going to have a great year and is very vocal. He is a class act," Kinnune said.
The competition in Kingco has grown even tougher as last year's Kingco 4A champs, Skyline, returns to the ranks of Kingco 3A. In addition, Bellevue will be very tough, as will as Newport and Issaquah.
"There aren't any bad teams in Kingco; we have to be up for every game," Kinnune said.
The team also focuses on skills both on and off the field. "Last year, we focused more on the experience than winning and losing," said Kinnune. "That's hard for the players and coaches, but really hard for the community to not judge the program by wins and losses," he said. "But, we really believe that we are just leadership away from having a magical season. It's not too late and I am already starting to see growth in that area. We need to be rock solid when we strap on the gear for Friday nights and that is what will allow us to get better."
Kinnune returns his coaching staff from last year with some additions to the C-team ranks. Kyle Wallace, a young coach, will be helping out, as will Jeff Newcomer, the head wrestling coach and PE teacher at Mount Si.
"My coaches do a great job and make it all worth while. We do it together and it's exciting," said Kinnune. David Korma, a former Junior Wildcat coach will also be helping out.
One new wrinkle in the mix this year is the addition of Kinnune's son Jordan to the team. That will change his perspective slightly.